Analysis: Vancouver riots send league into dark off-season

Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:57pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - An NHL season dominated by debate about on-ice violence ended in a riot on the streets of Vancouver after the Canucks were denied a maiden championship by the Stanley cup-winning Boston Bruins.

The shocking scenes provided an ugly backdrop for a violent final that saw players from both teams spend time in hospitals and another handed a Stanley Cup finals record four-game ban for a late hit.

Pictures of an alcohol-fueled rampage by hundreds of young people looting stores and burning cars put the NHL on front pages around the world on Thursday and will do nothing to boost the image of the league or Vancouver, a city regularly rated among the world's best to live in.

The NHL has been particularly sensitive about its image this season in the wake of criticism that it was not doing enough to curb on-ice violence and protect players.

Even during the finals the issue refused to disappear as general managers met to discuss tougher rules on contact after a late hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome left Boston's Nathan Horton unconscious and twitching on the ice.

Those images, along with Wednesday's riot, will be forever linked to what was otherwise a compelling final.

The rioting put a stain on what had been a glorious 16 months for hockey-mad Canadians who had peacefully celebrated on the same streets when Canada won the gold medal in the men's Olympic ice hockey final last year.

Before the finals national pride in Canada swelled with the announcement that the country had reclaimed one of its lost NHL franchises as the Atlanta Thrashers were headed for Winnipeg.   Continued...

<p>Vancouver Canucks fans scream and take photos of an overturned burnt pickup truck during riots in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs to the Boston Bruins June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante</p>