Rogers Arena has seen a lot since opening its doors for the first time 20 years ago this week.
Rogers Arena/GM Place/Canada Hockey Place has been the home of the Vancouver Canucks, Vancouver Grizzlies, Vancouver Voodoo, Ravens, NHL All-Star Game, NBA Draft, NHL Draft, World Figure Skating Championships, World Junior Championships, Stanley Cup Final and Winter Olympics.
Here are 20 memorable sporting moments in the 20-year history of Rogers Arena.
1. Vancouver Grizzlies first home game (1995)
The Vancouver Grizzlies’ inaugural season in the NBA coincided with the opening of Rogers Arena (known as GM Place back in those days). The Grizzlies played six disastrous seasons in Vancouver before eventually relocating to Memphis in 2001.
But it wasn’t all bad.
Two days after winning their first ever game on the road in Portland, the Grizzlies returned home to play their first ever home game on November 5, 1995 against Christian Laettner and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Grizzlies won the game in overtime on a rebound tip-in by Chris King at the buzzer. GM Place went wild. The NBA had arrived.
2. Michael Jordan scoring 19 points in 6 minutes (1995)
On November 30, 1995 the Chicago Bulls were in town. Michael Jordan was in his first full season after his comeback (he had a short stint playing baseball of course) and was proving that he was as great as ever. Chicago went on to win an NBA record 72 games that season.
But somehow the Grizzlies had an 8-point lead in the 4th quarter, until Darrick Martin decided to talk trash His Airness.
The rest of the story is best told by former Grizzlies player Antonio Harvey in an interview with the Sporting News last year:
With 8:35 to play in the fourth quarter, Vancouver guard Darrick Martin knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the key to put the Grizzlies up, 75-67. At that point, Martin made a poor decision — he got into the face of Jordan.
“Darrick Martin had been with Michael Jordan during the summer, he was one of the guys in the movie ‘Space Jam,’” Harvey said. “Darrick thought they were kind of like friends because of the movie, because they had hung out during the summer and Darrick thought that meant he could talk trash. So — I have to clean it up, I can’t tell you what was said word-for-word — but Darrick started yelling, ‘Aw, Mike, it’s just not falling tonight, Mike!’ And he ran by their bench and yelled, ‘I told you we were going to beat you, Mike!’”
That’s when things changed. Jordan had seemed resigned to a meaningless loss to Vancouver in the dead of winter. But after hearing Martin, Jordan got off the bench and absolutely took over in the final six minutes of the game.
“Michael is listening to Darrick and finally, he gets up and checks back into the game,” Harvey said. “He proceeded to score, I think it was 20 points in a row, in just a few minutes. (Jordan scored 19 points in a six-minute span.) He was doing it all — he was posting up, he was driving to the basket, he was dunking.
“I felt bad for Byron Scott, he was trying to guard him and Byron was at the end of his career, 34 years old, trying to keep up with Michael Jordan. And Michael was playing angry, which is not a good thing if you’re guarding him.
“Michael hit a fadeaway, falling toward our bench. After it went in, he went and leaned down in front of Darrick Martin and said, ‘Shut up, you little (expletive)!’”
Scott, naturally, did not much appreciate the way Martin antagonized Jordan.
“After the game, Byron comes into the locker room and you could tell he was heated, he was not happy with the way that game ended,” Harvey said. “We had a chance to win a big game on our home floor. So it was quiet, and he turns to Darrick and says, ‘Hey, man, do me a favor. Don’t talk (expletive) to my guy. Reserve that stuff for your guy.’
“Oh, it was something else. It was maybe the greatest performance I have ever seen firsthand, it was that good.”
3. Canada-Russia World Cup of Hockey (1996)
Before NHL participation in the Winter Olympics, the World Cup of Hockey (and before it, the Canada Cup) was the most important international hockey tournament. In 1996, Canada faced off against Russia in a round robin game at GM Place.
Canada won the game 5-3 in a game that featured a fight between Eric Lindros and Darius Kasparaitis and some vintage Don Cherry Russia hate.
4. Messier at the All-Star Game (1998)
The Canucks were in the midst of a dreadful season in 1997-98 (they didn’t do a lot of winning between 1996-2000), but fans got a bit of a thrill when Vancouver hosted the 1998 NHL All-Star Game. One month ahead of the first Olympics with NHL participation, the game featured a new format: North America vs the World.
The game ended in dramatic fashion, with Canucks centre Mark Messier (we didn’t hate him yet) scoring the game winning goal off a pass from Wayne Gretzky. North America beat the World All-Stars 8-7.
5. Steve Francis returns (1999)
Vancouver basketball fans were never more charged up than the first time that Steve Francis came to town as a member of the Houston Rockets. The Grizzlies chose Francis with the 2nd overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft and the world watched him pout. He didn’t want to play in Vancouver and it forced GM Stu Jackson’s hand to trade him. He was public enemy #1 in Vancouver.
It was a great atmosphere, but of course we’re talking about the Grizzlies, so you know they lost. Houston won 118-110 in overtime and that jerk Francis got 24 points.
6. Druken OT goal sends Canucks to playoffs (2001)
I wrote about this goal in-depth earlier this year and maintain that it was the best regular season game ever played at Rogers Arena. The stakes were high, the pressure was on, Felix Potvin returned for the first time and the Canucks won the game on a beauty in overtime by a young up-and-comer from Newfoundland. What else do you want?
7. The West Coast Express era (2002-2006)
Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison formed the most dominant line in the NHL for 2-3 seasons and they did it in spectacular fashion. Responsible defensive hockey was not a strength of that era of Canucks hockey, but it made for some excitement.
The Canucks in those days would routinely fall behind in games and outscore their problems. Despite a lack of playoff success, that group made Canucks hockey fun again and won back a lot of fans that they had lots during the Messier years.
8. Game 7 vs St Louis (2003)
The Canucks trailed the St. Louis Blues 3-1 in the first round of the 2003 playoffs and were in danger of throwing away an otherwise impressive season. But that’s when things turned around. Markus Naslund had 3 goals and 2 assists in the final three games and Dan Cloutier stopped 33 of 34 shots in Game 7 to win the series.
It was the crowning achievement of the West Coast Express era Canucks.
9. Winning Olympic bid (2003)
Everyone in Vancouver was on the edge of their seats on July 2, 2003 as IOC President Jacques Rogge announced that Vancouver had won the right to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. GM Place served as the main viewing party location.
10. Matt Cooke! Matt Cooke! (2004)
Matt Cooke’s goal to tie the game with seconds left in Game 7 versus Calgary was as loud as Rogers Arena has ever been (watch the video here). The goal is still looked upon fondly by many Canucks fans, which is interesting because the game ended in a Canucks loss. Martin Gelinas got the winner for Calgary early in overtime to end the Canucks’ season. Hey, it was fun while it lasted.
11. World Junior gold (2006)
The Canadian team at the 2006 World Juniors wasn’t the most talented team ever assembled, but they dominated the tournament that Vancouver hosted in 2005-06.
Jonathan Toews, Kris Letang and Marc Staal are the only players on that team that went on to become stars in the NHL. Justin Pogge was great in goal, Steve Downie was named to the tournament all-star team, Blake Comeau led the team in points and the late Luc Bourdon was one of the team’s best players.
Canada beat Evgeni Malkin and Team Russia 5-0 on home ice in the gold medal game.
12. Henrik sends the fans home happy (2007)
It wasn’t the most exciting game in Canucks history, but it certainly was the longest.
In Roberto Luongo’s first career playoff game, Henrik Sedin received a pass from his brother Daniel and beat Stars goaltender Marty Turco with under two minutes to go in the 4th overtime period to win Game 1 in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. The Canucks went on to win the series in 7.
13. Luc Bourdon tribute (2008)
There wasn’t a dry eye at GM Place on October 9, 2008. That was the night of Luc Bourdon’s memorial, one of the most emotional nights ever witnessed at 800 Griffiths Way.
Bourdon, just 21-years-old, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident during the offseason. Opening night was the Canucks’ chance to pay tribute and they handled it beautifully.
Luc’s family was on hand and Tom Cochrane sang ‘Big League’ in a moving pre-game ceremony.
14. Burrows slump buster (2009)
Without Roberto Luongo for almost two months, the Canucks eventually began to fold with Curtis Sanford and Jason LaBarbera filling in between the pipes during the 2008-09 season. The Canucks lost 8 games in a row to end the month of January and were free-falling down the standings (22-20-8). Roberto Luongo returned from injury, but was rusty. Mats Sundin, who joined the team just before the losing streak began, was rusty too.
Head coach Alain Vigneault was on the hot seat and the pressure was on. The prospect of missing the playoffs for a second straight season was a very real possibility and the with score tied 3-3 and the Canucks shorthanded, the losing streak was in danger of stretching to 9.
“Tied at 3 after 57 minutes and we have to kill a penalty and they already had two goals on their power play, a lot of people probably thought it was going to be another one of those games we wouldn’t be able to close,” Burrows said.
“But we found a way to get it done, that’s the bottom line, and now it’s a lot of pressure off everybody’s shoulders.”
Burrows scored on a shorthanded breakaway and the Canucks went on to win 4 games in a row and 16 of their next 20.
15. The 1st period of Canada-Russia (2010)
Everyone remembers Crosby’s goal (more on that in a minute) and the gold medal game, but Canada-Russia in the quarterfinal was also a great night for Canadian hockey fans.
The win may seem like a foregone conclusion now, but at the time, there was real reason for panic heading into the game. Canada under-performed in the round robin, losing to the Americans and needing a shootout to beat the Swiss. How would Canada cope with Alex Ovechkin and the high powered Russian attack?
Well, it turned out they coped just fine, thank you very much.
Canada put on the finest display of hockey Rogers Arena has ever seen in the first period. They were fast, they were physical. And they scored goals. They out-shot Russia 21-12 in the first period and held a 4-1 lead.
Russian back-up goalie Ilya Bryzgalov summed it up perfectly: “they came like gorillas coming out of a cage”.
Canada went on to win the game 7-3.
16. Women’s hockey Olympic gold
Canada and USA met in the gold medal game in women’s hockey at the 2010 Olympics, and while the game didn’t have the dramatics of the men’s final, it probably had more emotion on the ice. Unlike the men’s tournament, women’s hockey does not feature all-star teams thrown together days before the tournament.
No, Team Canada and Team USA were bitter rivals comprised of players that had been preparing together for four years for this moment.
Canada won 2-0 and (controversially) celebrated in style.
17. The golden goal (2010)
One day there will be a statue of it outside. The golden goal is already played on a loop inside the arena on the 300-level concourse.
Rogers Arena was the site of one of the biggest goals in Canadian hockey history, and it came from Canada’s best player. Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to give Canada the gold medal in the signature moment from the 2010 Olympics.
18. The Stanley Cup run (2011)
Truth be told, half of this list could be from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was simply the most fun time to be a Canucks fan and one heck of a ride.
The end result wasn’t what everyone hoped for, but that shouldn’t taint the rest of the run.
The Canucks played entertaining hockey and marched to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final for only the second time in their history.
The Canucks defeated their arch nemesis in round 1, ‘slaying the dragon’ when Alex Burrows buried a slap shot past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in overtime of Game 7. It’s the only time in Canucks history that they have won a game 7 in overtime in front of their home fans.
Roberto Luongo hinted that the win may be bigger than winning the gold medal on home ice one year earlier: “I don’t know, this one might be better than the Olympics”. For Canucks fans in that moment, it was.
19. Jersey retirements (2008, 2010, 2013)
Prior to moving in to the arena on Griffiths Way, the Canucks had retired just one jersey in their history: Stan Smyl’s #12. In the span of five years, they now have four. Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund and Pavel Bure all had their night where fans paid tribute to them and all three were special in their own way.
But something about Pavel Bure’s jersey retirement was extra special. Unlike Linden and Naslund, Bure had been removed from the scene in Vancouver for some time.
So seeing the Russian Rocket back on the ice in Vancouver in 2013 was more than a tribute night. It was a repatriation. It took 15 years, but Pavel Bure was a Vancouver Canuck again.
20. Pat Quinn Night (2015)
When news that Pat Quinn had passed away surfaced on November 24 last year, the hockey world was stunned. He was just 71-years-old and was taken far too soon.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Canucks paid tribute to their former defenceman, coach, general manager and president before a game with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Joining Pat’s family on the ice was a star studded cast unlike we’ve ever seen in a ceremony at Rogers Arena before: Orland Kurtenbach, Cliff Fletcher, Rick Ley, Bob Clarke, Stan Smyl, Markus Naslund, Ron Toigo, Bob Nicholson, Trevor Linden, Kirk McLean and Pavel Bure.