Vancouver was living up to its historic nickname "The Big Smoke" yesterday after it woke up to discover that ice hockey fans dismayed at their team's defeat in the final of the sport's biggest competition had turned the streets of the city centre into a riot zone.
In defiance of sleepy national stereotype, thousands of residents of Canada's third-largest metropolis began fighting, smashing shop windows and setting cars on fire after the final whistle blew in Wednesday night's decisive seventh game of the series to decide the winner of this year's Stanley Cup.
Crowds had gathered around large outdoor television screens to watch the fixture, which pitted the Vancouver Canucks against the Boston Bruins in a best of a seven game series that was tied 3-3. After the game ended in an abject 4-0 defeat, they turned violent.
Witnesses said the unrest began when locals began setting large teddy bears (which symbolised the mascot of their opponents) on fire. Then they started throwing empty beer bottles and looting from Downtown shops. Within minutes, outnumbered police were using tear gas in an unsuccessful effort to disperse hooligans.
No deaths were immediately reported. However the intensive care unit and ER department of Vancouver General Hospital announced a "code orange," meaning that it was over-run. Staff erected tents to treat the wounded, who couldn't make it into a ward, in their car park. Police said it took four hours to regain control of the city centre.
"It's absolutely disgraceful and shameful and by no means represents the city of Vancouver," the local mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters. "We have had an extraordinary run in the playoff, great celebration. What's happened tonight is despicable."
Video showed shopkeepers who attempted to protect their property being thrown to the ground and beaten, while onlookers stood around watching. Rocks and bottles were thrown at riot police, and rubbish bins set on fire sending plumes of black smoke into the sky.
"It's terrible," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin who with team-mates used Twitter in a failed effort to persuade fans to call a halt to violence. "This city and province has a lot to be proud of, the team we have and the guys we have in here. It's too bad."
Ice Hockey is Canada's national sport and the progression of the Canucks to the Stanley Cup final had been followed with near religious fervour by locals. The game marked the culmination of the season of the NHL, the professional franchise which operates the sport's most glamorous contest, featuring 30 clubs from the US and Canada.
Although most of the sport's punch-ups occurs on ice, this is not the first time Canucks fans have bared their teeth. In 1994, after the team lost a decisive seventh Stanley Cup Final game to the New York rangers, between 50,000 and 70,000 locals staged a riot which lasted almost 24 hours.
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