Canucks’ 2015 Hock-tober

The kids are ALRIGHT! Last year it was Bo Horvat winning over the team and fans…this year it’s Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann.  It is officially official as the Vancouver Canucks have announced that BOTH Virtanen and McCann have made the team and will not being going back to junior.  Welcome to the NHL, boys!

VirtsMcCannMcCann we dig it, Canucks fans? Yes, yes we can.

October has come and gone and with it the Vancouver Canucks have eleven games in the book with seventy-one more to go. Let’s take a closer look at the October that was for first month of the team’s 2015-16 season.

The Canucks closed out October with a respectable 5-2-4 record and fourteen points. Through eleven games, we have seen a little bit of everything: from three rookies continuing to impress to a few third period collapses to beating the best team in the league on home ice to Miller playing with an edge and enduring just TWO regulation losses.

Infuse the lineup with youth they said. Let the kids play they said. Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton showed up to training camp with one aim in mind: make the Canucks roster out of camp and maintain that spot. All three have accomplished that goal. Jake Virtanen leads the team in hits and starting to find his offensive stride, Jared McCann leads the team in goals with five and Ben Hutton is dependable in just about every area of the ice. Sure there have been some growing pains through the games they have all played, but the positives have more than outweighed the negatives proving that there is so much more to come from these three rookies over time.

Ryan Miller is not good enough some said. Ryan Miller is too old and too expensive many others said. Ryan Miller would need to be better than last year, they all said. Through ten games, though yes he has let in a bad goal or two, most nights he has been one of the Canucks best players on the ice.  Miller is boasting some impressive numbers through ten games: a 2.16 goals against average, one shutout and a 0.923 save percentage. He’s been playing with a edge that gives the team a chance to win every game.

Perhaps the most frustrating stat of the season is the fact that it took 6 games on home ice before the Canucks got their first victory in Vancouver. Or the multiple third period leads that ended up as overtime losses. The overtime losses were not ideal BUT the team still picked up points in those games and every single point counts when the team’s aim is to be playoff bound. Impressively, the team has lost just twice in regulation. Perhaps their most impressive games have been against the California teams on the road AND that first victory at home when they took on the league’s top team, Montreal. Another impressive stat through eleven games? The team has a 90% penalty kill success rate and 20% powerplay success rate.

Are there things they can improve on in the remaining 71 games? Absolutely, no matter how well a team is or is not playing, there are always ways for them to keep improving. The Canucks have their work cut out for them if they want to be playoff bound come April, but they are off to a respectable start towards that goal. Next up the Canucks will battle the state of Pennsylvania as they face-off against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on home ice. Here’s to two strong games before the team is back on the road for 7 straight games!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

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It Never Gets Easier…

Do you remember the first time that hockey fully grabbed your attention and completely stole your heart for this game that is so much more than a game? Perhaps it was a past Stanley Cup final, the Winter Olympics, World Championship, an AHL affiliate game or perhaps even a local minor hockey team that simply captured you in a way that only hockey can and once it did, there was no looking back. I can remember the first that game I really watched from start to finish completely enraptured by this game and every sound from the cheers in the stands to the skates on the ice to the final buzzer. There is one thing that prior to really embracing a my Canucks that I never understood or was prepared for, the emotional component. Yes, it’s true that there is an emotional component to being a sports fan that goes beyond grief with the refs or players on the opponents’ team.

There are the emotions that come with every win and every loss in the regular season but also those in the post season. There is the anticipation and excitement that builds as a new season inches closer around the corner. There is anguish of seeing players sidelined indefinitely with an injury and cautious excitement when that same player returns for their first game back. There is exhilaration when your team scores that big goal that leads to the next round and absolute heartbreak when you are on the other side watching your team’s season come to an end. There is the anxiety that kicks in around second overtime when you witness two teams battle for every inch of the ice in the post season. There is a veteran retiring from the game and watching him skate one last loop around the rink for the fans to say good-bye. There are the unexpected moments off the ice that unite the players once on the ice and prove that hockey is much, much, much more than JUST a game.

There is the attachment that grows with watching players develop from a prospect to becoming a veteran franchise leader. There is the sorrow that comes when those franchise players get traded, leave to play elsewhere or retire. Trades and changes are an inevitable part of the game but that never gets easier to embrace no matter how often they happen over the course of a player’s career.

Today was not a BIEKSALLENT day for this hockey fan. Today, the Vancouver Canucks and franchise player, Kevin Bieksa parted ways via a trade. There was no bitterness or anger on either side, just appreciation and respect for ten dedicated years. I understand that moves like this one have to happen and that it’s a part of the game but it NEVER gets any easier to see players that have become cornerstones leave. Players like Bieksa are not easy to replace for more than just his on-ice leadership contributions…he was a class act off the ice with the fans and many of the Canucks charities over ten years. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements OFF of the ice was his work in helping to shine a light on the importance of Mental Health Awarenss (Mindcheck) in honour of his friend, Rick Rypien.

Juice, Vancouver will never forget everything you did over ten incredible years, and thank-you, just does not seem even close to enough but it is what we have to offer…THANK-YOU. You gave this city incredible moments from the beginning to the end while fully embracing what it meant to have the heart of a Canuck on and off the ice. From getting under the skin of the opponents to interview gold to that beyond amazing stanchion goal to your work with CFKF, Canuck Place and Mindcheck…you gave this team and this city more than we deserved. It truly was an honour seeing you play for the Canucks all this time and while I may never root for Anaheim, I do wish you the best over there, KB!

IMG_0927#ThankYouJuice for this picture and the many Canucks memories!

More than ten years into being a hockey fan and it still never gets any easier. Nope, it never gets any easier to see franchise players leave the team that developed them from prospect to veteran. The emotional component makes it hard to be a fan sometimes but it is also what makes being a fan so great. Hockey is so much more than JUST a game. On and off the ice, there are highs and lows that go hand in hand with being a hockey fan and it’s pretty incredible to be on the sidelines to see every step of each 82-game journey no matter the outcome.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

 

 

From the Brink to SERIES ON!

2015Game51As quickly as the Vancouver Canucks found themselves on the brink of elimination on home ice, they found their way back into their first round series. Ryan Miller earned his first playoff victory as a Canuck. Yes, I know that THIS win does not mean the Canucks will come all the way back to win the series, but it certainly was encouraging to see them battle back with a massive team effort for 60 minutes that forced a sixth game.The pressure is mounting on both sides, both want that next win and no one wants their season to end. Bring on game six! There is no guarantee that the series will or will not end in Calgary on Saturday night. That’s the best part of the playoffs, the unpredictability on any given night. Game five was a keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish and I have no doubts that game six will be the same.

Would I love to see the Canucks come ALL the way back in this series? Absolutely. Will I be disappointed should the series end before game seven? Selfishly I would absolutely LOVE a chance to see the Canucks play Anaheim in round 2 but I will not in ANY way be disappointed in the team. How can I be disappointed with the bounce back season that the team has had? I am beyond proud of the team’s comeback season after the tornado that was last season. Who would have predicted a season that saw them finish SECOND in the division with a 101 points while San Jose and LA were on the outside looking in? They found their way back to the post-season while their core all had bounce back seasons and their goal-tending was solid. Not many would have picked the Canucks OR the Flames to have season’s to remember rather focused on rebuilding. It has been fantastic to see both of these teams have success this season.

Now I ask you…are you ready for a wild finish over the next game or two? Do you believe? The Canucks believe as they have all year that they have a chance, perhaps it’s time that we do the same prior to puck drop in game six. One thing is certain, NO MATTER WHAT happens in game six, I will be cheering for the Canucks from puck drop to final buzzer. No matter what the result after the final buzzer of game six, I will remain as always a proud Vancouver Canucks fan.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

 

Round ONE, Here We Go!

2015towelPOWERIt is official, towel power will be back when the Vancouver Canucks open the first round of the 2015 NHL playoffs on home ice against the Calgary Flames. Both teams were on the outside looking in last year during the post-season. Both teams exceeded the expectations. Both teams have fought hard all season long to prove that they BOTH deserve to be playoff bound. Both teams are looking to extend their post-season beyond the opening round. Both teams are poised for an entertaining series from start to finish. Vancouver facing Calgary, is no easy task for either side. This match up is not about the past or even the regular season series. It all comes down to THIS series and who steps up each AND every game. There will be moments of absolute glee as heroes emerge and absolute heartbreak all within the span of ONE game! It’s a whole new season in which ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is possible for both sides.

Are you ready? The battle has already begun! Here’s to a great series!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

P.S. I’m calling Canucks in six games. What are your predictions? Leave yours in the comments!

CLINCHED! PLAYOFFS, BABY!

2015CLINCHEDPlayoff fever, is that YOU calling my name? YES, it is! The Vancouver Canucks have officially punched their 2015 playoff ticket! There were many who said after the torpedo that was last season, that were beyond skeptical that the Canucks could return to the post-season THIS year. What a difference, a year can make!

Last year when Trevor Linden said that THIS team was going to make it to the playoffs, there were A LOT of doubters. How could anyone blame them after what was the Torts era? Many “experts” were certain that the Canucks would not be playoff bound THIS season and would stuck in rebuild mode for some time. Linden never said it was going to be easy for them to get there, but he did say they would try to make the team remember why they love the game and get a little tenacity back in their game. He has done just that.

Was the season perfect from start to finish? No, not at all but it sure was refreshing to watch this team come together rather than fall apart at the seams. This year was supposed to be about rebuilding rather than exceeding expectations. This year, the Sedins were supposed to be washed up, secondary scoring was a pipe dream and goal-tending was a question mark at best. This year the Canucks were supposed to be part of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. This year in the hands of a newly minted team president, newly minted GM and newly minted head coach was a gamble. Well long story short, the Canucks took that gamble on that newly minted trio and they surprised a lot of people around the league with their success.

Now for the LONG story:

Trevor Linden wanted to bring back excitement to the Canucks on ice product and he has done just that and more this season. He brought in a scouting and development expert in GM Jim Benning and a coach who brings out the best in his players in Willie Desjardins. All three of them have been invested from the start in not only working with the current roster but also with their players on their AHL roster in Utica and their younger prospects still playing junior. From top to bottom of this organization, this management group has been involved to turn things around and continue building for the future.

The players came in knowing that last year was disastrous and determined to prove everyone wrong who said they were going to be bottom feeders and more than that they could still be competitive with the league’s top teams. More than that, the dynamic in the room had changed not only with new management but also with new players on the roster. Change was needed not just internally but also in the game that they played as a team EACH game. Consistency and cohesiveness was needed. Time would tell just serious this team was about moving forward from last season’s tornado.

The Sedins may not be on a point-per-game pace this season, but they are back to playing the way that proves they are still exciting to watch making dazzling plays on a nightly basis. They have both surpassed their point totals of last season and lately have been absolutely clutch when called upon (ahem, that TYING goal vs. LA anyone?). Henrik and Daniel have flourished under Desjardins in a way that did not happen with Torts. Last year between Torts and injuries, they seemed to lose their confidence, whereas this year they seem to have found that spark again. It never ceases to amaze me, the way those two work together with seamless no look passes and impossible angle goals.

It’s no secret that Alex Burrows struggled under Torts and was also low in the confidence department. This year, he made it clear that he did not care which line he played on as long he as he got to play, he would do whatever coach asked of him. Desjardins has played Burrows on nearly every line and in every situation (5-on-5, 5-on-4, 4-on-4 and 5-on-3) and he has been reliable adapting to each situation. He may not be breaking any records, but he is finding a way to contribute no matter which line or situation he’s asked to play. It sure is amazing what a little belief and confidence from the coach can make in the way a player plays from start to finish in a season.

Radim Vrbata easily became one of the best 2014 off-season signings! He is everything that Jim Benning expected and more! His 31 goals and counting is a team high and he is money in the bank when it comes to the not-so-dreaded shootout. It does not matter which line he plays on, he adds an offensive spark nearly every game. His consistency on the scoreboard has helped to take the pressure off of the Sedins and provide much needed secondary scoring.

And yes goal-tending was a fiasco after the Luongo and Schneider trades leaving people to wonder if Lack could carry the load or if a veteran would need to come in to solidify the crease. The truth is BOTH of those things happened. In the summer Linden and Benning signed veteran goalie, Ryan Miller to solidify the crease and be a mentor to Eddie Lack. Miller has been everything as advertised, having a stellar season posting six shutouts while maintaining a Canucks playoff position prior to his injury. Miller’s injury forced Eddie Lack into the reigns down the stretch and he stood up to the challenge helping to keep the Canucks in their season-long playoff position. Together these two have done exactly what they were asked to do from the start despite the doubts that outsiders projected at them.  For the playoffs, no matter which one is in the crease, they BOTH deserve credit for helping get the Canucks this far.

It was NO easy task for Trevor Linden to come in and turn this team around in a year since taking over as President of Hockey operations. He did what seemed to many impossible: made the Vancouver Canucks believe that they were competitive and translated that to them BEING competitive more nights than not. He found the right GM and the right coach to help the team forward and change the mindset from last season’s disaster to this year’s success. Trevor Linden said that change was coming and that the team would be playoff bound come April. Change came and the team IS playoff bound. Linden and company delivered on their promises and never wavered from their desire to see the team succeed. Eighty games down, two remain with an opportunity to clinch home ice in the opening round of the 2015 NHL playoffs.

Are you ready, Vancouver? That noise you hear is PLAYOFF FEVER calling your name! Get those jerseys, white towels, flags and playoff gear ready for April 15th! The best part of the NHL season is nearly upon us!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

Playoff Dreaming…

IMG_0781Change is coming, change IS here. Did you believe that statement would be true prior to the start of the season? It truly is incredible to witness what the Vancouver Canucks have accomplished this season. Yes, it is true, that it is not a record breaking year and from the outside looking in, it might seem hardly remarkable. This season was supposed to be a season focused on rebuilding following the disaster that was the 2013-14 regular season or at least that’s what the media told us. And after the season that was last year, who could blame them for thinking that is what comes next?

Just who are these Vancouver Canucks?! These are the Canucks brought to you by, former captain Trevor Linden. Along with Linden for the ride is GM Jim Benning and newly minted head coach, Willie Desjardins. The trio was determined to turn things around THIS season while at the same time building for the future. They may not be winning every game or necessarily the games that people would expect them to, but they are finding ways to be competitive more nights than not. They have maintained a playoff position for most of the season and continue to be in a competitive race for a second place finish in the Pacific Division with 90 points and eight games remaining still to be played. Through 74 games, Desjardins has coached the team to a 43-27-4 record. The odds unlike last season, are actually in their favour heading down the stretch drive to the post season.

There have been a lot of surprises this season. Who knew that when GM Benning signed Radim Vrbata that he would become such an integral piece of the Canucks puzzle? He leads the team in goals with 29 and has proven to be valuable on ANY line he is playing on in every situation. He is consistently consistent every game. He scores goals with finesse, like THIS one:

And then there is the curious case of Alex Burrows who notoriously struggled on the Torts regime due to multiple injuries and a lack of understanding between player and coach. THIS year he has once again proven to be reliable in all areas of the ice and at times has been rewarded by reuniting with the Sedin twins for goals like THESE:

“Reunited and it feels SO good…”!

The Sedins may not be quite a point-per-game pace but they certainly are looking more and more like the dependable players that they were before the 2013-14 NHL season. In true twin fashion, they are tied for the team lead in points each with 66, the only difference being that HENRIK has one more goal and DANIEL has one more assist.

Goal-tending was also an area that team WilLindEnning addressed this summer with the signing of veteran goalie, Ryan Miller. Many questioned whether he would fit with the Canucks and what this would mean for Eddie Lack. Millsy had a resilient season picking up 28 wins that included 6 shutouts prior to an injury in late February. He’s a massive reason as to why the Canucks have been able to maintain their playoff position all season long. Since the injury to Miller, Eddie Lack has stepped up to fill in and raised his level of play and helped the Canucks stay in the playoff hunt.

Does this mean Lack is the number one now or that Millsy gets back the net come playoff time? To be honest, I do not care WHO is in the net, just that they play to the best of their abilities when they are in the crease. Do we need another goal-tender controversy in Vancouver? Say it with me, NO! We do not need to create another controversy among the goalies and this city. It would simply be incredible if down this stretch and however far this team goes into the playoffs that THIS city would SUPPORT whichever goalie is in the net.

Jim Benning also did the seemingly impossible by locking down Christopher Tanev for five more seasons much to the delight of Canucks fans. Tanev has proven to be an integral part of the defensive core with ever growing potential. He’s often a goalie’s best friend on the blue line making crucial blocks and the odd game-saving goal-line save. It was paramount to get his deal done before season’s end or the free agency frenzy. Well done, Jim, well done.

Most surprising of all this season is that despite a depleted lineup during January and February, the team was still finding ways to be competitive and win games. 74 games down, 8 to go. 15 spots remain to be claimed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Will the Canucks clinch a spot down the stretch? That remains to be seen, but unlike last season, the odds are not down to a long shot but simply solid play in the games that remain. Are you ready for what these last 8 games will reveal? Regardless of how it ends, it sure has been exhilarating to witness this team find a little bit of its tenacity once more. This team is playoff dreaming once again. Slowly but surely, Trevor Linden has this team turning this city into BO-lievers and despite the odds on paper at the start, anything is possible.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

February Round up

I don’t know about you but I for one am glad that February is OVER. The injury bug came calling slowly and then all at once to the Canucks as the month progressed taking nine regulars out of the lineup. The February schedule quickly became increasingly daunting with each new injury but somehow, with a mixed lineup of veterans and rookies, the Canucks found ways to not only compete but ways to win. Yes, I am aware that there was that forgettable game against Buffalo but all that proves is that you cannot take ANY opponent for granted no matter their current standings.

The odds seemed stacked against them most nights with a depleted blue line, multiple forwards missing, and one veteran goalie on the mend. Yep, I am definitely glad that February is over BUT I am also incredibly amazed by the things that DID go right despite the injury infestation.

An overall 8-6-0 record for February 2015 does not leap off the page as stellar but it certainly is much better than many expected with the Canucks checkered lineup. February brought out some of the best compete level from the Vancouver Canucks since their days before Torts. Zack Kassian re-emerged into the lineup finally playing to the potential that all Canucks fans knew he possessed, even earning playing time with the Sedins. Bo Horvat and Ronalds Kenins developed an instant chemistry as they solidified the Canucks so-called “4th line”. The Sedins found their play-making prowess piling up points throughout the month further proving that last season was an anomaly. Players, young and old were finding ways to contribute on a nightly basis.

Their 8 wins came against: Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston x2, Minnesota, the NY Rangers and the NY Islanders. Those eight wins were hard fought wins earned from an undeniable compete level regardless of who was in the lineup THAT night. The win against Winnipeg had an undeniable playoff atmosphere with both teams battling end to end in an overtime thriller. In the game against Pittsburgh, for the second time THIS season, the Canucks shutout the Penguins all-star roster.

Games against the Chicago Blackhawks NEVER disappoint, EVER. Yes, the roster has undergone many changes over the years but the in-game intensity always remains. A battle end to end from start to finish ending with a perfectly aligned SEDINERY overtime game winning goal.

Beating the Minnesota Wild has proven to be a difficult task of late and this season has been no different. The first two meetings ended win the favour of Minnesota. Vancouver had their work cut out for them in their final meeting of the season. The Wild kept it close but Eddie Lack stood tall to the test as the Canucks held on for a regulation win.

Two games against Boston in 11 days was most definitely NOT an easy task by any means but this team was more than ready for the challenge. In the first of two meetings, Shawn Matthias broke out with his first career hat trick on home ice. In their second meeting, this time in Boston, the Canucks had to find a way to win without Ryan Miller. The Bruins scored a quick goal but Eddie Lack shut the door the rest of the way making 40 stops while an on fire Zack Kassian scored the game winner for a regulation WIN.

Since Coach AV left Vancouver beating the New York Rangers had become an impossible task. The Canucks came back from THREE deficits in this game to earn a 5-4 shootout victory. Henrik Sedin was a man on a mission scoring twice including the game tying goal that lead to over time with just two minutes left in regulation. Every time the Canucks were down a goal or two, they never panicked, they simply kept pushing back and forcing themselves to be noticed. This game was the definition of a character win.

Speaking of New York, the Islanders are on the rise and make each game tough on their opponents.The Canucks played a complete 60 minutes despite losing Ryan Miller to injury early in the middle frame. Eddie Lack came into the game preserving the shutout with 27 saves of his own.

Yes, the final game in February against Buffalo that once again proved teams cannot overlook ANY opponent despite their respective standings. February may not have been stellar but was certainly not their worst. They had many stand out moments that very well may help them down the stretch. The Canucks will have keep that fight they found in February and bring it with them down the stretch as they continue to fight for a playoff berth.

The final countdown begins! March 2nd is the NHL trade deadline and so begins MARCH MADNESS, the NHL addition. Trades, trades and more trades will happen as teams look to find the missing puzzle piece that will lead them to playoff glory. Will your team make a trade deadline dash or will they stand pat with their current rosters? The dust will settle, moves will be made or not made and the race to the playoffs will begin!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.