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Canorcas

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The Stork

For all the (justified?) boourns the Canucks' scouting staff have to deal with, every now and then they pick up a gem and it goes largely unnoticed.

That is until it's too obvious to ignore. Chris Tanev says hello, by the way.

There's no need to go through the Canucks' woeful drafting record in the past decade. Everything that needs to be said has been spoken. We're still wondering where Nathan Smith is and most of us still have R.J Umberger getting laid out by Brian Campbell bookmarked somewhere on Youtube.

The fact is poor scouting and poor drafting have been an area of concern for this organization and they look enviously around the league, marveling at all the players who successfully graduated from their respective hockey programs.

Even the one real stud the Canucks drafted in 2004 by the name of Cory Schneider had to leave town. We all know how that went.

But not all of scouting is left in the fate of the draft floor.

Eddie Lack was a quiet addition to the organization in April of 2010. Not surprisingly, it was a fellow Swede who noticed his raw talent and skill. Former Canuck and current team scout Lars Lindgren was asked to keep tabs on Jacob Markstrom-- then with Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League. Markstrom was a hot name at the time-- big, fast, technically sound and competitive. Lindgren was joined by perhaps a dozen scouts from various clubs trying to determine if he'd be the next Swedish phenom in net.

But while the others were too busy keeping track of Markstrom, nobody paid much attention to his back-up, a tall, lanky and goofy kid by the name of Eddie Lack.

Nobody that is, except Lindgren.

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Despite playing just a handful of games, Lindgren had seen enough. The potential was there. The skillset was there. All he needed was a chance. Lack wasn't on anybody's list and had been passed in the draft after a relatively unexciting junior-level career.

Goaltending is a difficult position to judge. There's really no obvious way of determining if a goalie will pan out the way you expect them to. Some put together excellent junior careers and cease to stop pucks at the highest level. Others develop slower but once they're in form, they become franchise-quality netminders.

Hindsight is 20/20 and as this article is being written, Lack's future seems to be in better shape than his former teammate Markstrom's. Maybe that's what happens when you play in Florida, though.

Regardless, you put their numbers side-by-side and you can clearly see the Canucks unearthed a diamond in the rough with Lack.

Markstrom was drafted 31st overall in 2008 by the Panthers and has yet to cement his role as starter. In fact, he had that opportunity this season after Florida chose to let Jose Theodore walk during the summer.

How did that end up? Well they signed Tim Thomas who had essentially quit the Boston Bruins and hockey all of last year. Yikes.

Markstrom, now with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, is at a crucial part of his career and you can bet GM Dave Tallon is scratching his head over his own mess. If Markstrom was ready, he'd be playing. That's the short of it.

In contrast, Lack has slipped under the radar the past few seasons-- mostly due to a long-term hip injury that kept him out for all but 13 games last year with the Chicago Wolves.

Today, he is Roberto Luongo's backup and has looked solid in all of his four starts for Vancouver this year. His technique is sound, his rebound control is manageable and he endeared himself to Canucks fans when he stood his ground and took a jab at a player who crashed his crease. Checkmarks across the board.

At only 25 years old, there's still room for him to grow-- in terms of size and skill. But shooters can't ignore how big he looks between the pipes. Lack is listed at 6'5, 196 pounds. That's Pekka Rinne territory. Having a natural size advantage is always beneficial as long as you have speed to match-- and there's no lack of agility there.

And it's not like Lack became Roberto's backup by default. The team had options. They even signed Joacim Eriksson this off-season to bring in more competition during training camp and he played quite well. But Lack played better.

Beyond his position, Lack is a likable guy. He's funny, goofy, polite, speaks with a country-style Swedish accent and has his own dance move (seriously!). He genuinely seems to be enjoying his time in Vancouver and seems unfazed by the fact Roberto owns the crease in Vancouver for the rest of his playing days. Instead, he seems eager to learn from one of the game's best and is happy to fit in with a team that has a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Not a bad career so far for a guy who was never supposed to play in the National Hockey League.

Canorcas

It must be a difficult time to be a David Booth fan these days. There’s not much love in this city for the eccentric 28-year old, who came over from the Florida Panthers in 2011.

Since then, Booth has scored 18 goals and 35 points in 79 games. If those 79 games were over the course of a single season and not bits and pieces over two years, they wouldn’t be so bad. But considering Booth has spent more time in the infirmary than on the ice, there hasn’t been much traction to the Support Booth movement.

To be fair, Booth’s $4.25 million dollar contract was signed in the heels of a strong 2009 campaign with the Panthers. The Michigan native had put up 31 goals and 60 points with the lowly Panthers and seemed like the next big thing in the sunshine state.

Less than 3 months later, everything changed.

October 24th, 2009. That is a date David Booth will never forget. It was the day that Booth’s career came to an abrupt halt.

Mike Richards, then with the Philadelphia Flyers, caught Booth with his head down and delivered what would surely be a suspension-worthy hit in today’s game.

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The hit that changed everything.

Booth was sidelined indefinitely with a concussion and missed the next 45 games as a result.

That hit did more than just change Booth’s career. It changed NHL policy.

Shortly after that incident, Colin Campbell stepped down as the league’s disciplinarian and Brendan Shanahan took the job a few short weeks later. To this day, Shanahan has tried to send a message that headshots will no longer be the norm in professional hockey.

There was a general sense of agreement that headshots had to be eliminated from the game in order to protect players like Booth and Marc Savard. It was an ugly time for the league.

It is perplexing that Canucks fans aren’t more sympathetic to Booth who clearly has yet to pull himself together completely from that incident.

Beloved captain Markus Naslund had a similar regression after suffering his own headshot in 2004. We’re all too familiar with the Bertuzzi incident that occurred as a consequence of that. But it’s true, after suffering a hit to his head, Naslund was never quite the same.

Even after a lockout canceled the entire 2004-2005 season, Naslund came back in 2006 and looked slower and weaker. For the next four seasons, Nazzy would put up fewer numbers until he finally retired early in 2009, walking away from the second-year of his contract with the Rangers. Was his heart in the game? It seems obvious now that it was not. And that in itself was strange, as Naslund was a fierce competitor in his prime and wanted nothing more than to raise the Stanley Cup in Vancouver.

Concussions have serious after effects. It is quite literally a brain injury and it has long lasting effects even years after the original date of injury. It should be no surprise to anyone that David Booth has yet to fully emerge in Vancouver. He’s been looking for his game for the past several years now and was quietly shipped out of Florida due to these lingering effects. They simply didn’t want to deal with the trouble of looking after an expensive but broken player.

It is alarming that despite Booth’s relative young age and physical condition that he hasn’t been able to play a complete game. But age and physique is of little consequence when one’s brain is seriously injured. It hurts anyone and everyone in different ways.

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There is still an opportunity for David Booth to become an important player for Vancouver. But don’t be fooled—he’ll never be that 30-goal scorer who rushes down the ice and slams the net. That style of play led to the most serious injury of his career—it’s hard to ask anyone to keep doing that and ignore the consequences. Not even Markus Naslund played the same after his own injury. Fans and management noticed a less-involved Naslund, often setting up perimeter plays and unwilling to get into high-traffic areas.

Booth is no exception here. He is human, just like the rest of us. When he stubs his toe, it hurts. When he hits his funny bone, it still smarts. And anyone who has suffered a concussion as seriously as he has would know how traumatic that experience must have been.

In the salary cap world of professional hockey though, players are criticized over and over why they aren’t scoring enough goals or enough points in contrast to their wage. It’s almost unfair how anyone can find out just how much money an athlete makes- that sort of information is generally kept private in most occupations. Would there be as many complaints if Booth was making league minimum? Probably not.

When his playing days are over, Booth will walk away from hockey with a brain injury that may continue to nag him for the rest of his life. Not convinced? Just ask Marc Savard or Chris Pronger what those injuries are like—they’ll be happy to educate you.

In the case of David Booth, we should be relieved that a player is still able to play after suffering such a devastating and serious injury. Not everything in hockey is business. And nothing in your brain is invulnerable.

Canorcas

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Trials and tribulations in the pacific northwest

February 28 2013

Orca Zone

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It was never going to be easy.

But you can’t blame anyone for feeling as if the Canucks have the worst kind of luck these days.

After a lengthy and tumultuous lockout that killed half of the 2013 NHL season, the excitement over the return of hockey has squandered into frustration and anxiety for Vancouver fans.

With the season now nearing the halfway point, the Canucks seem to face more questions than they have answers and there is a realization that this 48-game schedule will be far from a cake walk.

The most recent kick in the rear came courtesy of a broken foot belonging to Ryan Kesler. The same Kesler who missed the first month of the shortened season now faces another 4-to-6 weeks in the press box nursing a fracture in his right foot. That should be a serious concern to a player who, when healthy, is absolutely unstoppable but hasn’t been anywhere near 100% in over two years.

Somewhere, Sami Salo is chuckling to himself.

It seems strange to call Kesler injury-prone but his gritty style of play takes a toll on the body and it seems to be adding up.

With #17 out of the lineup for an extended period of time (again), the Canucks have serious roster issues to address.

For now, Jordan Schroeder seems the likely favorite to run the gauntlet on the second line, but where and who exactly IS the second line? It’s been a revolving door of wingers and centers trying to find consistency and chemistry with popgun results.

In truth, Mason Raymond has been a pleasant surprise with his noticeably improved play, but has found nobody to match his energy level. David Booth is still working his way up the depth chart and may be expedited into a top- 6 role now with Kesler’s absence. Higgins, the second wing of the war torn American Express line, has jumped up and down the chart all year long.

Meanwhile, the days of Kassian leading the team in goals seems forever ago. Recently, the jumbo-sized winger has been doing a better job warming the bench than intimidating any opposition and questions continue to arise as to what exactly the organization wants to do with him.

But the troubles don’t finish among the forwards.

The defense has been far from excellent and anything but steady.

After signing a contract extension over the summer, Alex Edler hasn’t quite found his comfort zone and you have to wonder if his back issues are seriously hampering him in a big way. Once known for his ice-cool persona, calmness and decision making, Edler has been guilty of trying to do too much and panicking in pressure situations. That may be the result of adjusting to life with #5 instead of #6 watching his back.

Sami Salo is probably chortling by now.

Bieksa, who became red-hot in the scoring department, is also facing injury issues and that has certainly exposed the unfamiliarity of Jason Garrison patrolling the Canucks blueline. Poor Dan Hamhuis has been saying all the right words and doing all the right things to no avail; you just can’t spontaneously replace and reproduce chemistry in hockey.

While Chris Tanev has taken strides in his game, he’s still getting trucked into the end boards night after night and sooner or later, something has to give. With the way injuries have been snagging the Canucks of late, it must terrify the Vancouver coaching staff whenever Tanev glides into a corner for a puck battle.

The Canucks have 8 defensemen on the roster but seem decisively nervous with the idea of playing summer pickup Cam Barker in any situation, though perhaps it’s just what the defense needs.

Yes, Barker is new and hasn’t even suited up for a pre-season game with the team, but a new face and new energy could be an ideal way to shake up the group. On the other hand, it could also hamper the thin layer of chemistry already on the verge of cracking. At this point, after 8-3 and 4-2 losses against Detroit and Phoenix respectively, the staff has to consider all options.

As for the Schneider-Luongo situation, what more can be said? Mike Gillis can dance around the truth all day but it has to be said; nobody anticipated the organization carrying both #1 and #35 this far into the season.

It would have almost been easier if Luongo was playing suspect goaltending, or if Schneider vocally declared his desire to be the bona fide starter, but for the sake of a public relations disaster, all parties have been peachy keen in a hand-grenade situation.

Hopefully sooner than later, a long-term resolution to this is unearthed.

At the end of the day, the Canucks really have to challenge themselves and there haven’t been many glimpses of the caliber of hockey this team is capable of playing.

It is fortuitous for Vancouver, however, that the northwest division is likely the weakest in the league and the team can still enjoy a 4-point cushion over second place Minnesota. Whether that lead lasts for much longer is completely in the air so their matchup against the Calgary Flames on March 3rd should be highlighted. It’s another chance for the club to gain a valuable two points in an irrelevant division.

With 29 games left in the schedule, it’s time to see if this team is a legitimate contender or masquerading as an eloquent pretender.

Canucks fans are tired of excuses and waiting. They’re not asking for blood, sweat and tears to be shed this season—they’re expecting it.

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Canorcas

#15: Weathering the Sturm

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Marco Sturm

By: John "Canorcas" Jang

10/17/2011

Marco Sturm is a pretty smart guy. The veteran of 14 NHL seasons knows he's going to have to start producing results to help turn the team's slow start around. Don't be fooled by his calm and steady demeanor- Sturm is a fierce competitor who is known as a true team player and a respected leader. Currently sitting five games away from 900 regular season games in the NHL, the native of Dingolfing of former West Germany has had more experience in his lifetime than most on the team.

Consider this: since being drafted 21st overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 1996 NHL entry draft, Sturm has played through 5 different teams, 4 Olympic Games and 3 World Championships. Furthermore, he has an additional 61 playoff games though currently has no ring to show for it. Hoping to change that fact, Sturm signed with the Canucks to a 1-year, $2.25 million-dollar contract on July 1st-- Canada Day and the first day of free agency in the National Hockey League.

So far, with zero points and a miserable minus-four through five games, Sturm has had trouble finding a comfort level with a new team and new linemates. After starting the season on the second line with Mikael Samuelsson and rookie Cody Hodgson, the trio was split up to the point where Sturm is currently seeing third line duty with rotating partners. Despite these early struggles, there is hope the 33-year old veteran can provide something more than just numbers-- an intangible element that experience, leadership and hard work provides that are impossible to judge by any statistic.

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The 2010-2011 regular season was a write-off for Sturm who played only 35 games before being shut down with a torn ACL. The injury required surgery-- marking it the second time he had a major operation on his knee within three years. Largely considered a risk signing due to his questionable durability, Gillis wasted no time by signing the former Washington Capital on the first day of free agency.

While most general managers might have waited out for bigger or better fish, Gillis clearly sees something in Sturm that can help his team. For anyone who watched the Stanley Cup Finals, they would know there were numerous reasons the Canucks fell apart to the Bruins. In addition to a myriad of injuries, the Canucks seemed to collapse under the pressure and their inability to beat Bruins braun. While likely not an answer to better physical play, Gillis made his first significant off-season transaction by signing Marco Sturm.

Clearly coach Vigneault has no issues with utilizing Sturm in a variety of ways and that is likely to be a key factor down the stretch when players are in and out of the roster due to injuries or cold streaks. The fact is, Vancouver fans likely should not expect a big offensive output from Sturm this season at any point. It is more likely the Canucks brought Sturm on board for his versatility through the roster and his intangibles.

It simply may not be fair to label Sturm as the early scapegoat for the team's slow start. With Kesler and Raymond out with injuries and goaltender Roberto Luongo playing sub-par as usual in the month of October, Sturm is the easy choice. In truth, the whole team is guilty of playing lacklustre hockey and it seems Sturm is simply miscast as the villain.

As the team begins to get into the groove and after weathering the early storm, the Canucks and Marco Sturm may look for sunshine and better days ahead.

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Follow me on Twitter: @jawnjang

Canorcas

Jannik Hansen: True Grit

By John Jang

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

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Jannik Hansen: True Grit

As of Tuesday evening, the Vancouver Canucks currently sit atop the NHL standings with an impressive 55 points through 38 games. More impressively are the quality of teams that the Canucks now find themselves in the company of. The eternal Detroit Red Wings sit 2 points behind, while Atlantic Division heavyweights Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both threaten to dismantle the Canucks' position as top dog in the NHL.

While 38 games is far from a permanent fixture, the Canucks are still enjoying a well-earned luxury of finally gaining league-wide recognition as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. When you take a look across the Vancouver Canucks depth chart, there's plenty of praise to go around with almost every player seemingly doing their part. While the work of the Sedin Twins are nothing short of amazing and Ryan Kesler's rise as one of the league's best two-way centers deserves great credit, one name that perhaps goes under the radar is the Great Dane: Jannik Hansen.

But maybe that's not a mistake after all.

Every successful NHL team has a sort of 'secret' weapon that routinely go unnoticed. You saw it in Chicago's Dave Bolland last spring when the 24-year old Ontario-native returned from an injury that limited him to just 39 games in the regular season. Yet, he was one of the 'Hawks most important players in their playoff run that ultimately ended with a Stanley Cup championship.

Indeed, the 'secret' weapon is the multifaceted and dependable forward that can provide a wide array of skills for different situations. And while I have no ill will towards Mr. Kesler and the many nights he has single-handedly carried the Canucks in his tenure, #17 is hardly a secret anymore.

Hansen, on the other hand, is still a relatively unknown name across the league. And yet with almost 150 NHL games under his belt (in addition to 24 playoff games), Hansen's role as a deployable and dependable checker is something the Canucks and their fans have been enjoying for the past four seasons. Despite this, can you honestly tell me you've seen ANY #36 jerseys around the city?

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#36 - Jannik Hansen

Okay, so he hasn't played more than 55 NHL games in a single season. Injuries have plagued the young Dane throughout most of his NHL career, but at long last we are seeing what a healthy and happy Hansen is capable of: making us forget Mikael Samuelsson is even here.

With 5 goals and 13 points through 38 games, Hansen is on pace for a career year in goals (10), assists (17), points (27) and more importantly: games played (82). Not bad for a scarcely-mentioned player who is earning less than a million for the season ($825,000).

In comparison, Hansen has only four less points in the same amount of games as Raffi Torres (11-6-17) but the Dane boasts an impressive +8 to Raffi's -3.

Before Mason Raymond, Jeff Tambellini, Manny Malhotra or Torres, it was Hansen who made his NHL debut with the Canucks during the 06-07 NHL playoffs. Through 10 hard-fought battles, Hansen managed a single assist and is remembered for being on the receiving end of a devastating Rob Niedermayer hit-- the same hit that allowed brother Scott to eliminate the Canucks that year.

And don't think Hansen has forgotten that incident.

With a chip on his shoulder, the 24-year old winger has improved since, to the point where Hansen now enjoys playing more than 15 minutes of ice time per game. More than Torres (13:22) or Tambellini (13:39) with whom Hansen is comparable to in depth chart placement.

In truth, perhaps there's no need for Hansen to be as popular as the Sedins, Ryan Kesler or Alex Burrows. For a young man who entered the league with little fanfare (drafted 287th overall in 2004), maybe it's fitting that one of the hardest working Vancouver Canucks is also one of the most humble people you'll ever meet. With roots tracing back to the non-traditional hockey market of Denmark, you can bet that Hansen also enjoys a relative anonymity even in his hometown of Herlev-- something that many professional athletes yearn for, but rarely achieve.

At the end of the day (or rather, the season), credit will go where it is due. And for the impending Restricted Free Agent, you can bet that Jannik Hansen will be quite content when his turn in the spotlight comes.

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Canorcas

Sauve looking for redemption after blown pre-season

John Jang

October 4 2010

A little over a month ago, Yann Sauve arrived in Vancouver hoping to impress the Canucks' staff and to battle for a roster spot with the big club.

But fate had other plans for the 20-year old native of Rigaud, Quebec, who was the victim of a motor vehicle accident which left him with multiple abrasions to his face and body last September.

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Yann Sauve enjoyed a career year with the St. John Sea Dogs last year.

Just when everything was going right for the star defenseman of the Saint John Sea Dogs, Sauve had been dealt a cruel hand to further test his dedication and commitment to professional hockey.

After finishing a career year with the Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, Sauve was looking to enter training camp to prove he could play in the professional ranks.

Amassing career highs in goals (7), assists (29) and points (36) as well as leading the Dogs to the QMJHL Championship Finals, the past season had gone absolutely right for the 6'3, 220-pound defenseman.

And yet, after an impressive campaign for the Dogs and himself personally, Sauve still arrived in Vancouver with little fanfare despite being a top defensive prospect for the Canucks.

After all, anyone who had been drafted after Cody Hodgson in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft was quickly buried underneath the attention that the Brampton Battalion star attracted. Furthermore, playing in the QMJHL added to Sauve's anonymity from the Vancouver spotlight; as little to no coverage ever graced Vancouver media in regards to his league.

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The Canucks' second-round draft pick in 2008, Yann Sauve.

In that sense, you almost had to expect Sauve to have a quiet training camp.

Nobody could have predicted just how quiet it would be.

Now, almost a month later, Sauve has been assigned to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and is expected to start on a top defensive pairing for head coach Claude Noel.

Seeking redemption is almost an understatement for the young defenseman who had his best opportunity to impress not only management, but the faithful Vancouver fans blown away by an unfortunate circumstance. And yet, this could have almost been a blessing in disguise.

Consider how much attention Cody Hodgson received in training camp and in pre-season and it's obvious how much pressure is on the young man's shoulders to succeed. After a reportedly rocky relationship with the Canucks after a debacle over his injured back, it's almost unfair how scrutinized he is.

And on the other end of the spectrum is Sauve; an almost forgotten entity at this point thanks to numerous circumstances, but a player who is void of media and fan pressure because of it. And now, with a chance to quietly succeed in Manitoba, Sauve will at least have the opportunity to impress those that matter most-- the coaching staff.

While it may take time for him to adjust to the professional level, should Sauve find success in Manitoba, it would be a sweet ending to what is already a tumultuous start in a chapter of his hockey career.

And should he continue that success, it won't be long before the humble and soft-spoken blueliner find a permanent home and well-deserved recognition in Vancouver.

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Canorcas

The Rise of Desbiens

The Rise of Guillaume Desbiens

John Jang

September 30 2010

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As the NHL pre-season comes to a close for the Vancouver Canucks, there is still stiff competition amongst a group of players to make the opening day lineup.

And not surprisingly, in the thick of things is Guillaume Desbiens.

The 25-year old winger of Alma, Quebec has turned heads with his big hits, big frame and the willingness to drop the gloves for big fights.

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Guillaume Desbiens scored 34 points in 67 games last year for the Moose.

It would seem that his combination of size, grit and a surprising amount of offensive ability gives Desbiens the inside track to a bottom-6 job with the Canucks. After all, management specifically targeted the third and fourth lines as not being physical or effective enough to come through in last year's playoffs.

The 6'2, 210-pound winger seems to be a solution for that issue. Armed with a big, strong body and able to fight and win battles in the corners, the insertion of Desbiens could give the third or fourth lines more bite per shift. So far, Desbiens has played up to that stereotype-- hitting early and often in the games he's played in and making his presence felt.

In addition to his impressive pre-season, Desbiens also has a very short experience with the big club. He was a call-up last year, making his debut in the NHL on October 11 of 2009 where he played under ten minutes on a line with Kyle Wellwood and Tanner Glass. The Canucks would eventually defeat the Dalls Stars 4-3 in that game.

While newcomer Victor Oreskovich may challenge Desbiens for a similar spot in the lineup, Desbiens also boasts impressive numbers in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose.

He was a key player in 08-09 when the Moose went all the way to the Calder Cup Finals. Scoring 4 goals and 12 points in 22 games, Desbiens' size and toughness was key in creating more room for his more dangerous linemates; former Canucks Michael Grabner and Jason Krog.

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Multifaceted winger Guillaume Desbiens

Last season, he took it a step further and posted 9 points in 6 playoff games as the Moose were eventually eliminated in the first round.

Off the ice, Desbiens is also involved with the community and is known for his strong character. As the recipient of the QMJHL's Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2005, there are no questions that Desbiens' character shines in and out of the locker-room. His personality fits his playing style- a hard worker who never takes anything for granted.

So whether Desbiens laces up as a Moose or an Orca this year, he will undoubtedly play a pivotal role to either team. A fierce warrior who personifies what it means to be a hockey player, the rise of Guillaume Desbiens is one worth watching.

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Canorcas

No More Unsung Hero

Mason Raymond ready to join 30-goal club

John Jang

September 24 2010

Calling it a big year would be an understatement to describe last season for Mason Raymond. After a disappointing 23-point campaign in 08-09 that included a few trips to the press box, the Cochrane, Alberta-native silenced critics with the best argument possible: 25 goals and 53 points.

Benefiting from a permanent fix on the team's second line beside Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson, the 25-year old proved himself worthy of earning praise from fans and management alike. Finding more tenacity and drive to his game, the 185-pound Raymond no longer avoided battling the puck in the corners and was often a surprising presence on the forecheck. In addition to his obvious skating ability, by implementing a more physical element to his game, Raymond reaped the rewards of his hard work early and often in the season.

It was after all, a career year for Mason. Perhaps the most memorable highlight coming at the expense of his favorite childhood team; the Calgary Flames. Midway through the season, Raymond scored his first NHL hat-trick against Miikka Kiprusoff and the Flames on December 27 of 2009. It would be a sign of things to come as Raymond eventually finished the season with 8 powerplay goals including 4 game winners.

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Mason Raymond enjoyed a 53-point season last year

His obvious success did not go unnoticed and Raymond was eventually rewarded the Fred J. Hume Award as the team's "Unsung Hero." And though the honor might have fit the persona of Mason Raymond a year or two ago, he's no longer qualified as unsung.

Even Team Canada acknowledged Mason's big year and added him to their lineup for the 2010 IIHF World Championship of Hockey in Germany. Though the team struggled and finished a distant seventh place, it cemented Raymond's legitimacy as a top-six forward in the NHL. Prior to this experience, the former Camrose Kodiak had never laced up for the Red and White-- though you can expect his name to be considered in future tournaments.

Indeed, calling it a big year would be an understatement for Mason Raymond. Not that he ever takes anything for granted and is understandingly overshadowed by some of the bigger stars on the hockey club. And perhaps his value to the team is recognized by the fact he is the recipient of the Fred J. Hume Award; a player that quietly but undeniably exceeds expectations.

And a man with a city behind him to prove he's no longer satisfied with unsung.

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Canorcas

It's like a first date gone bad.

The Canucks started out well, with a strong 2-goal first period performance that, apart from a Brent Seabrook tally, silenced the crowd at United Center.

But if the first period is anything like an introductory phase between two people on a first date, the second period was the actual event and the Canucks simply didn't show up.

There's nothing worse than being stood up, and although the 'Nucks didn't allow the Blackhawks to score any goals in the middle frame, there were no legitimate scoring chances for Vancouver in the middle frame. Ultimately, the 'Hawks finished the 2nd with more shots on net and generated momentum entering the third-- the all-important "Now what?" phase of the first date.

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There, the Blackhawks roared out and flexed their offensive muscle; scoring a timely goal from Patrick Sharp while short-handed. No other team has scored as many short-handed goals this year than the Hawks, and you can bet the Canucks coaching staff have been antsy about the thought of pitting Sami Salo in a footrace against Marian Hossa or, unfortunately, Patrick Sharp.

Even worse, the Canucks simply didn't take the game back after what should have been a solid slap back to reality. They generated even less shots in the third than they did in the second, and the only true performer was Roberto Luongo; who, on this first date, was truly given a "one (period) and done" deal from his teammates.

There will be plenty of blame to go around in the Canucks dressing room for this one, but responsibility has to go to the players in charge.

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Alex Burrows, who lead all Canucks in goals this season with 35, has a miserable single point-- an empty netter against the Kings back in the first round.

Ryan Kesler, who performed at an all-world status at the Olympics, has been abysmal on the powerplay and, despite scoring 12 of his 25 goals this season on the powerplay, has done a better job of killing the momentum on the Canucks man-advantage than most Chicago penalty-killers.

Together, "Fric and Frack" have 60 goals between them for a total of exactly 2 goals in the playoffs.

For a dynamic duo that was supposed to generate speedy offense on the second line, it may be the first time all year where the two look as if they are slowing linemate Mason Raymond down, and not vice versa.

It may be time to re-organize and re-shuffle the lineup card for Vancouver. With Ryan Johnson's impending return and a gradual death to Michael Grabner's ice-time (4:19 toi), goals may become even harder to come by, which only adds pressure on #14 and #17 to perform at 100%.

If tonight was truly a "first date" like scenario, than Canucks fans have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the fate of this series-- After all, the first impression is what matters most.

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For the Orca Zone, I'm Canorcas

Canorcas

Mister America

It may not be the most highly anticipated game during the Olympics, but there is sure to be lots of talk when Team Canada meets Team USA on Olympic ice in Vancouver.

And when the puck drops between these two juggernauts, Ryan Kesler will become Team Canada's number one enemy.

It's been well documented and recorded that before this year, the only time that Team USA had defeated Canada in the World Juniors was when Kesler was on that team in 2004. Kesler will have a rare opportunity to make a special name for himself if he can pull the feat twice; the latter opportunity as a full NHL pro.

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Ryan Kesler

As Vancouver fans already know, Ryan Kesler needs no introduction to the rest of the league. A Selke nominee in 2009, Kesler has made his living in the NHL by antagonizing the opposition with his gritty, physical play and his knack for getting under the skin of even the iciest players in the league. Yet, those intangibles that can make a team into a Stanley Cup contender may be the same element of surprise that could push Team USA from underdogs into gold medal finalists.

With the advantage of an NHL-sized rink, there's plenty of opportunity for Kesler to crash, bang and hit all of his hated rivals in the NHL while representing his country. And while playing in the NHL is every hockey player's dream career choice, there's no doubt that playing for one's country is the absolute height of representation. If Kesler was a Selke nominee in the NHL, it'll be frightening to imagine what he'll be capable of when fueled with an entire nation's hopes and dreams.

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Canucks fans hope to see a lot of red, white and boos.

In truth, it won't be the first time that Kesler has dipped into the love/hate relationship with the city of Vancouver. Much like a past that both parties regret, during Kesler's early years in Vancouver, the Livonia, Michigan-born native was the scapegoat for disappointed fans and the future alternate captain faced his share of criticism, which climaxed in 2007 when Kesler signed an offer sheet from Philadelphia worth 1.9 million dollars. When Vancouver opted to match the sheet, it was like a new opportunity to make a new future. And Kesler hasn't looked back since.

There's no doubt that Kesler loves the Canucks and loves the city; an adoration that is mutual among the team's fanbase, but nobody will be pulling any punches when it comes to gametime and number seventeen may even get in the face of his captain; Roberto Luongo.

And although the entire country will be rooting for Kesler to walk away from the tournament with nothing to show for, there are reasons to be excited about how Kesler will respond after the games.

Certainly, the Canucks organization are hoping that whatever the outcome of the international event that the team are the true winners when the dust settles.

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For the Orca Zone, I'm Canorcas.

Canorcas

A Year Difference

Steadfast Sauve developing well with QMJHL's Sea Dogs

You can't blame anyone if they don't immediately recognize the name Yann Sauve; even if they're die-hard Canucks fans. After all, when the Canucks drafted Cody Hodgson 10th overall in 2008, the Brampton Battalion star was immediately the talk of the town and still is, despite having failed to make the big club two years in a row.

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Yann Sauve was Vancouver's 2nd round pick in 2008

Yet while the same could be said for Yann Sauve, it's a well-known fact that defensemen take a considerable more amount of time to develop into NHL-ready players than forwards. It's the faster gamespeed, the higher level of physical play, competing against professional veterans and an 82-game schedule that has a daunting effect on the body; even moreso for a defender who averages 20 minutes of ice time per game.

And unlike Hodgson, who ripped up the OHL last year and lead the charge in helping Canada to gold at the World Juniors, Yann Sauve has painfully learned the finer aspects of the game with little to no fanfare. Some players come with a natural instinct for the game and they are certainly unique standout players, but sometimes it's the ones that battle and fight that steal the hearts of fans.

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Sauve, recipient of the Mario Lemieux trophy in 2006

But while Sauve had a tough season last year, the 19-year old has taken all of the lessons he learned to apply them this year-- and the results are obvious. While it took him 61 games to hit 30 points last season, Sauve already has 20 points in half the amount of games so far this year; which is a nice surprise for a defenseman that wasn't entirely known for his offensive prowess.

Yet, even better than the amount of goals he's helped his team score, it's the amount of goals he's helped the team prevent that really stands out. With a paltry -4 at the end of the last year's campaign, there was no doubt that the Montreal-native was sourly lacking confidence in his own zone. Often caught of the play in attempt to make the big hit, Sauve managed to model his game after his idol player after all in Dion Phaneuf. And though it took a full season to realize he doesn't have the priviledge of a Miikka Kiprusoff saving him on those gaffes, Sauve's matured as a player and with an impressive +26 so far this year, has become the go-to man for the underdog Sea Dogs.

Whenever a 6'3, 220-pound 19-year old can improve in all major aspects of his game play in possibly his last year of junior hockey, there's a good sense that his hockey future is heading in the right direction. Despite not being named to the World Junior's training camp for this year yet again, Sauve might have bigger plans for next year as an individual to show the camp organizers what they could have missed out on.

And although there's still a long road ahead for Yann Sauve before he'll suit up at GM Place, the journey is off to a great start so far in his young career.

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For the Orca Zone, I'm Canorcas

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