VANCOUVER — The same city that played peaceful host to an idyllic 2010 Winter Olympics showed a darker side Wednesday as a heartbreaking Stanley Cup loss sent furious hockey fans on a violent, liquor-fuelled rampage in downtown Vancouver.
Angry, drunken revellers ran wild after Wednesday night’s 4-0 Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins, setting cars and garbage cans ablaze, smashing windows, showering giant TV screens with beer bottles and dancing atop overturned vehicles.
For many, the ugly chaos added a vicious sting to the already bitter taste of defeat.
“This isn’t what the Canucks are about,” said Chad McMillan, 31, a Vancouver resident and lifelong Canucks fan.
“This isn’t what their fans are about, this isn’t what this city is about.”
Tear gas mingled with the stench of acrid smoke and stale beer as riot police, truncheons drawn, moved in to quell the violence, pushing crowds away from the burning cars that were at the epicentre of the anger.
Later in the evening, police cars were also set aflame.
At one point, police were using flash-bangs — grenades that are designed to distract and disorient, rather than injure — to try to break up the mob, McMillan said.
There were no immediate indications of injuries, although live television did show images of at least one woman mopping blood from her forehead.
“You don’t ever hope for a situation like this,” said Vancouver police Const. Jana McGuinness.
“You celebrate the good times and you prepare for the bad times and that’s exactly what we’ve done. Unfortunately, the tables have turned tonight.”
Flames leaped from at least two flipped vehicles, which rested in the middle of trash-strewn streets, filling the downtown core with heavy black smoke in the moments immediately following the game at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
“I heard a loud noise and turned and there was a car being stomped on by a bunch of guys,” 18-year-old witness Brandon Sinclair said of the first few moments of violence.
“A bunch of guys started rocking it, then they flipped it over and five minutes later it was on fire and then they flipped another one. It was just out of control.”
Bright orange flames were seen shooting nearly 10 metres into the air as bystanders tossed firecrackers, setting off intermittent barrages of staccato explosions.
Live television images showed a large fire burning inside a parking garage, but it wasn’t immediately clear what was ablaze.
Patrick Fleming, 15, from Richmond, B.C., said a small group of fans took out their anger on nearby cars in the game’s dying moments, flipping over two vehicles and setting one on fire.
Another upturned vehicle was visible nearby as flames erupted from the exploding car, prompting bystanders to duck down in alarm. Fans who were trying simply to get out of the danger zone found their visibility reduced to zero by the thick black smoke.
About an hour after the game ended, some bold troublemakers started hurling garbage and bottles at police officers, who deflected the debris with riot shields. Protesters who rushed the police line were quickly subdued with blows from a truncheon.
Some protesters held what looked like pipes or hockey sticks over their heads as they jeered at officers. Newspaper boxes were wrenched off the sidewalk and hurled through store windows. Portable toilets were tipped as the stifling black smoke spread through the city’s core.
Some seemed to revel in the rampage, recording the vandalism on cellphones and video cameras. A few congratulated those who tried to attack police, while others erupted with cheers every time something was damaged.
Som Gosh, 16, said police blocked off the area and detained a number of people, but it did little to quell the violence.
“I think it was a few people … Everybody else is watching, some are cheering,” Gosh said.
As he spoke, another fire erupted nearby in an area littered with abandoned Canucks memorabilia and hand-lettered signs expressing support for the team. The violence appeared to start when fans set fire to a stuffed bear decorated to symbolize the Bruins. Others sang a drunken tune as they danced on an overturned vehicle.
Some members of the crowd could be seen trying to hold others back as the rampage continued. Many — including families with children — tried to flee, panicked.
Most of the people in the downtown core wanted no part of the violence and headed in the opposite direction. A long line of police tried to hold the surging crowd back from the blazing cars.
Though the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt midway through the third period, a hail of beer bottles rained down on giant outdoor television screens as soon as the final buzzer sounded, touching off a fearsome riot.
The scene was vividly similar to one in 1994, when a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers prompted a similar stampede of boozy mayhem in the downtown core.
This time, police tried to nip the violence in the bud by closing liquor and beer stores early, but it appeared to have no effect.
“It’s kind of expected, but, I don’t know — it’s kind of embarrassing in a way,” Sinclair said.
“But it kind of shows our passion in a way, if you think about it.”
Said McGuinness: “We will have to sit down and evaluate exactly what happened here. It’s going to be a black mark for a very, very long time.”
Pandemonium reigned as some fans chanted obscenities about the winning team, leaping over bonfires that raged in the street as riot police moved in to try to restore order. Isolated fights broke out between small groups of drunken fans.
A small group of rioters appeared to be at the heart of the action, fuelling the fires that littered the downtown. They were surrounded by hundreds of observers who stood watching the mayhem unfold, largely in silence.
Police and firemen stood nearby, but did not intervene right away. If a pedestrian happened to be heading in a direction of danger, however, officials warned them to turn around.
At least two young men covered in soot reported being roughed up by the police, but they weren’t arrested. Rivers of poured-out alcohol, broken glass and trash made navigating the streets of the downtown a treacherous task.
As the evening progressed, fans wandered amid the chaos, disoriented and bewildered, some with bandannas or T-shirts pulled over their faces — either to hide their faces from police and TV cameras or to guard against the smoke, or both.
The ugly scene stood in stark contrast to the peaceful revelry that broke out in downtown Vancouver following Canada’s gold-medal win over the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, who is sure to come in for heavy criticism for Vancouver’s Cup loss, was among the heroes of that game, which Canada won 3-2 in overtime.