<table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/henderson_headshot.jpg align=left hspace=4>I settled in last night, with a couple of sudoku puzzles and the radio tuned to Tom and Shorty calling the Flames/Canucks pre-season tilt. I love those guys. As a buddy of mine always says, you can listen in at any point in the game and instantly tell how the Canucks are doing by the tone of Larscheid’s voice.
Normally I have no problem visualizing the game when I’m listening. As a confirmed hockey addict, I’m really familiar with how the Canuck regulars play the game. I was having some trouble last night though, once past the line of Naslund-Kesler-Pyatt. I can easily call to mind an image of pesky Alex Burrows goading Eric Godard into a penalty-laced frenzy, but the Grabners, Schneiders, Jaffrays, et al remain a bit of a mystery to me.
<a href=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/09192007_flames03_b.jpg target=_blank><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/09192007_flames03_t.jpg border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Which leads to an anecdote from a couple of years ago. When the Canadian Olympic training camps were held in B.C., back in the summer of 2005, I naturally went to watch the Vancouver camp. Because I happened to be heading there anyway, I attended one of the Kelowna training days as well. Seriously, I’m an addict.
At the early morning Okanagan scrimmage, I could tell from the conversations around me that this was the first time many in the audience had seen NHL players live – especially a collection of some of the most highly skilled players in the League. The crowd, accustomed to junior games, was clearly dazzled by the speed, skill and talent on display. (That’s why I think it’s so great that the Canucks take their training camps on the road – many communities are devoted to their local teams but they just don’t get the chance to watch the most elite professional hockey except on the tube.)
<a href=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/09192007_flames12_b.jpg target=_blank><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/09192007_flames12_t.jpg border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a> Now, the fastest way to separate the crazily devoted from the casual fans is to put the players out on the ice without their names on their jerseys. Those of us who clearly watch too much hockey can tell who’s who by how they play. The two fellows sitting next to me were having some trouble identifying the different skaters.
“Who’s that big fella over there?” says Guy 1. “Um, that’s Joe Thornton”, says I. “Right, right, Thornton…and the one over there with the beard?” inquires Guy 2. “That’s Mike Peca”, I respond. “Hey, you’re right”, he replies. “Good girl!” (I have to laugh).
Later, one of the goalies looks a little shaky, bobbling the puck and letting in a couple of shots. “Man”, says Guy 1. “Roberto Luongo isn’t playing very well, is he?”
“Well”, I retort, “maybe it’s because that is Marty Turco”.
<a href=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/Sep1907_Luongo_b.jpg target=_blank><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/Sep1907_Luongo_t.jpg border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>It’s two years later and Luongo, then a Panther, is now ours. Vancouver fans, many of whom couldn’t pick him out of a line-up just one year ago, have taken Number 1 to their collective heart, as witnessed last night by the loud “Looooooooo” chant that followed even his most average of stops. And, if last year’s playoffs are any indication, he is still better than Turco.
Just 15 more sleeps until the puck drops for real.