A Diamond in the Rough

Friday, 22.02.2008 / 5:05 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
In Cambridge, England, soccer and rugby are the sports of choice and they have been for quite some time. That’s not about to change anytime soon, but if Johan van de Ven had his way, hockey would reign supreme throughout the country.

Vancouver Canucks hockey, that is.

A diamond in the rough if ever there was one, van de Ven is a die-hard Canucks fan who prefers sticks and ice to cleats and mud. This makes him a rarity in his hometown and an easy target at school.

“I do face scorn from classmates who think of hockey as a ‘soft’ sport, despite my attempts to persuade them otherwise,” said the 16-year-old, who is currently in grade 11.

Living in England and liking hockey is a bit uncommon, but certainly not unheard of as the NHL’s two regular season games that were played there this past September were a rousing success. Becoming a fan of the sport and the Canucks during the 2004-05 lockout season is a tad unusual, however.

Originally a fan of the Colorado Avalanche and/or Detroit Red Wings, van de Ven had a Canucks epiphany one morning during the lockout that change his alliance forever.

“I watched a program called Transworld Sport, which had a feature on the lockout, including a segment talking about the three Canucks playing for Modo Hockey, the Sedins and Naslund.

“So for the rest of that season, I was to be found praying that the NHLPA and the owners could reach an agreement, but even though that season was lost, my passion for the Canucks was more alive than ever.”

A fan of everything from the players to the logo, van de Ven became entrenched in the world of the Canucks from that season on, so much so that NHL 2002 became his favourite video-game. His favourite opponent? That would be his twin brother, a fan of the Los Angeles Kings.

“His allegiance to the Kings stems from Los Angeles being our mom's hometown, and he is forever giving me grief over the Canucks miss on Anze Kopitar in the ‘05 draft. All I have to do is remind him of Jeff ‘the Barbarian’ Cowan and he goes quiet pretty quick.”

Despite the eight-hour time difference between England and Vancouver, van de Ven has managed to keep pretty good tabs on the Canucks over the last few years thanks to the Internet. Highlights, stats and stories galore have helped him become enormously educated in all things Canucks, even though he hasn’t watched a game for some time.

“In a way, the past few seasons have been almost like a soap opera, with so many tremendous highs and lows that it almost seems scripted, and this turbulence is again a captivating factor. Of course, I also like the cosmopolitan nature of the team, and the strong European presence on the top few lines is an attraction, considering my status as part-Euro (English, Dutch, and American nationalities).

“Nonis's system of youth cultivation is also impressive, considering the money-hungry nature of most sports, and this is already reaping rewards, in the shape of Kesler, Edler, Raymond, Bourdon, etc.”

When van de Ven isn’t keeping pace with the Canucks, he follows the Peterborough Phantoms, his favourite English Premier Ice Hockey League team. The local squad helps fill his hockey appetite between Vancouver games.

“That league still houses several NHL draftees, and Latvian Olympic goal scorer Maris Ziedins. So whilst fan population is not huge, most are extremely knowledgeable - I once overheard a conversation about Pascal Leclaire after he had just been called up to the Blue Jackets.”

van de Ven now waits on pins and needles with other Canucks fans from around the world to see how strong of a push Vancouver can make towards the playoffs. He hopes Naslund and the Sedins will lead the Canucks to glory, but if not, he’ll make sure they at least beat the Kings in NHL 2002.


14 Hours
Time Difference between England and Vancouver
 
7, 604 KM
Distance between Engalnd and Vancouver

9 hrs 25 Minutes
Approximate total flight time
traveling from Vancouver to England
 
2004 / 2005
The year van de Ven started following the Canucks (during the NHL lockout)