The Legend Of “Silvos” Is Only Beginning

Yesterday, I looked at the Tigers lineup and there was a guy named “Ryan Vilade” on there. Sure. Why not? I had never heard of him, and his deal became no clearer to me in his first at-bat of the game; he grounded into a double play, perhaps to signal that he truly belonged on this team. But he came up to the dish in a big spot his next time around, and his first major-league hit scored two runs to tie the game. Suddenly, I had heard of him. Suddenly, he was my hero! I would die for him! I would name my firstborn son Ryan Vilade, and raise him to embody all the values of his namesake, and impress upon him the significance of such an honorable name.

It was hard to reconcile these instant heroics with the facts of Vilade’s career, which couldn’t otherwise be called fast-moving. He had made his big-league debut a while ago, in 2021, as a top-10 prospect in the Rockies system. He went 0-for-6 in three games before the team sent him back to Triple-A Albuquerque, and he didn’t play another MLB game until Tuesday. His hit was a long time in the making. Several years ago, someone else had turned on a Rockies-Nats game, learned all about this new guy Ryan Vilade, and then just never thought about him again. 

Most cups of coffee are just that, but for a reason that has nothing to do with Ryan Vilade, I’ve been thinking lately about those neat moments in sports fandom when the present illuminates a rich past. That reason for this is Arturs Silovs, the improbable 23-year-old starting netminder for my improbably good Vancouver Canucks, who begin their second-round series against the Oilers tonight. Silovs landed the backup job when Vezina finalist Thatcher Demko suffered an ominous knee injury after the first game of the first round against the Predators. Then he landed the top job when veteran backup Casey DeSmith strained his groin in Game 3. Silovs’s ninth NHL game was a series-clinching Game 6 in Nashville; he stopped 28 shots brilliantly in a 1-0 win. The local press has compared him to Rocky Balboa and also to the Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden, who first made his name with the ‘70s Habs under similar circumstances, and at the same age. 

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Like every other Canucks fan, I’ve caught Silovs Fever. But his run feels extra special to me because Arturs Silovs features in one of my earliest memories of Canucks fandom. I started following the team in 2021, which was a strange and mostly bad time to watch the Canucks. The fanbase was coming down from the high of last year’s bubble playoff run. Pandemic travel rules stuck all the Canadian teams in one ridiculous makeshift “North Division.” To end the season, Vancouver played Calgary, I think, four dozen times. One night in April, against the Senators, Demko was injured, backup Braden Holtby had to start, and the Canucks had no choice but to dress some 20-year-old taxi squad rando as a backup. For this very special occasion, the team stitched the wrong name on his jersey:

SILVOS. He may bedevil Connor McDavid for the next two weeks, and win the Conn Smythe Trophy a couple weeks after that, but this is how I will always remember him: as SILVOS, victim to the same checked-out equipment manager behind the “CHAISSON” jersey Alex Chiasson would wear the following season. At the time, everyone registered it as a metaphor, and how could we not? Was there a better symbol for the mess the club was in, or for a front office that screwed up everything it touched, than SILVOS? In that moment, the whole concept of tonight, the idea of a 100-point season and a playoff series win and meaningful contributions from Arturs “Silvos” Silovs, never seemed more foreign. 

For years, I’ve kept a running Notes App list of “interesting” team moments, like a scrapbook for each season. (It’s a normal habit. And fun—you should try it.) When I read them back at the end of the year, they’re usually good for a couple laughs and little more. Other 2021 Canucks moments include: “Four goals on four shots against Mikko Koskinen,” and “got a too many men penalty and then just kept all six guys out there to defend the delayed penalty.” But if you wait long enough, the old bits and bobs of fandom might cohere. That guy between the pipes in the second round of the playoffs? I knew him back when. Back when he was SILVOS. Just spell it right on the Cup.

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