VANCOUVER — Furious hockey fans set fire to cars and garbage cans, tossed beer bottles at giant TV screens and ran rampant through downtown streets Wednesday after the Vancouver Canucks lost 4-0 to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing at least two overturned cars burning in the streets, which were strewn with trash and filled with acrid smoke in the moments immediately following the game at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
Flames were seen shooting nearly 10 metres into the air as bystanders tossed firecrackers, setting off intermittent barrages of staccato explosions. The stench of stale beer mingled with the smoke.
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 orange 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.
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. Fans set fire to a stuffed bear; 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. Drunken revellers posed for pictures as rioting continued around them.
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, truncheons at the ready, 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 another stampede of liquor-fuelled 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.
Pandemonium reigned in the streets 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 bandanas 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.