VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks insisted Friday that their fans are not to blame for the violent, destructive riot that broke out following the team's Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins, and called for swift justice for those responsible.
Rioters burned cars, smashed windows and looted stores in the city centre for several hours on Wednesday night, and images of the chaos have been broadcast around the world.
The police have blamed the riot on a small band of "anarchists and criminals" who came with supplies and a plan, linking some of them to a similar, albeit infinitely smaller, riot during last year's Winter Olympics.
But whoever set the riot in motion, it was clear to anyone witnessing it unfold that many jersey-clad hockey fans who may have come downtown to watch the game eventually joined the smashing and looting.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis labelled the rioters "thugs," who weren't motivated by the outcome of the game.
"Those aren't our fans who were doing that," Gillis told reporters during a news conference at Rogers Arena.
"I think that would have happened whether we won or lost. ...When you're faced with thugs like that and people who are just prepared to punch other people in the face and think they're getting away with it, it's pretty hard to stop that. They're there for that purpose."
The trouble started a few minutes before the game ended, when a group of people in a massive outdoor viewing site tipped over a vehicle and set it on fire. The melee continued for several hours before police in riot gear and on horseback brought things under control.
The riot caused millions of dollars in damage, left at least 150 injured, including nine police officers, and has prompted an investigation involving police agencies throughout B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
A riot broke out the last time the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup final in 1994, after Vancouver lost to the New York Rangers in New York.
Memories of the '94 riot were top of mind as this year's Stanley Cup final approached, and the next time the Canucks make it this far, that anxiety will no doubt be amplified.
Gillis said the team will take whatever steps it can to prevent another repeat.
"I'm concerned about anything that reflects poorly on us and the city that we represent, and we're going to do our part in making sure this never happens again," said Gillis.
"I hope they're punished to the full extent of the law," he said of the rioters. "And if they are, maybe that will become (a warning) that you're not going to get away with this kind of stuff."
Officials with the NHL and the Boston Bruins couldn't be reached for comment.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo said it was disturbing to watch images of Wednesday's riot.
"It was disappointing. Those were not the real Vancouver fans that were doing that," said Luongo.
"I think it was isolated groups. It was tough to watch that something like that happened to the city."
Other players echoed Luongo's comments that the team's devoted fans couldn't have had anything to do with the riot.
Some contrasted the rioters with the volunteers who came downtown Thursday morning armed with brooms, garbage bags and scrub brushes to help clean up the mess.
"I was disgusted like everyone else; it's not fun to watch," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin.
"What happened with all the volunteers that came out, I think that shows more of what Vancouver is about than the night before."