Vancouver Prepares for Massive Stanley Cup Crowds — By Closing Liquor Stores

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Tim Newcomb / TIME

Fans crowd the glass at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., prior to Game 2 of the Vancouver vs. Boston Stanley Cup Finals.

Policing a feisty crowd surging in excess of 100,000 can be daunting, so government officials have done what any rational person would do: take away the alcohol.

The mood of 100,000 hockey fans wedged into Vancouver’s downtown streets can change as quickly as Cancuks’ goalie Roberto Luongo’s save percentage. But police in Vancouver will prepare for those changes during tonight’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

As part of police preparation for an expected deluge of Canucks fans—and assorted party seekers—flooding the four giant outdoor screens and countless restaurants and bars in the Granville Street downtown core, the British Columbia province will again try what it did on Monday—and what it enacted during the Olympics in February 2010—by limiting alcohol sales, shutting them down at 4 p.m. on gameday in the downtown core.

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“It is common sense,” says Vancouver Police Constable Lindsey Houghton. “If you don’t put liquor in peoples’ hands, the potential for liquor-related violence is less.”

After nearly 3,000 “liquor pour-outs” by the Vancouver Police Department and the South Coast BC Transportation Authority Police during Game 5 in Vancouver on Friday, June 10, the province put the liquor-sale limitation in place for Monday’s Game 6 (the game was in Boston, but 35,000 fans still packed downtown to watch the Bruins blow out the Canucks and force a Game 7).

Shirley Bond, Minister of Public Safety, says the “alcohol consumption on the streets and public intoxication reached an unacceptable level on Friday.”

With only 35 liquor pour-outs on Monday it was part awareness, part liquor limitations, part police presence and part Luongo (he stellar performances in goal during games in Vancouver and outright atrocious play when in Boston, giving up three goals on the first eight shots in the first period Monday, sets the ebb and flow of the series).

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But with Game 7 back on Canadian soil, Houghton says the police department will prep for Olympic-sized crowds—which he equated to hosting a Super Bowl—while hoping to foster a “family-friendly atmosphere.”

Hosting a Stanley Cup Finals isn’t some small gathering point for Vancouver residents. It creates community. Police will shut down a U-shaped district of between 20 and 24 city blocks to house the live, outdoor viewing areas and contain an onslaught of people. The closing of streets remains a fluid situation throughout the night, as a win will likely send fans up and down a variety of popular downtown streets. But police will be there “to console” the thousands of disappointed and sad fans—including those who choose to take their frustrations out in public—should the Bruins prevail.

“The momentum has been building and with us hosting it, we are expecting exceptionally huge crowds,” he says. “Everyone has been waiting a long time to be in the Cup Finals and a lot of people will be out.”

Having already run a successful Olympics—complete with plenty of liquor limits—Houghton says that gives police an upper hand on dealing with Canucks crowds. By fencing off the game-viewing areas, police have better opportunity to set up liquor checkpoints.

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But the police don’t want to just dump out the alcohol, they aim to “interact with the crowds” and have fun alongside the people.

“At the end of the day, we want people leaving with a memorable experience whether the Canucks win or lose,” Houghton says. “The high-fives (by police) and posing for photos, people like that. This is fun for us too.”

Along the way, the police can only hope the alcohol-fueled incidents get ratcheted way back. But, in the end, that may be up to Luongo.