Category Archives: Black Ice

a written column about the renegade side of hockey culture by musician Joe Tory – complemented the Canucks Outside podcast – see story about Michael Bublé

Black Ice Issue #40 — California Canucks

Now that the long awaited post-season is upon us I’m sitting around a pool in the Los Angeles with a few friends listening to the Giants game. In the spirit of the Black Ice blog, I continue to watch hockey in odd and inspiring places with odd and inspiring people.

Enter: Holly Russell, Australian bush girl, Michael Bublé’s personal assistant, ignorant as fuck about the game of hockey.

Enter: Michael Bublé, friend of hockey, co-owner of the Vancouver Giants. Lifetime FREAK of the Vancouver Canucks.

Enter: Craig Britain, sound tech extraordinaire, crib champion. Designated driver.

And myself, your humble correspondent and co-president of the Hollywood Hills Vancouver Giants fan club.

Tonight as the Giants battle a Game 7 in Vancouver, myself and this roving band of characters are sitting around with beer, herb and sushi, commiserating about the regular season behind us and where the Canucks are fated in the post-season.

As it stands the Giants are going into overtime with the game tied 0-0. Bublé, the owner, is crying over unspilled beer and trying to keep spirits high by battling Craig for cribbage domination. Holly, pouting in the corner after being routed by Craig is ordering takeout in her best Kylie Minogue impression.

 

While Dustin Tokarski (goaltending the Spokane Chiefs) holds the Giants at bay, Bublé and I discuss the schizophrenic season of the Vancouver Canucks. Between frustrated jabs into the empty air as Tokarski keeps the vaunted Giants offence at bay, Bublé and I breakdown a season that is over (regular) and a season that is about to begin (post). Unlike us casual fans of Junior Hockey (or super-casual fans such as myself) Michael Bublé actually has a vested interest in the Giants success. There are cracks in his devotion, however, as the conversation about the Canucks often overshadows the still tied hockey game.

 

From the ashes of last years slide-out-of-postseason arose some not so startling revelations. The Canucks badly needed secondary scoring and more team toughness, but even more, so they needed an identity. After almost twenty years of an organization guided by the ghost of Pat Quinn and gilded by upset after upset, the entire cultural paradigm of the team had to shift.

 

Bublé and I organized the following three highlights of the past year which seems to have addressed this glaring shortfall.

 

First is the passing of Luc Bourdon. The tragic death of this future stud blueliner shocked the Canucks and surrounding community. However, it also served as a rallying cry for a team (who up to this point) seemed content just letting a championship come to them. The entitlement in this city has reached an apex. They would have to work hard for it, and now there was a reason — do it for Luc. Obviously every hockey player dreams of hoisting the cup and doing the victory lap. But as I have been preaching all year, it was the culture of this team that forced them to lose, a culture that for all intents-and-purposes began the night they lost the Gilbert Perrault lottery.

The Canucks, it seems, have always had the deck stacked against them. Being a far out-post to the center of the universe, it stands that only a few escape the Nazarus-like curse put on this city. Will a savior, (or the subsequent death of a savior) unite us finally?

 

The second highlight (or low-light) was Roberto Luongo’s groin injury. Without a doubt the Canucks were on a tear in late November, eating up precious points in the standings while Luongo was putting up Luongoesque numbers in Luongoesque fashion. Going 8-3-2 on the month, the Canucks were starting to look like a team ready for a deep playoff push, missing only one small piece of the puzzle, in the form of a 6’5″ Scandinavian from Bromma, Sweden. All the talk in town had the ex-Leaf packing his bags and heading for the West Coast in time for Christmas.

 

Then came the moment of truth. And the truth, as it turned out, was far uglier then first imagined.

 

Common wisdom in the league is that the Canucks are a second-rate team without Luongo. In the spirit of populism it is difficult to argue this point, especially as the Canucks went on a 6-7-1 skid in December only to collapse entirely going 2-5-5 in January. The problem was not Luongo, the problem was systemic. The backup goaltender situation was not as bad as some teams (see: New York Islanders) but Curtis Sanford and rookie Cory Schieder looked cautious and unsure during their stints in net. Their tandem backup effort was not enough to bolster Vancouver’s lagging offense. The real low-point of the season was a 5-4 overtime lose to the Colorado Avalanche. Unspectacular at first glance, but upon closer examination of this game the real weaknesses in the Canuck’s organization begins to trickle in.

 

All of that was about to change. With what rookie GM Mike Gillis advertised as “bold moves”, which includes keeping incumbent head coach Alain Vigneault, the Canucks soldiered on through these dark moments of the 2008-09 campaign (and history as well) coming to a moment of reckoning. But this reckoning came from an very unexpected place. It came in the guise of a couple of third line grinders.

 

The third highlight of the season has to be the breakup of Ryan Kesler and Alexander Burrows. Not since the breakup of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt has one divorce heralded so many children. Coach Vee was at the end of his rope, desperate times call for disparate measures. The Kesler/Burrows checking unit was the only consistence unit of operation in the Canucks during the dark days of January. Hoping to light a fire under the team, Coack Vee (the consumate line-juggler) moved Burrows to the top line with Hank and Danny. Next he teamed up under-performaning Demitra and Sundin with Kesler, a speedy center-turned-winger. The two new lines combined for over 90-points in the final two months leading the Canucks to a 23-7-2 record and their second division championship in three years.

 

At this point the Vancouver Giants have gone to sudden-death overtime. Bublé’s knuckles are white. Even as a casual fan, once you have commited yourself you have to follow through. So I sat with the golden boy from Burnaby as his team marched through 60 minutes of scoreless hockey. The Giants brought a firestorm down on Tokarski but every wave the G-men threw at him was promptly denied. It seemed inevitable that Tokarski was going to stop everything and the Giants were going to lose on a turn-over or a bad bounce. All seemed lost. Visions of consoling an inconsolable Bublé entered by head. How would I explain this to friends at home.

At that moment my phone buzzed and I got a message from my friend Trevor back in Vancouver: IM SITTING NEXT TO SCOTT OAKE.

I couldn’t resist my reply: WITH MICHAEL BUBLE LISTENING TO THE GIANTS GAME IN THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS

His response was turse and direct: YOU WIN.

And so we did.

Bublé grabbed me into a bear hug (the type innate only to hockey fans) and preceded to expel all the air out my lungs in a hearty embrace. The Giants finally solved Dustin Tokarski. But this was just the opening act. In music we would call this the supporting band. The real show is next. The big time is upon us. The city is ready. Bublé and I will be home to Canada soon enough, and we’re bringing the Stanley Cup with us.

 

Black Ice Issue #39 — Pool Side

Or is that rink side. I can’t remember which. In LA right now with an early flight to Vancouver for Wednesday and the beginning of the Playoffs. Playoffs you say? That’s right folks, Vancouver and it’s heady band of hockey pirates captured the NW Division for the second time in tree years and thus captured, once again, the hearts and minds of citizens the world over (the world over being a euphemism for the Fraser Valley).

So here we are. In the playoffs. And who are we playing? In these here playoffs? Well it just so happens, that after a month of speculation an opponent has indeed been chosen. And the best part about our new foe is that they are very much in the same vein as the Canucks. Our nemesis, the St. Louis Blues, have the best record in the NHL after the All-Star break (Vancouver is second) and sport a ragtag group of kids and veterans on her roster. They are ready for us and we are ready for them.

Fresh in the minds of Blues fans is the ’04 series (the last time the Blues made the postseason) when Vancouver came back from at 3-1 deficit to clinch the series in a physical match that saw Chris Pronger go face-to-face with Todd Bertuzzi. What a show down that was.

So what we have on our hands here is a grudge match. Of sorts.

And I cannot wait.

 

Black Ice Issue #38 — Coaches Corner

Went to the Canucks game last night. It was bad ass. Had the most miserable week at work last week and it felt so fantastic just to let out guttural moans and buoyant cheers for the home team. Just what the doctor ordered. What strikes me about organized sports is how it is just a stones throw away from war. I mean, what do I really have against the City of Calgary? I have been there once in my life. I have nothing against the Calgary. But that does not stop me from hating them. And how is Vancouver so much better. This I cannot say. Truthfully I hate this city most of the time. It offers me nothing, I offer it nothing. It is a symbiotic relationship based on petulance. A coalition of the less-then-willing. But our alliance is merely contingent on our proximity to each other. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend no?

So we take this substitution for war, gilded on an arbitrary rivalry based on a geography and slap a price tag on it. Fuck you Vancouver. Go Canucks go.

The lyrics for the Propagandhi song ‘Dear Coaches Corner’ seem especially pertinent as I float through the miasma of this life. Searching for meaning in the vein pursuit of breath and life and divisional dominance.

Dear Ron McLane. Dear Coach’s Corner.
I’m writing in order for someone to explain
to my niece the distinction between
these mandatory pre-game group rites of submission
and the rallies at Nuremberg.
Specifically the function the ritual serves
in conjunction with what everybody knows is,
in the end, a kid’s game.
I’m just appealing to your sense of fair play
when I say she’s puzzled by this incessant pressure
for her to not defy collective will and yellow ribboned lapels,
as the soldiers inexplicably repel down from the arena rafters.
Which, if it not so insane,
they’ll be grounds for screaming laughter.

Dear Ron McLane, I wouldn’t bother with these questions
if I didn’t sense some spiritual connection.
We may not be the same, but it’s not like we’re from different planets.
We both love this game so much we can hardly fucking stand it.
Alberta-born, and Prairie-raised.
It seems like there ain’t a sheet of ice north of Fargo I ain’t played.
From Penhold to the Gatinaeu, every fond memory of childhood
that I know is somehow connected to the culture of this game.
I just can’t let it go.

I guess it comes down to what kind of world you want to live in.
And if diversity is disagreement, disagreement is treason.
Well, you’ll be surprised if we find ourselves
reaping a strange and bitter fruit that that sad old man beside you
keeps feeding to young minds as virtue.
It takes a village to raise a child, but just a flag to raze the children
till they’re nothing more than ballasts for fulfilling
a madman’s dream of a paradise. Complexity reduced to black and white.
How do I protect her from this cult of death?

have a listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAIUf_SYpwE

 

Black Ice Issue #37 — Game Eighty

John Keats once famously wrote, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Witnessing Luongo’s 46-save performance has brought Keats’ immortal words to life on the streets of Vancouver.

Roberto Luongo was traded to Vancouver from Florida for Todd Bertuzzi just under three years ago. The architect of this trade, Mike Keenan, now helms the bench for the Calgary Flames and the compensation for that trade, Bertuzzi, now plays for Keenan.

Historically Keenan has had a man-crush on Todd Bertuzzi and a sadistic temperment for goaltenders. Evidence for this lies in his dealings with Luongo while in Florida. It’s also interesting to note that he has traded for Bertuzzi before, in 1997, when Bert was with the New York Islanders. Back then the struggling prospect caught the eye of Keenan who was with Vancouver at the time.

And Goaltenders? Miikka Kiprusoff is first in the NHL with 45 wins but 31st in goals-against. What can be made of this canundrum?

One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Or one man’s garbage is another man’s garbage. Or Mike Keenan is a big fuckin idiot. Whatever, where were we? Ah yes, beauty.

Roberto Luongo is the show in this town. True, his fingers are a little bit light from their conspicuous lack of Stanley Cup ring. But the weight of this cities hopes remain a steadfast reminder to the star keeper that we are now 38 years and counting. And waiting. Waiting for that thing of beauty to enshroud our green oasis here in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Black Ice Issue #36 — Darcy Rota Blues

Been thinking of Darcy Rota all night.

In the ’80s when Rota joined the Canucks he quickly made a splash playing on a line with Thomas Gradin and Stan Smyl. In the great campaign of 82 the trio combined for 204 points in the regular season and another 46 more in the playoffs capping off a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup final. Although the team fell short in the quest for the cup the ’82 playoffs cemented an obsession for hockey in this city that has yet to abate.

So why have I been thinking of Darcy Rota all night?

Over the weekend a friend and I spent the evening sorting a box of old hockey cards he had bought off eBay some time ago. As we were dividing up the absurd hockey hair of the ’70s from the sublime facial hair I came across a card of Darcy Rota. Born in Vancouver he spent just four-and-a-half seasons with the Canucks before retiring with a severe spinal injury. He was only 31.

I guess that struck me. For ten years Rota was a top-six journeyman and consistent point-a-game producer in the best hockey league in the world. For ten years lived breathed, and bled for a chance to lift Lord Stanley’s Chalice above his sweating brow, encircling the rink to a mechanized roar of a jubilant crowd. But all of this was not to be. For six weeks Rota, Gradin and the Steamer entranced a city, sparked a riotous obsession for hockey in the province and came within breaths of winning it all. But it was not to be.

The Canucks lost (as they are want to do) and Rota went on to play two more season before retiring. He had his best statistical year the season after ‘the run’ but hung up the skates soon after.

And that was it.

So remember Kesler, Burrow et al. You may only get one shot and then, like Darcy Rota, you spend the rest of your life wondering what if.

 

Black Ice Issue #35 — Triple Boredom With Fries

I left the game in the middle of the third period for band practice. Had a feeling the Canucks would pull through. You know that feeling? The one that suggests your team is going to win by virtue of their glistening record. Little did I know that the boredom so often beset upon a tilt with the Minnesota Wild would decend into full fledged Chinese water torture.

True, the Canucks were coming off a six game road trip having already snatched 6 of 10 point on the road. They hit the ice in the Twin City with stiff bodies and swirling minds (visions of a first round match-up with the Blackhawks dancing in their heads). But thankfully one particular Canuck made a point to bring his A (plus plus) game to the city of F. Scott Fitzgerald and that man was Captain and current king of the crease, Roberto Luongo.

Louie was flawless, apart from letting a Marian Gaborik deflection flutter over his sprawling frame, and his rebound control (according to people who know about these things) was fantastic. Gone are the easy goal he was badly criticized for in the press two weeks ago. Back is the swagger that saw the Montreal native finish second twice for the Vezina and has the pundits calling once again upon the General Managers (who vote on the best goalie trophy) to take a look at our prodigal son.

This was the type of win we were used to seeing when Luongo first came to town two seasons ago and the expectation for this team was very low. In those days the Canucks would squeeze a goal or two out of their anemic offence and then lean on Luongo to be superhuman night after night. Yesterday’s night was no different, except the team performance was a statistical anomally. Right now the Canucks finally have a legitimate top six forward combination (something they’ve missed all the way back to the Bertuzzi/Naslund era). Mix that with Luongo steady ascent to the top of the goaltender ranks and the solid play from the defence corp and you have a deadly combination.

There are no glaring weaknesses with this team. Unless you count apathy, but that could have just been confused with fatigue on Tuesday night. Expect to see no more of this in the 2008/09 season, unless the Canucks prefer to loose a chance at the championship.

 

Black Ice Issue #34 — Hair Raising Tilt

I do not have a problem with hair pulling. It is just part of the game. Some might ask, is it necessary to punctuate the flow of the contest. I say, maybe maybe not.

Reality in the heat of battle can often be blurred as attempts to overcome reaches desperate proportions. Case in point Sunday evening in Chicago when Alexander Burrows dragged Brent Seabrook to the ice by his flowing biff and continued to tug on his mane as they tussled horizontal on the ice. All of this the result of an punch to the mask of Luongo by Dustin Byfuglien after an unsuccessful rush by the Hawks. Concurrent to the melee was Shane O’Brien going batshit crazy after seeing the Luongo incident on the Jumbotron. The hotheaded Irish kid proceeds to make bongo drums out of any Hawk available on the ice. And Kevin Bieksa jumped into the fray with ….. a happened to lose not only half his equipment but also about half a pint of blood on the surface of Chicago Stadium.

The entire incident had a comic appeal and resulted in over 80 penalty minutes being issued by official. And begs the often asked question: is fighting necessary and how should it be regulated?

Apart from being the statement game of the season for the Canucks and a possible preview of a first round match up, the game was a case study in how physicality is such a benchmark of the game. With players able police their actions on the ice (while officials police the police action) it forces players to remain accountable to their actions on the ice. Dustin Byfuglien intentionally smack Luongo in the mask, so he must answer the bell.

A physical team is not necessary to win a championship (see Detroit 2008) but it certainly helps (see Anaheim 2007). A hearty mixture is probably your best option when entering the playoffs and both the Canucks and Blackhawks seem to have both in spades, toughness and a host of talented players.

The Sedins/Burrows combined for a eye popping nine points on route to a 4-0 lopsided victory on enemy ice. What was most telling of their performance was all three of their goals were scored even strength. Now with the clubs power-play sneaking up the ranks to a reasonable 18.3% and their penalty-kill at a respectable 80.7% their special teams are starting to perform at a clutch capacity suitable for playoff hockey. Combine that with the gritty production of Ryan Kesler and rigid goaltending of the Roberto Luongo and you have a dangerous combination of skill and resolve to enter the post-season.

If the Canucks have to gauge out eyeballs and yank out tufts of hair to win the Stanley Cup, that is fine with me.

Black Ice Issue #33 — How The Mighty Fall

I have been away from blogging for a couple of months due to personal reasons. I’m publishing some old articles in the next few days and will commence updating articles again this week. Sorry for the delay folks!

-Joe Tory

 

History has a way of rewarding and subsequently punishing great men to a comical degree. Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Nixon — each man rose on his laurels to conquer the better part of their contemporary world, only to see victory turn to enmity in a matter of tragic moments. If a great man of history, on the cusp of creating a new dynasty for civilization could be rolled up into a 22-man roster and slapped with an NHL insignia, that man would be called the Ottawa Senators.

 

They were the almost dynasty. The could have beens. The would have beens. The should have beens. The almost but not quits. Here in Vancouverdom we don’t mind, when the Canucks tore off Ottawas shirt and gave it twenty lashings, it was all in the spirit of liberty, equality and brotherhood. Vancouver could have licked them 10-0 (or in the case of the Juniors vs. Kazakstan) 15-0, but in the end, we settled on a 3-0 decision and a modest two points. What is the point of humiliating our enemy when they arrive, already soundly defeated. But an even bigger question is, how did this once mighty organization, fall so hard and so fast upon troubled times? The answer is even more telling if you read between the lines of this, once proud, organization.

The once really good (quite possibly could-have-been great) Ottawa Senators, suffered from a unique form of hubris in their days leading up to the 2007 Stanley Cup finals. It was a hubris that can be attributed to a long stretch in the 90’s in the bowels of the standings to a huge leap in success following years of good drafting and deft handling of player development. Superstars, such as MarianHossa, Martin Havlat and Zdeno Chara, where all former Senators that played with the team through a lengthy run of regular season success and post-season failure in the early millennium.

 

The history of the the Ottawa Senators has been dubious since its inception. Lacking the liquid assets to endorse an expansion team, land developer Bruce Firestone opted to leverage a huge commercial development on farmland west of Ottawa in order to secure the cash deposit for the expansion fee. This went against the conventional wisdom at the time, where the cash strapped NHL opted to take the money ($50 million) and let the new franchise flounder. On the promise to build a new arena up current NHL specks, the new owners underestimated the government involvement in the development contingent of their plan and the bureaucratic entanglement soon handcuffed Firestone and he was forced out of the ownership group. At the behest of the rookie management team, head coach Rick Bowness (currently Vancouver Canucks Assistant) was co-coerced to throw the inaugural season in order to secure a top pick in the upcoming entry draft. While winning only ten games in their first NHL season, the Senators franchise, still rife with financial instability, managed to secure the suspicions of the NHL but ultimately won the Alexanger Daigle lottery in their final game of the season, losing to the Boston Bruins and winning the lottery based on total games won (the equally terrible San Jose Sharks had 11 wins on the season, one more then the Senators).

Ottawa used this automatic first overall pick eligibility to select Junior sensation Alexander Daigle. This decision, along with their questionable inaugural season, shadowed them for years to come. Daigle turned out to be one of the largest draft busts in history, leading the Senators on a five year exodus into the NHL wilderness before ultimately being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. Scoring only 74 goals in four season, Daigle’s monstrous expectations and subsequent rookie contract ($12 million dollars, the largest in league history) was exceeded by Russian sniper, Alexei Yashin in team scoring and durability. It was Yashin, who would later get caught up in a contract squabble with the Sens, that was the cornerstone of Ottawa’s future. Despite leading the Senators in scoring, Daigle was the first son of Ottawa and the prize of its owners. Yashin, knowing his worth compared to the disappointing Daigle, held-out playing the beginning of the 1995-96 season until the Senators wised up to the incongruency. Despite high numbers the following three season, Yashin again held out (this time for the entire 1999-2000 season) due to another contract dispute. The venom in Ottawa towards theRussin was palpable and he was traded to to the Islanders.

 

It is interesting to note that while Rick Bowness was head coach in the first years of the Ottawa Senators, his assistant was none other then Alain Vigneault. Also interesting to note is that current Canuck, Pavol Demitra, was drafted by the Senators (227th overall, 1993), but didn’t evolve into his present form until a trade that sent him to St. Louis in 1997. These footnotes can be heralded for what superseded the club, a change in luck for the Senators. In 1994 they drafted an unspectacular Swedish rookie, Daniel Alfredsson, who would turn out to be the face of the franchise and the clubs all-time leading scorer. Subsequently, the club retained their drafting pedigree, selecting future stars like Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat, and trading the bloated ego of Alexei Yashin for Zdeno Chara (and the draft rights that allowed them Jason Spezza) so that the once dim future of the Senators began to illuminate.

 

After their tumultuous infancy the Ottawa Senators, replete with a cast of ascending stars, began climbing the standings. Their acent apexed with a league best 113 point in 2003 (despite the team going bankrupt and filing for emergency NHL funding) and their 2007 trip to the finals versus the Anaheim Ducks (ironic in its own right as an ownership group out of Anaheim offered to buy the Senators after their dismal performance during the 1992-92 season).

 

The Canucks win over the Senators on Sunday (December 28, 2008) was case in point for the struggling club. What happened to this once mighty juggernaut that came within games of a Stanley Cup? To lose in undramatic fashion to the Canucks was more telling of the Senators as a team then the Canucks. Vancouver is without their Captain (a game-changing goalie, something foreign to the Senators) and best player (Mats!) has yet to join the team. This was a game the Canucks needed to have in the bag. The Senators, on the other hand, are going the opposite way in the standings. Barely surviving their skid last season this year they are in a full tailspin. The history of the Ottawa Senators has very little in common with that of the Vancouver Canucks, instead lending only to the tradition of consummate disappointment for their long-suffering fans. The Canucks, even in 2003, were and are a better team. Vancouver must break through the firewall of San Jose and Detroit to stand a chance at Lord Stanley’s Chalice. That is ultimately what befell the Senator. The road to the Stanley Cup is through the West, to get to the winners circle even the West must beat itself. The East is merely a sacrament at this point in the season, the Senator know better then most of this glaring point in recent NHL history.

Much like the great men in history, the Senators witnessed their demise in the West. This was again the case on Sunday night.

 

Black Ice Issue #32 — And With The Tenth Pick…

In our last post, your correspondent lambasted the leadership tactics of our Vancouver Canucks as inconsistent and unstable. Fear not Vancouverdom, help is on the way. Will Luongo return sooner then expected from injury? Is it Mats Sundin, savior of the free-world, soon to arrive from a far off Scandinavian village — point-a-game in hand? No and no. But rest your laurels dear city, the savior for our beloved franchise comes in the guise of a small, play-making center who hales from the middle of the Canadian shield. He comes with a ringing endorsement from that ‘ol red faced, cigar chompin’ Irishman named  Pat Quinn and at the moment, he is tied with John (don’t call me sweepstakes) Tavares in scoring at the World Juniors.

His name is Cody Hodgson. His number is 18. Get ready rafters, twenty years from now you may need retrofitting to hold the weight of another banner.

In Canuck Nation you dare to dream. You hold your breath, anticipate defeat, and carry on your routine with the heavy burden of losing. With Cody, there is much hope. Here are three reasons why.

One, the drafting of Cody Hodgson signals a new direction in scouting for the Vancouver Canucks. For years the Vancouver Canucks have been the laughing stock of the scouting world, drafting duds such as Dan Woodley (7th overall, played 5 games) and Jason Herter (6th overall, played 0 games) and often leaving notable players such as Brian Leech, Jaromir Jagr, Al MacInnis and Ray Bourque on the dock for other teams to snatch up, much to the dismay of hindsight. That is not to say the Canucks have had meager luck on the drafting table, it just says that over the years, the scouting staff has proven spotty and inconsistent. In some ways this is worse then totally inept scouting because it has kept the club in a mediocre stasis, never truly building a culture of winning that has benefit clubs in the long-term. Look no further then the Detroit Red Wings or the Colorado Avalanche as evidence of this. Ever since Vancouver lost the the Gilbert Perrault sweepstakes 38 years ago, they have been struggling (often in vain) to find a winner, often with sub-par consequences. This has to be worse then teams that ice duds on a daily basis like the Phoenix Coyotes or the Florida Panthers. There is zero expectation for these teams, they merely subsist to pad the NHL calendar and insure wins for superior teams. Cody Hodgson will change all of this. He has the grace and leadership of Joe Sakic and the compunture and athleticism of Steve Yzerman. He is smart, quick and lofty in the expectations he has for himself as a player. He is precocious in the vein of Trevor Linden in the year that Linden was drafted, yet he is humble to a fault.

Two, the drafting of Cody Hodgson officially signals the end of the Pat Quinn, Brain Burke, Dave Nonis era. This oligarchy of power began in 1987 when Pat Quinn officially signed on after a strange exit from the Los Angeles Kings (where Quinn was still under contract). After being banned from coaching until 1990 (and after the kings sued the Canucks for tampering), Quinn immediately made his mark on the club by drafting franchise stalwart, Trevor Linden. In the the pursuing years, success in the draft was quickly fallowed by failure. The Quinn oligarchy, on the surface can be described as a trading dynasty and not a drafting one. In other words, Quinn, Burke and Nonis are better remembered for their ability to acquire players through trades then through the draft and subsequently developing this talen in the farm system. In the era of these three GMs, they built all built competitive squads, Quinn in 1994, Burke in 2003 and Nonis in 2006, but the core of these groups came through trades not from the draft.

In the era of salary caps and off-loading soon-to-be UFA’s at the trade deadline, there is little in the realm of blockbuster deals anymore. Team must build through the draft, go through a 3-5 year rebuilding process, capitalize or go-bust, and start again, ad infanitum. When Mike Gillis was hired he immediately went to work, shoring up the scouting department and refusing to bend to local pressure to draft B.C. boy, Kyle Beach (who is not representing Canada at the World Juniors right now unlike Hodgson) and going with a more numbers-based model of sports management (see SABERMETRICS). This goes to prove that the big money, ego-largesse era of Canucks hockey (and the NHL as a whole) looks likes it’s coming to an end. Bone crushing hits are quickly being replaced by keen number crunching and creative solutions are being championed to keep the players motivated and healthy, thus leaving the most important asset in the game alone to do what he does best — win hockey games. Attachment to this old regiment was not severed easily as hockey fans in Vancouver waited to see what the bag-eyes rookie GM would do. There was little in terms of praise for Mike Gillis and his “safe” choice of Hodgson in the first round of the 2008 draft but this mark was recently upgraded to a “great” choice when Hodgson again lite the lamp at he World Juniors. With Gillis’ master-courting of uber-UFA Mats Sundin, he has bought himself some well deserved stock in this city and his steady hand at the drafting wheel has led many detractors to wonder what else this wunderkind GM has left up his sleeve in order to built a culture of winning in this city.

My third point regarding the drafting of Cody Hodgson is that he is the first prospect, since the drafting of Trevor Linden, who basically been pre-ordained future captain, signifying a new era on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks. When Roberto Luongo was named captain in September, most people agreed that it was the best choice. The fact, however, is that the present group has a limited window of opportunity to find success in the post-season (should that even qualify). Luongo may bolt for a better chance at winning a cup, most likely on the East coast and the Sedins could follow the money (or Gillis could let them walk) and that essentially makes up the nucleus of the the team. Gillis will keep players like Demitra (and possibly sign the oft-injured Marian Gaborik) to shore up the team while talent develops.

A GM must always have one foot in the present and one foot in the future when assessing potential moves (and counter-move) at various points in the season. With Cody Hodgson, Mike Gillis has made one of his most “bold moves” to date. He has made a statement which say he has a firm hold on the direction of the team, whether they are winning now or winning with a new roster 3-5 years from now. The message Gillis sent fans in Vancouver was that a new era is begining. Similarily, the Quinn dynasty was bookended by Trevor Linden and his accomplishments on the ice and Quinn/Burke/Nonis’ accomplishments in the front office. We will now see how long the Gillis era will be shadowed by this young, smart hockey player from Toronto with so much promise and up-side that the comparisons to Linden are almost eerie.

See you in 2028 rafters!

 

Black Ice Issue #31 — No Show, All Shark

The plane arrived at three o’clock in the morning, but the team that was scheduled to arrive never materialized. It was the final rehearsal for the big show, and the team was absent, despite the bodies parading around the ice at HP Pavilion in Vancouver sweaters. Did a flight from Manitoba accidentally get re-routed to Oakland because the Vancouver team wanted to get an extra day for the Christmas break? Did Mike Gillis send Canucks equipment manager Pat O’Neill to meet the Moose in San Jose so they had enough Canuck sweater to fit the likes of Michael Grabner, Alexandre Buldoc and Jason Krog?

Everyone knows that the Canucks are a third period team. Apparently they are a latter-season team as well. In 2006-07 they managed to be the best team in the league after Christmas but their pre-25th record was almost identical to what it is now. Last year was a write-off — you know — Gina and the baby and all. This year, one can only hope that with the gift of Mats Sundin (and a healthy Luongo), the team will finally be augmented by actual talent that will lift the team over the mediocre funk for which they have been embedded the last four weeks.

The Canucks looked punch-drunk last night. Surrendering goals with the generosity typically assumed by Gandhi, Jesus and Santa Claus, the Vancouver Canucks snuk into San Jose with bags under their eyes and snuck out of San Jose with their tails between their legs. A shameful, shameful performance by everyone!

Save Curtis Sanford.Corey Schnieder started the night in net and finished his tenure at the 20:43 mark, surrendering 5 goals on 15 shots before getting the mercy seat by Coach Vee. His timing was off. His positioning was off. And his teammates insisted on preserving their energy for Friday’s tilt versus the Oilers, because they refused to come to the aid of the embattled rookie.

The Sharks looked like they were out for blood, but apparently rigor mortis had already set in on the Vancouver bench, as San Jose was content icing their fourth-line the rest of the game. So with the addition of freely handing San Jose their 18th victory on home ice (now a mindboggling 18-0-2) the Canucks succeeded in ignoring their own bell, choosing instead to sleep through the alarm and the holiday season.

The lone bright-spot in this comedy of errors was the relief of Curtis Sanford. He made some excellent saves and certainly gave his team the opportunity to reverse the 5-0 deficit if not so much erase it. There was an opportunity to save a modicum of face, but again the Canucks politely declined the opportunity.

Ray Ferraro, doing color for TSN, said it was the worst period of hockey by a professional hockey team he had ever seen. High praise for a club that once went 15 straight seasons below .500 — a record in professional sports. I’m remiss to say it was also the worst period of hockey in Henrik Sedin’s career, not to mention Willie Mitchell, Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin to name a few more. If the universe collapsed and dissolved into a microscopic entity of nothingness it would not be enough to remove the suck from this team and it’s erratic history.

File this under bullshit and have a Merry X-mas. Let’s just hope an X-factor is available when the team convines on the 26th. Home on Friday to bare the mantle, once again, of the Cardic Canucks: doing everything possible to flumox, enrage and bedazzle a fanbase since 1970.