British Canucks fan returns to Vancouver 14 years after NHL lockout disappointment

«It was always on my list to come back and here I am. Shame about the weather, though. It’s freezing cold, I was expecting it to be warmer.”

Drew Forester, who In 2005 quit his job in England, got a 12-month work visa and moved to Vancouver with hopes of watching a full season of the Vancouver Canucks, only to find that the NHL was locked out and he didn’t get to see a single Canucks game, is seen in Vancouver on Feb 10. NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

A lot can change in 14 years. People come and people go. Power passes and markets change.

But true love never dies, and that is what has brought Drew Forester back to Vancouver more than a dozen years after the NHL lockout shot down his dream of watching a season of Vancouver Canucks hockey.

Forester is 38 now, he’s married, has a good job and a lovely home on the northeast coast of England in a spot called Whitley Bay. He plays goal for one of the town’s rec teams — the Tyneside Jesters — and sports a conservative beard and short hair.

But in December 2004 when he landed in Vancouver to make his Canucks dream come true he was single, unemployed, with little in the bank and longish curly hair and a boyish face.

Drew Forester, shown in February 2005, aged 24, on his first visit to Vancouver. Nick Procaylo / PROVINCE

It was a different time. Newspapers still ruled the media roost (hence his excitement when he was featured in a February 2005 article in The Province titled Hockey-mad Briton chilled by season end); Gordon Campbell was in control of B.C.’s future; while Paul Martin had Canada’s helm.

You could buy a house in Vancouver for well under $600,000 and Forester’s Pound bought him $2.20 Canadian, compared with $1.72 today.

“I came to watch as many games as I could,” said Forester, who on Monday night will be in Rogers Arena to catch the Canucks take on the San Jose Sharks.

He knew before arriving that year that the season was in some doubt, given talks between the league and the players’ association were stalled. But it came as a real blow when on Feb. 9, 2005, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman cancelled the season, and dashed Forester’s dreams.

Forester had been a diehard fan of Dan Cloutier, Markus Naslund and, of course, the bright young stars at the time, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The back-end back then was held up by Sami Salo, Mattias Ohlund and Brent Sopel.

The Canucks had also recently picked up Ryan Kesler as their first-round pick, though the 2003-04 Brian Burke/Marc Crawford team was to be sadly remembered for the Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore on March 8, 2004, after Moore had earlier in the season concussed captain Markus Naslund.

The team did, however, make it to the 2003-04 playoffs, getting knocked out in the first round in seven games by the Calgary Flames.

Forester was able to line his darkened Canucks’ cloud with a little silver, as he became a regular at Vancouver Giants and Coquitlam Express games during 2004-2005, and he learned to play the game he loves so much.

“There were a couple of players who played for (Coquitlam) that made it to the NHL, Brandon Yip was one. He ended up with Colorado,” said Forester, who still watches as much NHL as he can get away with.

“I remember I went with my mate James to see Coquitlam and he said, ‘That’s Kurt Russell standing behind you shouting his head off.’ I thought he was taking the mick, but there he was and the next game Goldie Hawn was there.”

Russell and Hawn were there to watch their son Wyatt Russell, who was playing in goal for Coquitlam at the time.

Forester stayed in Vancouver until early June 2005, when he had been hoping to watch some playoff games.

“Well, I ended up returning home. I tried to extend my visa, but it didn’t happen. Since then I got married four years ago, bought a house in Whitley Bay. It’s a coastal town north of Newcastle. Got a proper job and ended up getting settled. It was always on my list to come back, and here I am. Shame about the weather, though. It’s freezing cold, I was expecting it to be warmer.”

Forester said he was crushed by the Canucks’ Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins in the 2010-11 season.

“I was a pretty big (Roberto) Luongo fan. He was so stellar during the season. That was tough to take, especially with all the bother after the game,” he said.

On Monday, Forester will be looking out for No. 40, Elias Pettersson.

“The fact he’s putting the numbers up and he’s on track with (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby is amazing. They were coming into the league when I was last here.”

One thing that doesn’t seem to have changed too much are ticket prices. Forester is paying around $100 a ticket for lower-bowl seats for Monday’s game, and that’s about what people were paying to see Nazzy and the boys back in the day.

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