The multi-purpose arena has had an intriguing legacy
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“I had never been inside an arena like that in my life and to know I was going to be working there for the Vancouver Grizzlies as their PA announcer, I felt like a kid at Christmas.” – Al Murdoch
“It’s one of the best places in the National Hockey League to watch a game.” – Iain MacIntyre
This year marks 25 years since Rogers Arena opened. This state-of-the-art building, like fine wine, has aged very well. The arena has been the home of the Vancouver Canucks since 1995. Located at 800 Griffiths Way, the venue has seen a plethora of sporting events, concerts, award shows, film shoots, conventions, speeches, high school events, etc. According to Rogers Arena, they have welcomed 33-million people. Here is a look back at some of the highlights of Rogers Arena’s first quarter century.
The man responsible for building Rogers Arena was businessman Arthur Griffiths. The Griffiths family has a long history with the Vancouver Canucks, owning the team from 1974 to 1997—for over 20 years. Construction began in 1993 and was completed two years later. Griffiths secured five acres of land located at the old Expo 86 site. Over $160 million in private funding was used to build the new arena. The Canucks played their home games at the Pacific Coliseum, which was owned by the city (1970 to 1995). Griffiths, in an interview with CBC Vancouver, said the impetus for building a new arena was for the Canucks to have autonomy: “I recognized in the time and place and the history of sport that the Canucks required their own home.” The building was known as GM Place when it opened on September 21, 1995. Canadian rocker, Bryan Adams, performed a concert two days before to inaugurate the arena. In 2010, General Motors declined to renew the naming rights. Rogers Communications then purchased the naming rights under a 10-year deal—and the building was renamed Rogers Arena in July 2010.
Memorable sports moments
The Vancouver Grizzlies of the NBA played six seasons in the building between 1995 and 2001. Although the Grizzlies did not win a lot, the NBA experience was a great one for diehard basketball fans. Notably, the most unforgettable moment in the building’s history occurred on February 28, 2010. Sidney Crosby would score the “Golden Goal” against the US to clinch the gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Rogers Arena had been converted to “Canada Hockey Place” as the prime venue for the men’s ice hockey event.
Vancouver Canuck moments
In the early 2000s, the West Coast Express line of Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund, and Todd Bertuzzi was one of the most dominant lines in the NHL. In April 2011, Alex Burrows’ “slay the dragon” overtime goal in game seven against Chicago still resonates with Canuck fans. Kevin Bieksa’s famous “stanchion” winning goal in overtime during game five of the western conference final against the San Jose Sharks is also a immensely memorable moment—advancing the Canucks to the cup final against Boston. Rogers Arena would be the place where Canuck fans would marvel at the skill and evolution of the Sedin twins—Henrik and Daniel. The twins played their entire career with the Vancouver Canucks (17 seasons), retiring at the end of the 2018 season. The Canucks have also had several “Ring of Honour” ceremonies while retiring the jerseys of Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund, and the Sedins. There have also been many somber moments. The Canucks have honoured the memory of those who had passed away: Luc Bourdon, Barry Wilkins, Pavol Demitra, Rick Rypien, Pat Quinn, and John Ashbridge.
Other key moments
In October 2002, Queen Elizabeth II visited the building to take part in a ceremonial pre-game faceoff—during an exhibition game between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. In addition, a surfeit of performers and notable figures have paid a visit: The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Elton John, U2, The Police, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Dalai Lama, and Michelle Obama. Furthermore, the building has hosted the WWE, and UFC. And if fighting doesn’t entertain you, perhaps the multiple Juno Awards (1998, 2009, and 2018) that were hosted in the arena will. Also of note is that in August 2018, Rogers Arena hosted The International 2018 Dota 2 eSports tournament. From Queen Elizabeth II to Dota, there’s nothing this arena can’t host!
Interviews with Jim Robson, Al Murdoch, and Iain MacIntyre
Jim Robson, retired Hall of Fame Vancouver Canuck play-by-play announcer, witnessed the early years of the Canucks in their new building. Robson remembers the first time he walked into Rogers Arena. “I remember having a tour of the new arena before the first hockey game and being very impressed, especially with the broadcast location and facilities,” Robson said in an email interview with the Other Press. “I always felt the broadcast booth should be opposite the player’s benches, unlike the poor TV location at the Pacific Coliseum. And the height was good, [very] high, but not too high—offering an excellent view of the ice.”
Al Murdoch, current Canuck PA announcer, was also the PA announcer for the NBA Vancouver Grizzlies from 1995 until 2001. Murdoch remembers the first time he walked into Rogers Arena. “I was in awe of its size and design,” Murdoch said in an email interview with the Other Press. “You have to remember, the Pacific Coliseum was the only reference we had in terms of a pro hockey/basketball arena in Vancouver, so to walk into then GM Place was jaw-dropping. And to have it built right in the [centre] of the city, it was fantastic. I had never been inside an arena like that in my life and to know I was going to be working there for the Vancouver Grizzlies as their PA announcer, I felt like a kid at Christmas.”
Iain MacIntyre, Senior Writer for Sportsnet, was a longtime writer for the Vancouver Sun—covering the Canucks from 1991 until 2017. MacIntyre was impressed when he first walked into the building. “Honestly, my first impression of being inside Rogers Arena, besides how sparklingly new and shiny it seemed, was how intimate it felt,” MacIntyre said in an email interview with the Other Press. “It’s actually a small arena by modern standards. The Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts limited the architects and squeezed the building’s footprint. But this was a blessing for fans because all the seats, even the back row of the upper bowl, feel close to the ice. It’s a pain sometimes to move through the concourses when the arena is full, but it’s one of the best places in the National Hockey League to watch a game.”
Dark moments in Rogers Arena history
Clearly Rogers Arena has hosted many notable events. Unfortunately, however, the building has been the site for some very dark moments.
Brashear and McSorley
On February 21, 2000, Marty McSorley of the Boston Bruins hit Canuck enforcer Donald Brashear in the side of the head with his stick. Brashear fell backwards, hitting his head on the ice—suffering a concussion. McSorley would be suspended and it led to his eventual retirement from the NHL. In addition, McSorley was later charged with assault and appeared in the Provincial Court of BC. He was found guilty but served no jail time, being sentenced to 18-month probation.
Guns N’ No Axl Rose
In November 2002, fans waiting to see Guns N’ Roses began to riot outside the arena when news broke that lead singer, Axl Rose, was a no-show. Entertainment journalist Kurt Loder stated on MTV that “groups of ticked-off kids converged at the gates of GM Place. Fuelled, in some cases, by strong drink and marijuana, they hoisted the long metal security barriers outside and rammed them through the glass entry doors. They threw bottles and rocks. […] After about 20 minutes of all this, a phalanx of cops waded in with attack dogs, and things got really ugly.”
Bertuzzi and Moore
Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks was involved in one of the ugliest incidents in the building’s history. The Canucks were trying to exact revenge on Colorado forward, Steve Moore—who injured Canuck star winger, Markus Naslund, with a borderline late hit that was not penalized in a game on February 16, 2004. Naslund suffered a concussion with cuts to his face. There is an unwritten rule in hockey: overly aggressive hits on star players are off limits. Hence, the purpose of an enforcer is to provide protection for star players (Wayne Gretzky having Dave Semenko and Steve Yzerman having Bob Probert). Both teams would play each other again two weeks later in Colorado with no incident. The teams would meet again in Vancouver five days later on March 8, 2004. In the game, Colorado was leading the Canucks by a score of 8 to 2 (final score was 9 to 2). In the third period, Bertuzzi would seek retribution on Steve Moore, resulting in more violence. Moore suffered three fractured neck vertebrae, a concussion, and facial cuts. He never played hockey again and all of this resulted in criminal charges against Bertuzzi—and a civil lawsuit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks. In August 2014, the CBC reported the lawsuit ended with all parties involved agreeing to a confidential settlement.
Marking 25 years and moving forward
Arthur Griffiths, with NBA expansion fees along with high cost overruns on the construction of Rogers Arena, had no choice but to sell his interests of the Canucks and Grizzlies (Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment), gradually, to cellular phone mogul, John McCaw. McCaw would take over full ownership in November 1996. In November 2006, McCaw would sell his shares to the current owners, the Aquilinis (Aqulinis had originally purchased 50 percent of the arena and Canucks in November 2004). Since March, Rogers Arena has remained closed due to the pandemic. The hiatus will give people the opportunity to reflect on the impact the building has had on the millions of people who have passed through its doors over the last 25 years. In the same September 2020 interview with the CBC Vancouver, Arthur Griffiths reflected on Rogers Arena’s legacy. “Well, I remember sitting in the arena in the morning of, sitting in the bowl, and kind of taking it all in,” Griffiths said as he paused while holding back tears. “And realizing what had been accomplished.”
Rogers Arena interesting facts
Date opened: September 21, 1995
Cost to build: $160 million ($249 million in 2018 dollars)
Architect: Brisbin, Brook, and Beynon
Owner: Canucks Sports & Entertainment
People visited venue: 33-million people
Current tenants: Vancouver Canucks (NHL) (1995 to present) and Vancouver Warriors (NLL) (2018 to present)
First concert: Bryan Adams on September 19, 1995
First NHL game: Vancouver Canucks hosting Detroit Red Wings on October 9, 1995
First NHL goal: Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings (October 9, 1995)
First Vancouver Canuck goal: Mike Ridley (October 9, 1995)
First NHL playoff game: Vancouver Canucks hosting Colorado Avalanche on April 20, 1996
First NHL playoff goal: Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche (April 20, 1996)
First Vancouver Canuck playoff goal: Esa Tikkanen (April 22, 1996)
961 regular-season NHL games and 59 playoff games
246 regular-season NBA games (and no playoff games)
28 men’s hockey games during the 2010 Olympics (Rogers Arena was renamed Canada Hockey Place)
NHL All-Star game in 1998
NBA Draft in 1998
NHL Draft in 2006, and 2019
2019 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships