Markus Naslund was the reason why I became a Canucks fan, and the reason why I’m involved in hockey writing at all.
Can you say he changed my life? Yes, you actually can, which is why I made sure I attended Naslund’s jersey retirement last night, sitting right beneath his banner as it rose to the rafters.
I had to thank him somehow.
There are a lot of Canucks fans out there who didn’t think Naslund’s number should have been retired last night for reasons of their own, but those people probably weren’t affected by Naslund the way I was, or the way many others were who fell in love with our team because of him. They also weren’t any of those now-grown kids who met Naslund at BC Children’s hospital and say he too changed their lives. He was the face of a new generation of fans; the leader of the most exciting line in recent Canucks hockey – the West Coast Express.
Which brings me to the ceremony. It’s no secret that Todd Bertuzzi is one of my favourite players, clearly for nostalgic reasons, but seeing the old WCE line brought back together with Morrison seated on the carpet and Bertuzzi talking on the Jumbo-Tron gave every fan in Rogers Arena a huge trip down memory lane. Both Morrison and Ohlund walked out to deafening cheers, Cloutier as well but with a few boos and Clouts in the mix.
It was just like old times again, with friends and linemates reunited to celebrate 12 years of one man’s life on the Vancouver Canucks. Everyone was there for the same reason, from the former players, old coaches, GMs, and training staff to 19,000 fans who were there solely to watch the number 19 get raised to the rafters.
Just like in 2002, Markus Naslund had the attention and adoration of everyone in GM Place — sorry, Rogers Arena. He was emotional and grateful, and choked up when he began thanking the best fans in the league, a statement that had the audience tearing up and cheering his name.
He was, once again, the most loved man in Vancouver.
Even those who didn’t want Naslund’s number retired were quietened at least for a while, as the nostalgia of what we had and what we lost resonated throughout Canucks Nation. There’s no doubt that Naslund was one of the classiest players Vancouver has ever seen, on and off the ice. I don’t think a lot of people know the level of interaction he had with Canuck Place and BC Children’s Hospital, not to mention with the mentally disabled community.
Many fans didn’t need to be convinced, but those who did were reminded why no other player deserves to wear the number 19 in Vancouver.
Naslund was a gem, and maybe that gem lost some of its sparkle and some of its value over the years, but last night this city was reminded what a treasure we had in Markus Naslund.
Thank you Markus for 12 amazing years in Vancouver, and for changing my life.
Because of you, I was introduced to one of the most important loves of my life – the Vancouver Canucks.