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Robson Remembers

Monday, 09.04.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Robson Remembers
Many of today's Canucks fans weren't even born during the team's Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1982. But, for those that were, Jim Robson's play-by-play call was an integral part of the experience, as much linked to Towel Power and the Flying-V jersey.

As the voice of the Canucks for nearly three decades, Robson brought audiences every goal, every hit, and every spine-tingling moment of that unforgettable '82 run.

Now, 25 years later, Robson, as well as a few members of that '82 team, recall for Canucks.com how they caught lightning in a bottle and took the city on an unforgettable ride.

COMING TOGETHER

"In 82, every win was a bonus," recalls Robson. "Every round was a bonus. It was a Cinderella ride with a team of tough guys with a lot of character and they picked up a lot of support along the way."

Although they toiled in mediocrity for much of the 81-82 season, an ugly incident opened the door for some unprecedented success.

A late season brawl between Canucks players and Quebec Nordiques fans during a game at the Colisee lead to the suspension of Canucks Coach Harry Neale.

Assistant Roger Neilson stepped in to take over for Neale, and the team went undefeated the rest of the way, capturing second place in the Smythe Division.

"The 82 team didn't have a great regular season, but they had a great finish to the regular season when Harry Neale was suspended and Roger Neilson took over as coach and they went on a roll," says Robson.

Neilson would stay on as coach into the playoffs, and the team would only lose twice through their first 10 playoff games.

Canucks Defenseman Rick Lanz later recalled, "Right from the situation with Roger becoming coach and being able to summon the troops as a collective group to play the type of hockey they played towards the end of the season and into the playoffs... there was a great coming together of the players. Advancing through the series was a great thing to be a part of."

THE PLAYOFF PUSH

"The 82 team had a lot of toughness and character and good depth, especially at centre ice," says Robson. "They had very good centres in 82 when they had Thomas Gradin and Ivan Hlinka, Gerry Minor, Ivan Boldirev... those are all good centre icemen. It was a team of tough guys with a lot of character and they picked up a lot of support along the way."

As much as Neale's suspension and Neilson's subsequent takeover galvanized the team, as Robson describes, the Canucks certainly had help from a few early round upsets.

"Part of the situation in 82 was there were only two strong teams in the western half of the league, the Edmonton Oilers and the Minnesota North Stars," Robson recalls. "Both were upset in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago knocked off Minnesota and, in a really big upset, Los Angeles defeated Edmonton in what was then a best of five series."

"So with those two teams out of the picture, it left the Canucks and a lot of other teams, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the other teams that were playing in the playoffs, all at about the same level. They were all only about .500 teams, so they weren't considered Stanley Cup contenders, but here they were moving on in the playoffs."

Vancouver would sweep Calgary 3-0 in the best-of-five Smythe Division Semi-Final, and beat Los Angeles four games to one in the best-of-seven Division Final.

Having only lost once through their first two rounds, Robson says the city was starting to sense something special was happening to their team.

"I think you can check the attendance figures, but early in the playoffs, the building wasn't even full. It built as the series went on. When they won the first round against Calgary, they then started to gain momentum."

"There was more interest when they played Los Angeles next and, of course, once they got to the Chicago series then the building was full. There was a lot of hype towards the Chicago-Vancouver series as they were rivals in their own division in previous years. Even going back to the 70s the Canucks and the Hawks had quite a rivalry built up."

THE CHICAGO SERIES

It was that rivalry which lead to some of the most memorable moments in Canucks playoff history. Robson counts the Vancouver-Chicago series, and the goaltending duel that developed from it, among his favourite memories of that year.

"For me, the most memorable game leading up the finals was the overtime win in Chicago when Richard Brodeur and Tony Esposito dueled on and on in game one of the conference final, and Jim Nill finally scored 28 minutes into overtime to give the Canucks the 2-1 victory. That really turned on the fans!"

"That was a special game," recalls Richard Brodeur. "Tony Esposito was one of my idols when I was young, and he was playing great. That was a great memory. Of course, we won the game so, it was something very special."

However, Game 2 of the Chicago series would lead to an incident that has since become legendary.

"The next game in Chicago was the night that Roger Neilson and some of the players at the bench waved a towel in surrender, protesting the officiating of Bob Myers, and that brought about the waving of the white towels," says Robson. "The next game was in Vancouver- everybody was waving white towels and the tradition was on."

Rick Lanz recalls, "As soon as the plane touched down on the tarmac, we were accompanied to the main building by a fire truck with Canuck flags, and people were clapping and waving the white towels."

"Once we got to the building itself and went through customs, the doors opened to the main entrance, it was just an overwhelming feeling to see that many people showing their appreciation for what the team had done. And it continued out onto the roads and in towards Vancouver when a persistent collection of people just refused to let the bus get away... all that was just a tremendous feeling and we very much felt, seeing that, THAT we were doing something special."

Richard Brodeur adds, "We tried to stay away from the hype and all that, but at some point you can't. It got to be so big, the people were just so excited all over BC, really."

"We got messages, people just sharing the love about what was happening and there was just a great feeling about it. In fact, after the whole series, my wife gave me a videotape and said Do you really know what happened?' I said, Well, I got a glimpse of what happened.' But when she showed me the tape of the whole thing, of the people in the streets, people everywhere, waiting in line to get tickets at the Coliseum, it was pretty amazing."

"It's something you don't see when you play. You want to focus on your game and your rest between games. That's why I say you want to stay away from all the hype. It was something amazing... people still talk about it 25 years later."

ON TO THE FINALS

As they entered the Finals, the Canucks had developed the special chemistry often required of championship teams.

Popular Canucks forward, Harold Snepsts, recalls, "It seemed like every game and every series we won, we just got closer. We were a pretty closely-knit club."

Rick Lanz agrees.

"I think the chemistry was the key ingredient in terms of the success of the team. I honestly think in order to reach those kinds of lofty heights of NHL action, you have to have a full commitment and full focus from every player towards a common goal, and that was obviously achieved. There wasn't a player on that team who wasn't willing to do whatever it took to help win the games."

"That was the best thing about the whole run," adds Richard Brodeur. "When you get into a groove like that, it's not one guy, everybody pulls together. If you take a look at the whole run, everybody contributed at one point to something about the game. That's something I remember about the guys that were there."

"Every time we meet, we'll talk about something special that comes up... that's what it's all about. Any team that gets there and wins it, or gets close to it, they share those moments and we still do as a group."

SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR

However, despite winning 10 of 12 games through the first three rounds, and only losing twice under Neilson (12-2-1), once they reached the final, the Canucks faced a nearly insurmountable challenge.

"In 1982 the Canucks had very little chance of winning the Stanley Cup, in fact very little chance of winning a game in the Final. It became a four games sweep," says Robson.

"The Islanders were in their prime in a four-year stretch of Stanley Cups and were a powerful team who dominated the league. The Canucks were a long shot to get that far in the playoffs and no one gave them a chance in that series."

"You hoped they would win one game, and they certainly were competitive, and of course the first game was a long overtime game, but they didn't win a game in 82."

The Canucks, of course, would not return to the finals until 12 years later when they would face another New York team, the Rangers.

"In 94 the building was full right from the start. The Canucks were so strong in the early 90s that there was a lot of fan interest in the team, and I don't think the surprise element was there. Of course, during that first series in 94, there was that huge overtime win in Calgary, in Game 7, when Pavel Bure scored in the second overtime period. In 94 the interest was there right from the start, just as it would be in 2007."

"The building is full, the fans are on the bandwagon, and they can't wait for the playoffs."

25 years later, as the Canucks look to build new playoff memories, there is still little doubt fans will ever forget that magical spring of '82.