Tag Archives: joe tory

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.


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 #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.


Black Ice Issue #30 — Captain Canuck

“…[T]here is going to be that seventh game; we’ll hope they can patch Linden up and get him in that one. He will play — you know he’ll play; he’d play on crutches! He will play, and he’ll play at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night! The game is over!”

–Jim Robson, after Trevor Linden got hit my Mark Messier while crawling to the bench at the end of Game 6

It was the finest performance by the finest Canuck to ever don the “C” (not to mention every single Canucks crest and color) in the history of hockey in the City of Vancouver.
And I once made him soup and I once had a crush on his wife, although I didn’t know it at the time. I used to work at a restaurant in Yaletown as a line cook. It was located right beside the store Linden’s wife ran at the time. A clothing boutique called Basquiat. The other cooks and myself would often stand outside ofBasquiat smoking cigarettes on break and generally talking shit about whatever topic available. I made a comment about Linden’s wife (which I did not know at the time) which Toot’s, our Sois Chef, has never let me live down. It was something along the lines of, “damn she’s hot,” and it may or may not have been made within earshot. Everyone laughed, flicked their cigarettes, and walked back toward the kitchen. Later on, Jordan the Chef, told me that the girl I had a crush on was none other then Christine Linden, Trevor’s wife, and that the couple was — in fact — in the restaurant at that very moment.
Starfucking has always been a funny thing for me. People go ape-shit over celebrities all the time but it’s never been my bag. It’s an interesting phenomenon to watch, as people loss all sense of composure and personal class at the presence of another human being — who happens to be famous. Which isn’t to say I’m not immune to the surreal force of celebrities (I’m particularly vulnerable to local celebrities, see — Tamera Tagert), but, when the Linden’s order came in, I caved, I insisted on making the soup. Why? I’ll never know. Perhaps so that one day, when I’m writing a hockey blog on the day-in-day-out ramblings of an obsessive Canucks fan I could mention with pride and bravado that I made Trevor Linden soup.
That’s right, I made Trevor Linden soup!
And now here we are on the cusp of another dynasty — you will be happy to note the small ‘d’ used in the spelling of dynasty. This week, with the raising of #16 to the rafters at the Garage and the signing of Mats Sundin, has be one of the most exciting weeks in Canucks history (to quote Don Taylor). And the winds of change are raging in full force.
But what, here in Vancouverdom, will this squad offer in the realm of real change and real hope apart from a full roster about-face? What, besides an inventory permutation, will this new face of the Canucks signal?
Most pundits argue the Canucks will now place a distant third in the conference and wonder if Sundin (and a healthy Luongo) are strong enough to topple through the battery of San Jose and Detroit. And let’s not forget Chicago. Vancouver’s surging power-play picked an awful time do go flaccid on Saturday night against the young gunning ‘Hawks. Kane and Toews feasted on Canuck mistakes, despite being outplayed by Vancouver. Was that just a market aberration, or will our winning percentage correct itself the next time out? Vancouver has notoriously stepped up their game against a smaller Detroit team; they are also notorious for losing to San Jose, generously handing all four meetings last year to the Sharks. Going into HP Pavilion tonight, where the Sharks are a whopping 17-0-2, is going to be the real litmus test.
Let’s face it, the Canucks cannot get swept in any season series this year by Western Conference opponents. Every year we do, we miss the playoffs by inches. Remember 2006 when Curtis Sanford and the Blues swept the season series and we missed the playoffs by three points? And last year versus San Jose, same thing. Ostensibly Vancouver needs to go .500 against San Jose to have a reasonable shot in the playoffs. Sundin aside, if they can pull a measure of confidence together when it comes to the Sharks then the Canucks will have no problem making to the playoffs.
Because let’s face it, at this point nobody should be drafting a Stanley Cup parade route on GoogleMaps yet. With this notoriously fickle squad (see — 1996 and the arrival of Alex Mogilny or 1997 and the arrival of Mark Messier) the arrival of a proven player does not necessarily herald a championship ring. What the Canucks need first and foremost is a leader. A Captain of Captains, to lead this team to the promise land on his shoulders. There has been cohesion in this group at times this season, but a lack of the force necessary to carry a team is still missing. Steve Yzermen in 2002 won the cup for the Detroit Red Wings on one leg, literally. After the 2002 Olympics, Yzermen underwent an MRI which revealed he had virtually no cartiledge left in his right knee. Knowing that surgury would likely finish him for the season, Yzermen soldiered on in one his best post-season performances to date, potting 6 goals and 17 helpers to lead the team with 23 points to a third cup in six years.
It was a legendary performance. Something each Canuck and potential leader can stand to learn from.
Luongo has been out nearly a month and there has been little in the way of consistent leadership for the Canucks in his absence. Certain players have answered the call for periods, but then the aperture widens and the absence of leadership once again opens. Daniel Sedin has put his head down and gone to work, netting 12 goals in his last 17 games. There is much to his game that has improved over the years including killing penalties and going to the net to score the dirty — crashing the goaltender — type goals. There is no doubt Daniel (and Henrik) have a desire to win, they simply lack that je ne sais qois that past captains have immortalized. Ryan Kesler is the most improved of all Canucks, and his crash-and-bang style of play, with heart to boot, is exactly the type of play invented for playoff hockey. If we get to the playoffs, look for Kesler to step-up, but will this be enough enough to thwart the enemy?


Trevor Linden captained the Canucks to within a goal-post of the Stanley Cup. He wore his heart (and play) on his sleeve and desire to give (both to his team and to the fans) was congenital, inveterate and authentic. In a era where the payoff is measure by dollar amounts, it is the incalculable effort of leaders such as Linden and Yzermen and so many others in the history of the game which has propelled pretenders into contenders and contenders into winners. There is a small margin in this day-and-age and this “new” NHL, between these three characteristics and it is only a true captain that is able to close the gap.
Will Mats Sundin provide the needed adhesive for this unit that possesses promise, but is not necessarily promising? Will Roberto Luongo, upon his return, launch his career (and his team) into the contenders columns and, come playoff time, lead the the procession, Cup in hand? Win or lose, this team needs an identity that is sadly missing to date. Perhaps with the addition of these two all-stars the team that will the gains necessary to win. The gains are identity, consistency and leadership, three traits that Detroit is still commanding even after the departure of Yzermen. Traits that San Jose has spent the past three year learning, albeit byzantine in its approach, which has brought the team closer and looking more and more legitimate everyday. Traits that have Chicago on the fast-track to reshaping a crumbling hockey empire, with youngsters such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews taking the reigns earlier then expected, they are making a strong argument this campaign for NHL domination.
But winning in Vancouver will only come when a true captain comes forward. Someone who can own this town once again.
Someone who I can make soup for.


Black Ice Issue #26 — Millimeters Away From Win In Mile High

The first period was all Canucks. They out shot, out drew and out played the Aves by a wide margin. Darcy Hordichuk opened the scoring early, chipping a pass from Jason Jaffery over the left shoulder of Peter Budaj. Most of the play happened in Colorado’s zone. The third-line grinders continue their scoring woes, Kesler having one point in ten games. After a short handed two-on-one opportunity that left Burrows passing late and Kesler not getting much of a shot off, you could tell that the confidence level in the pair is at a season-high low. The Raymond, Wellwood, Pyatt line looked solid with the most scoring chances of the period. The PHD line held the zone well, but there was little to write home about in terms of chances. Schnieder was great when it mattered, challenging the shooter and keeping rebounds to the outside. Even a disallowed goal, knocked in off Ryan Smyth’s glove, didn’t rattle the cool-as-a-cucumber rookie tender.

The second period started out slowly. The rhythm of the game was prosaic, with each side bumbling up and down the ice giving-up little but giving even less. The Aves jumped on the board first when, North Van native, David Jones made a rush up ice and Willie Mitchell knocked the rebound into his own net. A few minutes later Ryan Smyth, making up for his disallowed goal in the first, wired a shot from the point through the pads of Schnieder to to make it 2-1. The boring and frustrating second period got interesting after a vicious boarding incident occurred. Ian Mcleod drove Kevin Bieka’s head into the boards (a suspendable play if you ask me) and all the Canucks on the ice jumped Mcleod. Unbelievably, after the penalties were handed out for the post-whistle scrum, both teams remained five-on-five. This seemed to spark the Vancouver players however, still reeling from the Bieksa hit. First, Daniel Sedin takes three whacks at a loose puck (after Kesler missed two whacks a minute earlier) and evens things up for the Nucks. This was a full team effort after Darcy Hordichuk tried to spark his team with a fight, taking on Cody Macorkmack in a quick bout. It was hard work that paid off, it’s nice seeing Daniel score these gritty goals, we’ve seen more and more of them lately. And the Canucks didn’t quit, with Ryan Smyth in the box for a light-holding call (perhaps a gift from the refs for the Bieksa hit) Steve Bernier put his team ahead slapping a nice rebound from Mason Raymond past Peter Budaj. The last few minutes of the period was exciting end-to-end hockey that looked nothing like the beginning of the period.

The third period needed to be the make or break stanza for the Canucks, but there wasn’t enough goalkeeping to keep the lead entrenched. Milan Hejduk tied the game 3 minutes into the third when he threw the puck on net and it went in off Shane O’Briens stick. The second goal-against off a Canucks D-man of the night. Regardless, Vancouver swung back when Steve Bernier potted his second of the night, snapping a sweet feed, courtesy of Burrows from the slot. He didn’t even look at the vulcanized rubber, he just shot a seeing-eye-puck past Budaj with what should have been the winner. It was sadly not the case. Clear evidence that Cory Schnieder is not quite ready for a full-time NHL job, he let in a weak shot from Daniel Tjarnqvist through the 14-hole under his right arm. Demitra could have cleared the puck to maintain the lead with three minutes left, but he failed this task, leaving a clear lane for Tjarnqvist open. It was a simple case of — where the fuck is Luongo tonight? So off we go to overtime which solved nothing and then a shootout where Colorado scored on every shot. Yes, every shot.

In terms of Cory Schnieder, it was a blow to the young net-minders short shift in the NHL. When Blue gets back, the rookie will obviously continue his development in Manitoba. He showed poise early on (particular the win Friday in Minnesota) but manifest his clear need for confidence, something that is gained only from experience. What the Canucks need more than letting a rookie goalie have a crack at the majors is a wins. One point is not good enough. On a road game that continues in its malignancy, it was up to the veterans of the team to come up with a bit more effort. Sadly it’s Steve Bernier who was the best Canucks on the ice, right behind him was Alexander Edler. To win, you need to play 60 minutes of hockey. The Canucks played 57 and it cost them the game. While the young guns put in a worthy effort, blame lay in the poor play of the leaders in the last 3 minutes. This made all the difference.

Next Up — Nashville

Black Ice Issue #29 — Canucks Mauls Panthers In 2nd Period For Victory

This was a nice little win for the home team. While they started off slow and flat-footed — with Florida scoring two soft goals early — the Canucks found their wheels in the 2nd frames, scoring 5 unanswered goals for the win.

The game started badly, with Corey Schneider looking very shaky and handling the puck with minimal confidence. Every time the Panthers had a shot in the 1st period it qualified as a legitimate scoring chance as the rookie tender struggled to find his game. However, he came through on a key save off a Shawn Matthias breakaway, that could have bumped Florida up 3-1, instead the Canucks used it as a turning point to scale a full offensive  assault.

Darcy Hordichuk put the Canucks on the board with a laser from the point. The tough-guy from Kamsack, Saskatchewan continues to excel on the fourth line with his 3rd of the season. Key goals like this, from roll-players, really adds a spark to a team gaining momentum. This was no different, turning a difficult Vancouver start into a paradigm shift for the whole squad.

With Pavol Demitra chipping in two goals (one on the PP) and Kyle Wellwood continuing his PP success with a marker, the special teams looked fierce. When Ryan Kesler cut hard to the net on a short-handed breakaway and crashed goalie Craig Anderson, the gritty forward sealed the fate of the surging Panthers.

It was a very fun game to watch. Lots of actions, good hits and end-to-end rushes. While at times each team did not play well in front of their respective goalies, the home team struck with the iron hot and it paid off for the home crowd.

If you are watching Mats, just think what Vancouver will look like with you and Louie sharing the same ice. Scary.

Next Up — Edmonton

Black Ice Issue #28 — Oil Blank-it

This had to have been the worst game of the season for our beloved Canvouver hockey squad. There were bodies on the ice, but there was no soul. If the boys in blue, green and white where thinking of making a selling point for Mats Sundin, should he decide to take the money (and the travel) and head west, they failed with heart augmented by zero goals.

Now as a long time follower of the Canucks, I have to say it hurts slightly more losing to Edmonton then losing to Calgary, but Jesus if tonight did not feel like a kick in groin with a frozen Bauer blade. Every single one of Sanford’s failures (3 to be exact) was the failure of the entire team. The was no speed, no skill and no upside (Coach Vee’s favorite word when assessing talent). Sure this loss came at the tail end of a long, stupid road trip that saw Canucks playing 7 games straight on the road.

It was one of those typical (or is that stereotypical?) Vancouvers losses. The type of loss that makes you want to hurl your beer can at the television screen and scream invective at the fading signal until the police arrive and they commit you to the pysche ward at St. Paul’s. For six days they have you on suicide watch, heavily medicated to the point of sedation, you slur various forms of scatological rambling at the nurses that come and go, but in the end they release you just days before Christmas.

Some fucking Christmas. Now you have all the time in the world (since you have now been fired from your job) to spend obsessing over Vancouver’s favorite cock tease — our local professional hockey franchise.

Send me back to St. Paul’s. Maybe I’ll have more time to spend reading The Russians and suffering over my various metaphysical barriers that can no longer be channelled through the insipid brutality of grown men on skates, beating the shit out of each other for the right to smack a tiny vulcanized-rubber disc into a 6×4 net. Yes, I find many of life’s lessons in the pursuit of the game of hockey, vis-à-vis the Vancouver Canucks, and someitmes I think it will drive me insane. What came first? They might ask. Was it the insanity or the game? Maybe hockey is merely a trigger for a pre-existing condition. Well I can say this, hockey may be the single greatest joy and the single greatest disappointment in my life.

Perhaps my life needs a drastic overhall. Perhaps, so too do the Canucks. And medication for the pain?

Hint: rythmes with Fats Mundin.

Next Up — Florida


Black Ice Issue #27 — Griffith Way Gladiators

Did Alex Burrows leave his feet? Was that a hit from behind by Ryan Kesler? Will Rob Davison’s hit be featured on Don Cherry’s next Rock ’em, Sock ’em release? The answer to all three questions is a resounding Yes. Is this affirmation the impetus for Tuesday nights 3-1 victory over Nashville? Affirmative.

Is Mats Sundin ever going to make up his mind?
Jesus I don’t know. But if ever there was an argument for grit + determination = wins, this game was a candidate for logical propositions 101. If Sundin is a fan of winning with the Canadian game (with a detour through 70’s era Philadelphia) the Canadian way, then the Vancouver squad that showed up against the Predators is the best candidate for the hulking Swede.
The fact that there were some questionable hits, to this degree, is moot. The league will not look into it any further and the Preds will have to seek vindication during their next meeting (which happens January 1st, well after Sundin makes his decision). What was important, and I have been railing on this all season, was the team game. Kesler and Burrows are not dirty players, but they play the game on the edge and it’s inevitable that a foot is gonna slip every once and a while. The footage speaks for itself. The points, if there is one besides the 35 that now situates itself under the PTS column in the standings, is the stronger, grittier paradigm originally envisioned by Gilles seems to have found it’s stride. This makes a potentially boring road game, versus a non-divisional team, very exciting to watch and two points well deserved. This makes Canucks fans very happy. It also makes Vancouver appear to the be front-runner — if you include cap-space issues — in the Sundin Sweepstakes.
Okay, is that too much credit too soon. Deserved? The Canucks power-play could use an official name change — leading candidate would have to be: flaccid-play — due to seven uninterrupted minutes of man-advantage time squandered. If Alex Edler had not finally chomped at the bit in the third, with a PP marker to put the Nucks up one, the game would have/could have been lost. So again, the Canucks escape unscathed with a paltry attempt at special teams (special teams, more like special “olympic” teams). I digress.
The purpose of the Mats Sundin signing is to turn a pretender into a contender. Let’s face it folks, what we got ain’t enough. But if I’m a scrawny loser, then how do I seduce the buxom 36-24-36 into my bed? Show her my record collection? Convince her my GPA is high enough for Law School considerations? Is this a love or money question? Or a love of money question? Does Sundin want a team with loads of upside (Coach Vee’s favorite word), but still needs a babe on his arm to walk into the dance with? Or is he a superficial bitch looking to lift the silver chalice of Lord Stanley, forsaking mammon to get there?
At this point, the Canucks have a great record collection and they are smart enough for Law School consideration, all they need is a little direction and acquisition of that elusive trait known as identity. Will this come from a woman or will it come from within?
Next Up — Edmonton

Black Ice Issue #24 — Four Game Losing Streak

The last week has been hectic as all hell for me. Just as I said at the beginning of the season that I would write a column for every game this season, I also may have mentioned that I do it on my spare time — ergo — no spare time, no article. I will try and make a better effort at blogging from this day forth, but honestly, some days being a Canucks fan can be extraordinarily taxing. It’s sort of like being diagnosed with a (enter life-threatening medical condition here). This is not an excuse, merely an explanation.

Next Up — Minnesota


Black Ice Issue #25 — Wild About Minnesota

Man I love playing Minnesota. Man I love beating Minnesota. Man I love beating Minnesota this way. Gritty, grueling and grotesque.

Gritty because we won the small battles, kept Minny to 17 shots and really didn’t give up much for chances. Grueling because it comes off a four game losing streak that was the ugliest we’ve seen this season. Grotesque because I’m actually writing this 4 days after the win and immediately following our 5-4 OT lose to the Avalanche, so I know in advance how short lived this win will become.

The truth is, Minnesota is so well coached that it doesn’t matter what Vancouver does, we could fire 57 puck at the net, and suddenly find ourselves behind two goals off two bad plays. That’s how good Minnesota is. They play their best hockey off other teams mistakes. Look at the Wilds goals-for this season — 69 in 26 games — that means the opposition has made exactly 69 mistakes, collectively, while playing against the cult of Jacques Gerard Lemaire. Talk about discipline.

It seems (as iron sharpens iron) Vancouver plays their best mental game versus the Wild. This takes nothing away from the talent on either squad, because at times talent is not the question. The difference is how inconsistent Vancouver is with their brains. So often, watching the Canucks play develop, you almost know the mistake just made is going to cost them — even five or six strides behind the play you just know. This is what makes watching this team so frustrating.

Now Coach Vee has done a fine job with his rosters the past few seasons, but one has to wonder whether this group has fully bought in. The penalty-kill is nowhere near where it needs to be (81.3 % or 14th overall) in comparison to the penalties it takes (18.3 PIM/G) which makes them good for 29th overall in the league. For a team that is 8th in the league in goals-for (85 — that’s only 7 back from Detroit) this undisciplined play is not going to win them credit in the points department, it is only going to serve as a monumental cock-tease for the fans who cringe their way through game-after-game of bad penalties and even worse penatly-kills.

Vancouver must take a page out of Minnesota’s book not just when they are playing Minnesota. Without more games like tonight (against non-Wild teams) there is little chance the Canucks have of getting higher than 9th or 10th in the West. That’s not good enough.

Next Up — Colorado


Black Ice Issue #23 — Groin’ Pittsburgh

Roberto Luongo kicked out his left pad as he went down in a harmless butterfly to curb a point shot from Philippe Boucher and got up five minutes later with the help of trainer Mike Burnstein and two of his teammates. After an MRI he was revealed to have an Adductor Strain, which is in the groin. Basically a kick in the balls to Luongo, his team and ultimately us, the fans.

And who to the rescue? Was that Sanford flopping around the ice, repelling rebounds and making a case for height/heart comparisons to Richard Brodeur? I think so. Its funny I always wondered what Curtis Sanford looked like behind that terrible — fan designed — mask. If the wins keep stockpiling as will the media coverage. Consequently, his affable mug will keep appearing in post-game interviews sans awful mask.

The team loves him. The media loves him. The fans like him — for now.

Its a good thing he’s so amiable because it seems for some strange reason that Luongo’s injury has really made the team rally. Perhaps its proof of talent that actually exists in the locker room. Perhaps its a message to the team that they have been riding Luongo and that some of the talent needs to come out of the woodwork. They have more on this team then meets the (bandwagonesque) eye. You don’t just take for granted the fact that you play in front of the world’s best goalie — you build on it.  Yes, Luongo has been stellar of late and yes, I gasped and writhed along with Canuck Nation for those five minutes while Blue was down. But the statement must be poised: perhaps this team is good enough.

Three Items to note.

First, the Canucks beat the Penguins. While down a few gunners from last year, not-to-mention suffering an injury plague lately, this Pittsburgh squad is no joke. They went to the Stanley Cup finals on the backs of Malkin and Crosby, who make up the best one-two combo in the league. The two are combined for 63 points already this season and show no sign of slowing down. Except with the Canucks.

Second, the Sedins and Pavol Demitra  — or the PHD line — as they are positively doctoral in their precision with the puck. At times, during their career, watching the Sedins is like dating a model. When they look good, they are gorgeous, Le Belle Dame Sans Merci. But other times, when they’re just laying around the house watching The Hills, wearing your old sweatsuit and no makeup, you can’t help but think, “Jesus, pull yourselves together”. Nothing is uglier than a model not modeling. Nothing is more dead weight then the Sedins not scoring goals. Enter Pavol Demitra. The slippery Slovak blasted out of the gate and scored 10 points in his last 10 games and has combined with the Sedins for an eye popping 23 points. The re-kilned top-line has sent a message to the league — we are beautiful and we are without mercy.

Third, the brotherhood. The mauling of Curtis Sanford after the win over Minnesota could have been a case of — we’re glad that our backup stole a game for us. Yippee. Move on. As languid as the Canucks play over Pittsburgh was, because in truth neither team played that well, it was the spiritedness (or what Homer referred to as thumos in his epic poems) the vaunted the team through adversity. With the shipment of Naslund and Morrison and the retirement of Linden a leadership deficit existed that has now started to close.

Willie Mitchell is playing the best hockey of his career. He is shutting down teams top lines every game and his easy going, good natured attitude has help some of the younger players flourish. Mattias Ohlund is a horse, Trojan in nature, that sneaks in the opposing teams back door and battles from the inside. Whether he is pinching in off the rush, or standing guard over Luongo’s crease, he is often felt before he is  seen or heard. And when he drops the gloves, I can’t help but fire out a hearty “fuck yeah,” because you know whoever he’s beating deserves the shellacking Ohlund is dishing out. Ryan Kesler is the third cog in the Canucks leadership wheel. I had him pegged for Captain all last year, but when Luongo was eccentrically given the “C” (and rightly deserved), it was team management that had the foresight to see the potential of Kesler and gave him the “A”. It is the domination of these fellows on the ice that keeps the entire squad focused, even as the Captain is convalescing, and cements a burning spirit within the whole group which launches them from win to win.

I get goosebumps when the Canucks are victorious; ire when they loose. As Luongo went down with his groin injury, it was the team that was growing up. This leads to another poised statement: It is not so much if any more with this team, but when.

Next Up — Detroit


Black Ice Issue #22 — Sleepless In St. Paul

“[T]hird game in four nights in the New York area,” was how coach Vee summed up the travel schedule. The Canucks played the Islanders and the Rangers on Monday and Wednesday night respectively, then flew to St. Paul, Minnesota to take on the Wild Thursday and now they have to get back on a plane a fly to Steel Town to face the Penguins on Saturday. Say what you will about West Coast travel, this one has to go down in the annals of most ridiculous travel for a professional sports team ever. (Our friend over at Yankee Hockey has a pretty good solution for this).

The travel seemed to provide a spark that only a neurotic, semi-comatose team could compose. It was brilliant; it was sublime. Time will show the genius of this victory. The Vancouver Canucks composed a convincing win that could be seen as a turning point as the season continues.

The first period was basically expected. The Canucks looked limp yet the Wild stood vapid, empowering the suffocating wait-for-the-other-team-to-make-a-mistake-then-pound philosophy, gainfully employed by coach Jacques Lemaire. The end of the first stanza looked painfully akin to Kasparov Vs. Deep Blue with the Canucks looking the human of the two. Curtis Sanford (filling in for Luongo) was shaky albeit keeping Lemaire’s androids off the scoresheet.

The second period opened up as the Canucks and Wild traded chances but Mikko Koivu opened the scoring with a questionable slapper from the left point that squeaked under Sanford’s left elbow. This is where the Canucks superior offense began to mount. Steve Bernier beat a 9-game goalless drought when he smacked a Willie Mitchell rebound through a thatch of sticks and over Niklas Backstrom. In the slot is were we will see the best of Steve Bernier and getting the monkey off his back was a relief to himself and his teammates. Later, Koivu put Minnesota up one on a shorthanded marker, but Pavol Demitra answered right back on a fluke bank off his old netminders backside.

What became glaringly obvious during the second period was that Vancouver are the superior squad. While they lack the discipline of the Wild it is obvious there’s a lot of talent and potential on the team this year. The Sedins and Demitra are an example of this talent. All game I was thinking the Sedins needed to make a statement tonight. They are veterans now and they cannot continue to stand alone as victims. Enter Demitra. The crafty Slovak knows this is his last chance for prominence in the NHL. The three Canucks looked deadly (while five-on-five and on the PP with Kyle Wellwood) and in the third they showed the look of an actual, bonafide first line.

Trapping the Wild in their zone for almost a minute the Sedins and Demitra passed the puck a total of a thousand times, but when it was time to shoot, it was all net for Daniel. Minnesota looked dizzy after the goal and it stood as the game winner when the home team caved in the last few minutes of the match.

As previously mentioned, this squad looks legit. With a qualified first line. A very competent second line (with varying combinations of Pyatt, Wellwood, Bernier and Raymond) along with the checkers Burrows, Kesler and Hansen. Throw in role players such as Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk and you have a unique combination of speed, grit and talent. It is often the type of combination you see in squads that excel. See for example: New Jersey in ’95 Montreal in ’86.

The defense was weakened tonight by injury and the flu, but if they stay healthy they are the best in the league. Shane O’Brien only managed 7 penalty minutes (logging ten minutes last night in New York) so we could call this progress. Willie Mitchell got an assist and showed the length of his stick work in spades offering 4 blocked shots and was a +2 on the night. Mitchell continues to log points as he reaches beyond his traditional roll of stay-at-home defenseman. With Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa out it goes to show the measure of leadership Mitchell has taken on after the departure of Naslund and Linden. He will do it all if he has to.

Iain MacIntyre stated in his column after the game,

“The Canucks defeated the Wild and the NHL’s cartographer, who drew a map and placed Manhattan next to Minneapolis and decided it would be a good idea if the Vancouver played the Rangers and Wild on successive nights. You know, with a good four or five hours sleep between games.”

It goes to show that a little bit of insomnia can go a long way.

Next Up — Pittsburgh