Canucks ex­pect ri­valry to brew

Van­cou­ver just 2 1/2 miles away from new NHL fran­chise

The Detroit News - - Nhl - BY TIM BOOTH As­so­ci­ated Press

Van­cou­ver, Bri­tish Columbia — Sit­ting high above the ice of Rogers Arena, Van­cou­ver Canucks gen­eral man­ager Jim Ben­ning has fond me­mories of his time play­ing junior hockey for the Port­land Win­ter­hawks of the West­ern Hockey League and their trips up In­ter­state 5 to play at the old Mercer Arena against the Seat­tle Thun­der­birds.

Well, how fond he is de­pends on the per­spec­tive.

“They had chicken wire, and the fans were rowdy,” Ben­ning re­called re­cently. “The thing with the chicken wire is like you’d line up for a face­off and they could spit right through the chicken wire.”

While Ben­ning’s me­mories play­ing against Seat­tle re­main – and who could for­get chain-link fence in place of glass boards at one end of the rink – he’s also think­ing ahead. Look­ing out at an empty arena a cou­ple of hours be­fore a Canucks face­off, he can envision fans of Seat­tle’s new NHL fran­chise mak­ing the trek north on I-5, through the border cross­ing and into down­town Van­cou­ver to watch their team play the Canucks.

He has no doubt it will be a healthy ri­valry and great for the sport in this cor­ner of North Amer­ica. But the Canucks see the ad­di­tion of Seat­tle as more than adding a ri­val 2 ½ hours away by car. Seat­tle will be a crit­i­cal partner for the fu­ture suc­cess of both fran­chises.

“We see this as a kind of one plus one equals three. We’re go­ing to be able to grow the sport of hockey in this re­gion, work­ing with the Seat­tle team,” Canucks COO Jeff Stipec said.

The ap­proval of Seat­tle as the 32nd NHL fran­chise ear­lier this week has thrilled hockey fans who for years made their way north to Van­cou­ver to see the game played at its high­est level. But there’s an al­most equally ex­cited group just north of the 49th par­al­lel who can’t wait for 2021 when the Seat­tle fran­chise be­gins play.

“Van­cou­ver is al­ready a partner. They were the most en­thu­si­as­tic team in the league about this. They love the idea of this ri­valry,” Seat­tle team Pres­i­dent Tod Lei­weke said. “I think for the two cities to con­nect like this, the two cities are 130 miles away but now they’re go­ing to con­nect in a whole dif­fer­ent way and I think that’s one of the great things that is go­ing to come out of all this is a deep, deep vis­ceral con­nec­tion be­tween Van­cou­ver and Seat­tle and we’re go­ing to play some great games.”

Adding Seat­tle to the league helps the Canucks in var­i­ous ways, from mar­ket­ing to travel and in­ter­est in the game. Stipec is al­ready plan­ning ways the Canucks can sell Seat­tle’s ad­di­tion, even if it’s three years away.

Stipec noted that even as Van­cou­ver’s on-ice prod­uct is im­prov­ing around a core of young stars and re­ju­ve­nat­ing in­ter­est in the city af­ter a few down sea­sons, the fans flock­ing back to the games are seek­ing dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Our sea­son ticket mem­bers, what they’re look­ing for now are ex­pe­ri­ences,” Stipec said. “They’ll hop down, go to Ve­gas, fol­low the team down to Ve­gas. But to be able to put to­gether some pack­ages where our sea­son ticket mem­bers are hop­ping on the bus, hav­ing a great time, go­ing down to Seat­tle for a game and then com­ing back, that’s some­thing they’re re­ally ex­cited about, too, and we’re ex­cited to be of­fer­ing that.”

While it would seem the prox­im­ity of the two cities could cre­ate is­sues when com­pet­ing for dol­lars on the busi­ness side, it doesn’t ap­pear that will be the case largely be­cause of the border. The border cre­ates a nat­u­ral break be­tween the two teams, both in their at­tempts to gain mar­ket share, but also in cor­po­rate dol­lars and tal­ent ac­qui­si­tion.

Ben Helms/As­so­ci­ated Press

The ap­proval of Seat­tle as the 32nd NHL fran­chise has thrilled hockey fans who for years made their way north to watch the Canucks.

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