Nancy Henderson

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  1. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src="" align="left" hspace="4">It was a night of opposites, when Def (and apparently dumb) Leppard managed to place the mighty Stanley Cup upside down (the only crime that will still get you executed in Canada) and when the Canucks put together a classy and touching tribute to a young defenseman lost far too soon, then went out and got a fantastic victory in his name. We are in the middle of a seemingly endless election season and last night we had living proof that democracy doesn’t work. Because if the Canucks Nation had been given the opportunity to cast a ballot, the majority would have voted Mike Gillis and the team out of office long before the summer ended. <img src="" align="right" border="0" hspace="4" vspace="1">There must have been times during the last few months when Mr. Gillis imagined that being kidnapped and held captive in the jungles of South America would only be the SECOND worse situation that he could have gotten himself into. It seemed that everywhere there were predictions of utter disaster. But after a pre-season and an opening night game that could only be described as a resounding success, perhaps our new GM is breathing a little easier this morning. I’m not breathing easier because I’m still waiting for the heart palpitations to subside. We were promised exciting, offensive hockey and we got it. I guess Vegas was the place to take Coach Vigneault, to impress upon him the need to start taking a few chances. Finally the boys were away from the boards, getting the transition game in gear and making some plays in the centre of the ice. They were flying around so much they were practically airborne. Despite the fact that, for me a least, it has been a bit painful, I am now convinced that the previous Canucks era did need to be removed and quickly, like a Band-aid. Bring on the time of Captain Luongo. Posting a shutout in the first game of the season is exactly the sort of leadership we need from our beloved netminder and secret wearer of the “C”. <img src="" align="left" border="0" hspace="4" vspace="1">You could be forgiven for hearing the word “Danish” and thinking “soft and flaky” but this year apparently even our Danish whizz-kid Jannik Hansen is more than happy to leap in with fists flying to defend the precious goaltender. The way teammates were sticking up for one another was one of the many heartening things to watch. Another was the monster play of Mattias Ohlund. I have a soft spot for the stalwart Swede, who I think has always been unfairly overlooked and underrated by others around the League. You have to imagine that Matty got his fill of suppressing comments while quietly listening to Todd Bertuzzi blab on in the locker room over the years, because he seemed to be taking particular delight in shoving big Bert around. Todd’s jersey may now be aflame, but he certainly wasn’t last night. Ryan Kesler was a cut and bleeding warrior, Alex Burrows was a scoring machine, Rick Rypien had a shockingly pretty goal. Sure the start was slow and the power play was often a bit of a mess but these are certainly fixable issues. Yep, the long weekend beckons and we seem to have plenty to be thankful for. The team seems to be brimming with confidence and so far, no turkeys have been served up in GM Place. </td></tr></table>
  2. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src="" align="left" hspace="4">Bugs Bunny: “We’re foundering fast. Oh no! The Captain goes down with his ship.” Yosemite Sam: “I resign. You’re Captain” Bugs: “No, you’re Captain” Sam: “I’m Captain and I say you’re Captain, Captain” And just last week I was feeling like the good ship Canuck was going to make it past the tricky shoals. Now I’m wondering about the stability of the rudder. The hysteria already seems to be building out there. I have no wish to add to it. But I must admit that I am a little concerned about the decision to name Roberto Luongo as captain of the Canucks. First of all, a goalie isn’t allowed to be a true captain in the NHL. It’s a bit like being named Honeydew Queen at the Fall Fair – sure you get the title but you have no actual legislative powers. You don’t even get to keep the tiara, or in Roberto’s case, wear the “C”. <img src="" align="right" border="0" hspace="4" vspace="1">The fellow most likely to carry out the actual duties of captain, talking to officials and the media in his customary gregarious and forthright way, and quietly leading by example in the middle of the playing surface, is Willie Mitchell. It appeared last season that there might be some sort of unnamed problem between the d-man and the coach. The failure to name leading candidate Mitchell as the successor to Markus does nothing to dispel rumours of a rift. Clearly Roberto is a highly skilled and focused netminder. Everyone talks about Roberto’s leadership, his incredible desire to win. The boys say it’s on show in the locker room. But despite his ability to make save after jaw-dropping save, frankly, I have yet to see definitive evidence of Louie’s superhuman will, especially at the most crucial times. It was certainly missing in action at the end of last season, when he was being pulled during weak outings and the team was losing. Hmmm. What happens the first time the newly minted Captain gets benched mid-game? <img src="" align="left" border="0" hspace="4" vspace="1">If things start going badly, will the crushing weight of the captaincy, never an easy thing to bear here on the West Coast, be too much for our beloved goalie? Will he ever manage to give an interview where he looks comfortable? Will the extra responsibility convince Louie to stay or drive him away quicker? And, most importantly, should we all be gravely concerned that, with the exception of Kes, we have no FORWARDS considered worthy of the captaincy? I’m not sure, so I’m adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Meanwhile Kyle Wellwood is adopting a weight-and-see attitude. Considering the prodigious preponderance of pudgy people on the planet, maybe the Canucks should market their brilliant slimming program – public humiliation by Coach Vigneault (the Carbs Means Barbs Plan), followed by vigorous exercise and delicious, vegetable-rich meals delivered to your door. Wellwood dropped 8 pounds in a week. I’m seriously thinking about signing up. </td></tr></table>
  3. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>The Canucks are 2 and 0! Can a rain of toads be far behind? Or maybe we should just give in to the sweet insanity – could you safely run the parade down Robson Street? After a summer of handwringing, despair, and battening down the hatches of the good ship Canucklehead, fearful of the tsunami of team awfulness surging towards us and threatening to leave us bobbing upside down in a season nicknamed “Poseidon Adventure On Ice 2008”, faithful Vancouver hockey fans can be forgiven for allowing themselves a few brief moments of giddiness at the unexpected early success. I watched game one at home, game two at GM Place. Errors, flailing and broken plays are the hallmark of the pre-season, when there is a wild mix of the young and the veteran, and everyone is playing “What’s My Line?”. Still, there were definitely moments to enjoy and some pleasant surprises. STOPPING THE SPECULATION <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>Cory Schneider for one. Well, I have been hoping for signs of potential NHL greatness from this prospect since we drafted him, so I wouldn’t say it was a surprise that he possessed the ability to carry the burden of playing regulation, overtime and a shootout with such an impressively calm demeanor. But it was certainly heartwarming to see. The big-boy pants look good on the kid. Cory appears to have been taking correspondence courses at the Luongo school of solid positioning and earning a minor in keeping the team alive during dire miscues. He looked unflappable during long second period stretches when all the Canucks seemed to be doing was flapping. Who knows what the future holds – will the lad stay or be traded? If Roberto decides his future lies elsewhere it would be nice to turn to a homegrown number one goalie that we had nurtured ourselve. LORDY, LORDY, LOOK IT'S HORDY <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>Darcy Hordichuk, too. I suppose it would be safe to say that I had no real expectations of Mr. Darcy other than that he would not shy away from the rough stuff. But on a number of occasions last night, I exclaimed “hey, that was Hordichuk”, including when he scored. Obviously as the real games begin, a guy with 13 career goals will not be the answer to our offensive woes. But it was fun to see him step outside the box a bit and show off a few other skills. YOUNG SKILL <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>The Sedins can be coaxed away from the boards into flying around the ice with panache – not really a surprise as Markus lured them into doing that on occasion last season. And Hansen, Grabner and Raymond showed signs of speed, skill and dazzle that were not a surprise at all. But can any of the youngsters stick with the big club and demonstrate these abilities on a regular basis? Steve Bernier seems willing to go into the tough areas – his helmet came off so many times you would have thought he was auditioning to play the part of a Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robot. But will that result in any goals or just more endless, fruitless cycling with the Sedins? Does shootout dynamo Kyle Wellwood have soft hands or just soft muscle tone? There were more questions than answers after two starts. But I’m finally beginning to feel some excitement about the puck drop on the real season. </td></tr></table>
  4. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>When it comes to the (less than) graceful retirement of athletes, I’m beginning to think we should institute a “Logan’s Run” policy. I realize that today’s very fit players can stay in the game longer than their brethren of yore. But no matter how hard you work out in the summer, you cannot stop time. And just because you can play doesn’t mean you should. When your teammates are younger than your kids, it is time to give your head a shake. Chris Chelios, if your flashing red palm crystal didn’t tip you off, not dressing for a single game in the Stanley Cup final should have. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>Brett Favre, you have made the money, set the records, won the big prize, and most importantly had the teary media farewell. The team was preparing to throw an epic Number 4 retirement party, where you and everyone else could bask in the outpouring of love, gratitude and nostalgia. Your awkward reappearance on the sidelines does nobody any good. Even if you triumph in Tampa, you have merely delayed the inevitable for a year or so and you have at least dented your legacy with the Packers. It’s tough to give up the sport that has been your dearest dream, your livelihood and the thing that defines you. Going from adored star with an impressive salary to an anonymous management suit or small business owner with a real-world paycheque surely sucks. But it’s the Circle of Life, Simba. Get over it already. Players certainly have enough cash to hire a life coach to help them take the next step. And they are unlikely to get a great deal of sympathy from the wage slaves who cheer for them and have undoubtedly changed jobs and careers plenty of times themselves. <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>It must be infinitely harder to leave before you win a championship. How much nicer to have the Ray Bourque exit – leaving on the highest of high notes. Difficult it may have been, but our own Trevor seems to have managed it properly. And I still have hope that some great day his name will be etched on Lord Stanley’s mug as part of a winning team. But what if you haven’t won it all, and you’re still pretty much on top of your game? Which brings us, as everything seems to these days, to the burning question of the off-season. Is it sundown for Sundin? Is he going to retire this week? Or will he wake up Friday morning as if from a dream, smack his forehead (there appears to be plenty to smack) and announce: “D’oh!! What was I thinking? Retire? I haven’t won anything yet! Oh and I left all those hardworking Canucks employees and loyal hockey fans in Vancouver dangling for months. After they offered me all that lovely money, too. That probably seems a little rude. Of course I would be delighted to sign the deal”. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>Perhaps Mats would like to wait until 2009, choose the team with the best chance for victory and offer his services. Scott Niedermayer took half a season off to ponder retirement, but that was only after he led his team to a championship. And frankly, Scott has so many Stanley Cup rings it must take a mighty effort just to hail a taxi. So I can understand cutting him some slack while he weighed his options. Still, this year the Ducks leaned on him not to do it again. This is, after all, a TEAM game. So, c’mon Mats. I’ve always liked the way you play. It would be great to see you here. You’d love the city and goalie and for a change, you’d like the defense too. With you in the lineup we start to look like a bit of a winner. You’d be a local hero before you even stepped off the plane. Make our day and our year. Tire of retiring and just say yes.</td></tr></table>
  5. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>It sounds like a joke - how many Newfies does it take to hoist the Stanley Cup? Apparently, just one, but you have to imagine that the hands of every citizen of Newfoundland were stretching out across the kilometers last night, to help local lad Dan Cleary lift that most precious of sports trophies. And frankly, you have to believe that when sun-rays crown thy pine-clad hills and summer spreads her hand, and Danny boy gets to spend his day with the Cup, there is going to be one heck of a celebration party in that great province - a “Rock”ing good time for sure, eh?! <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>I love it whenever tried and true Don Cherry myths bite the dust. Apparently, there IS such a creature as a gritty Swede. You CAN win Stanley with a quiet Swedish captain. When everything is said and done, you can litter your entire team with those much maligned “chicken” Europeans and still leave the opposing Canadian captain in tears. Amazing! Of course, as I always say, captains don’t win championships, teams win championships. If you don’t have the team to go the distance, it won’t matter who is wearing the C. Still, I hope my own favourite little lightweight Swedish captain is enjoying all this. I would say that the way the two teams lined up (or rather, failed to line up) is another giant shout out to NHL top brass to make sure that future schedules feature a lot more inter-Conference play. Teams ended up playing the same opponents so often in the course of the year that they began to tailor their play for those teams alone. Are we surprised Pittsburgh couldn’t adjust quickly enough when they met a foe from the other conference – especially a foe that won the President’s Trophy? <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>Pittsburgh had some trouble scoring on their Northwest Division swing this season. They were held to the outside during games and were not given their usual time and space up the middle. During their first two games against Detroit, they looked completely stymied by this tactic – seemed surprised when the puck was plucked from their sticks so frequently. Personally, I would like the West to pick up a little of the East’s free-wheeling spirit but I would also like the East to adopt a little more of our grinding style against their superstar scorers, as I am often shocked at the amount of open ice in front of Eastern Conference goalies. The Red Wings seem to have found a pretty good balance between the two worlds. Being an old gal myself, I love to see old guys raise the Cup for the first time. The utter joy on the face of Dallas Drake was heartwarming. I was, though, a little surprised at all the baby-boy-bashing going on across the sports message boards. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were branded overhyped crybabies and divers, losers who disappear in crucial games. Yeeesh – call me crazy but they look pretty talented to me. It is worth remembering that these boys (for they are boys) are only 21 years old. This was a big old learning experience for them. They are still developing the hockey smarts and the physicality required to win. Back home, Russian superstar forwards are obviously not taught nor expected to spend a great deal of time back/forechecking. If Malkin had been drafted by Minnesota, he might have a different set of skills by now, but until this final, I don’t think anyone was telling Evgeni that he might have to play differently to succeed. So, now he knows. And Sid – well - Sid can’t help it if he has for years been anointed the Next Great One. I thought he made some real strides forward and showed flashes of the no doubt great captain that he will become. And I, for one, am more interested in celebrating a guy who will be called upon to play for Canada numerous times in his career than bashing him.</td></tr></table>
  6. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>I wish I had interviewed Luc Bourdon. I never got the chance. We were never in the room at the same time. I did pass Luc on Burrard Street late in the season and, as always when I’m standing next to an NHL defenceman, I marveled at how huge, solid and powerful he looked. And how boyish. “Such a sweet baby face”, I thought, “for the job he’s got to do”. I didn’t know Luc, but I guess, like most Canucks fans, I sort of feel like I did. You spend so much time watching the players, discussing them, ranting about them, berating them when they screw up, agonizing with them when they lose, adoring them when they win. You sometimes fool yourself into thinking that they are part of your life. When they get traded it upsets you. But when one of them dies, especially one so young, so ridiculously young, it just about breaks your heart. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>I was really enjoying watching Luc grow and develop. I remember feeling hopeful when we drafted him, and being pretty excited during his first, rather successful training camp. I liked the passion he seemed to display when he didn’t quite make the big club. In the ensuing years, I was probably more than once guilty of impatience where Luc was concerned, willing him to hurry up and become a top six blueliner, grumbling about how long it seemed to be taking. Which is stupid, of course. It does take time for most defencemen; it is the exception to the rule that skates right out of junior and into a regular shift in the NHL. Besides, Luc was coming along. When our defensive core began to implode this season, and he was called up, Luc appeared to have figured it out and seemed to be maturing nicely. He was keeping it simple, making good choices with the puck, and showing flashes of impressive skill. I remember watching him during a game late in the year, when he calmly and smoothly wheeled around, evaded an oncoming player, then made a smart pass and I thought, yes indeed, this kid is going to be alright. I expected to witness even greater improvement in the upcoming season. <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>Sadly, we won’t get that chance now. It’s tragic. It’s unfair. There is a consolation, though a small, inadequate one, at best. Most of us spend our whole lives dancing around our dearest desires, perhaps enjoying some success, perhaps not. But, at 21, Luc Bourdon was experiencing what was surely his childhood dream, making a living as a professional hockey player, playing in the NHL. His life will be celebrated and his death mourned by many, especially by those of us who watched him play and enthusiastically chanted “LUUUUUUUCCC”! My most sincere condolences go out to his family and friends. </td></tr></table>
  7. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>This may be my last chance, so I’d like to give my own shout out to my beloved skilled guy. <br><br> I never really understand why people spend so much time insulting Markus Naslund for what he is not, instead of celebrating what he is and has been to this city and this team. Big guys who waste their natural assets and play small annoy me, but I love a guy who has to work like a demon to succeed. Markus is smaller and slighter in person that you would expect – he manages to seem bigger on the ice. He always jokes that he developed his killer wrist shot because his slap shot was so lousy. If he had spent his whole career digging along the boards and planting himself in front of the net, he would have been forced to retire ages ago with a permanent concussion, but to his credit, he tried to play that way the last couple of years because he was asked to. He was willing to abandon the style that was his bread and butter and had made him a star, in an effort to fit in and help the team. And it ain’t easy when you’re a 34 year old dog learning a new trick. <br><br> <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>On the night of April 5th, the fans and media focused all their energy heaping love and respect on Trevor Linden, while basically ignoring what may have been the last game of the current captain and holder of many all-time Canuck records, as if he were so much soggy chopped liver. Now, I love Trevor - loved watching him all these years, raged furiously when he was mistreated and traded, then rejoiced at his return. But frankly, the organization will hold a spectacular Trevor Linden night in the not-too-distant future. They will rightly raise his number 16 banner to the rafters to reside forever alongside that of Stan Smyl. It will be a lovely, nostalgic evening of cheers, tears, fond memories and I will be weeping along with everyone else. <br><br> But my fear is that no such night will ever be held for Markus, that he will leave the city for good this week in a departure slightly reminiscent of that of Pavel Bure. Of course there won’t be the animosity that Pavel’s unpleasant exit engendered. But like Markus, Pavel dazzled the crap out of me, dropped my jaw and made my heart sing. The first time I saw footage of the Russian Rocket I was so amazed, I got out of my chair without even thinking and moved closer to the television. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “My God”, I thought “we have ourselves a superstar”. When I first watched him live, I was even more agog. When he was gone though, there were no tears, tributes and carefully preserved memories. Such a stunning player, the face of the franchise, and he just faded from memory. <br><br> <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>I hope that doesn’t happen with number 19. In recent weeks there seems to have been a change of heart and the prevailing feeling around town has shifted a little, from dump him to keep him. It’s worth remembering that, for most players, 25 goals and 55 points does not actually add up to a poor year. I hope Markus signs on for another season if the new GM can find him a couple of appropriately skilled and sized linemates, and that we are truly once again treated to that illusive “up-tempo” style of play. I won’t stop following Nazzy, even if he is playing somewhere else. I will continue to hope he gets a chance to win. I hope he’s back but if not, I just want to take the opportunity to say “Thank you so much Markus, for your dedication on and off the ice in Vancouver. It has been a joy and a privilege to watch you play”.<br><br> ---<br><br> I’m cheering for Pittsburgh now, if only to see the crazed grin on the face of my favourite Finnish flake, Jarkko Ruutu, as he raises the Cup over his head. I will always have a fondness for the guy.<br><br> <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4>You have to laugh. In every other endeavour, Canadians would be positively ecstatic to win a silver medal, or to finish in the top three at all. It is only in hockey that we demand gold every time, even as we gaze around the NHL and notice that many of the very best players are not from here. I hope our sad lads go home, especially those who will again don the Team Canada jersey in 2010, and hang their tarnished trophies from the bathroom mirror. That way, they will have to look themselves in the eye each morning, and remember how painfully it stings to come in second on home ice. That might give them extra motivation for the upcoming Olympics. <br><br> One thing about those darn Russians though, they do love and value their skilled offensive players, even those with only a passing knowledge of the defensive end of the ice. </td></tr></table>
  8. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>I have done everything in my power to help the team. I have made a wish at the fountain in front of the Aquarium, worn my lucky leopard-print bra on game days, wrapped myself in my Canucks blanket and surrounded myself and the television with all manner of team paraphernalia. Which makes me just one “arf” short of barking mad, but what’s a loyal fan to do? Look, for all the howling, the mood swings, the anger and the despair, it’s pretty simple. In terms of depth, this team is a kiddie pool. When they are at full strength, they have just enough going for them to create the illusion of having a chance. But my God, the unending injuries this season! Frankly, where we are now was utterly predictable at the start of the year. During the summer we didn’t improve, we couldn’t fill the holes, despite the fact that last season we hung on by our fingernails, shored up with defensive play that confused the opposition (the Canucks? Playing defence?) and by excellent netminding. What interests me at the moment is why nobody is talking about the elephant in the room. Or, rather, elephants, because the room is so packed with pachyderms that one can barely breathe. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Firstly, Markus is dead, so you can stop kicking him now. If he plays his cards right, in the summer our sexy Swede will sign with an Eastern Conference team where the coach says “stop worrying your pretty little blonde head about backchecking and stop chipping the damn puck out for crying out loud. Here’s a couple of mobile, physical linemates, so just skate, pass, shoot, baby. Leave the defence to the defencemen”. But in his absence, who will lead the Canucks? None of the players touted as the next wearer of the “C” has been particularly outstanding at this most desperate time. We are still a team that has chosen to hitch all its scoring hopes and top-line dreams to the Sedins, who, year after year, seem ever more incapable of becoming reliable game-altering players who can carry that kind of weight. How many triplets do we have to audition before we let it go? At the start of last season, the question was “who will replace the 126 points provided by Bertuzzi and Carter?” The answer, sadly, was “no one”. Now who will replace Naslund’s tallies? The crop of free agents doesn’t look that promising and all of them will surely be costly. I really hope not, but there is every chance that dismissing the captain will actually make things worse. <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Secondly, I know Coach V won the Jack Adams trophy last year, but, all along he has worried me. He seems to have an inexplicable passion for players who are willing to drop the gloves two seconds into a game, but bring little else to the table, and in fact, end up looking like pylons on too many occasions. What we really need are SKILLED physical players who can skate, occasionally score and deliver terrifying, bone-crunching legal hits as a matter of course. Players, like, say, Milan Lucic, who seems like the model for the new NHL tough guy. But it is Vigneault’s systems that are my biggest concern. Our forwards are constantly pinned behind their own net or the opposition net. Our transition game is non-existent when we start so far back in our own end. We play far too much of our game against the boards where we will continue to get injuries of epic proportions. We need to incorporate more confident passing play in the neutral zone and less dump-and-chase, especially as we have a multi-million dollar goalie who ought to be able to stop shooters without the entire Canucks team having to stand in front of him. Also, when four of your top six forwards go for more than 10 games without scoring, well, that sounds like a coaching problem to me. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Which brings us, finally, to Roberto. Having anointed Bobby Lou the “greatest goalie on the planet”, the sports scribes have been reluctant to criticize him. But with so much on the line lately, Number One has not been able to make it so. He, like the rest of the team, has not been able to raise his game. Last season he was a new entity in this Conference. Now the other teams have the book on him, and they seem to be adjusting nicely – they shoot high, where he is weakest, and they redirect shots off the defencemen crowded around him. Subsequently, they have been quite successful at getting him to give up three or more goals in a game. He is absolutely a competitor, so I expect him to take the necessary step up. I’m not sure how many of the Canucks problems can be fixed in the off season. Still, we are all Canucks and we are all nuts, at least I am, because, whether we stagger into the post season or not, I remain ever hopeful. </td></tr></table>
  9. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>I’m going to suggest that everyone take a pill. Considering the level of utter hysteria that must be building out there in the streets, on the call-in shows and in the media, I am recommending it be prescribed in jumbo-sized suppository form. Yesterday I was in the middle of a run when I got caught in that spectacular hailstorm. Pelted from every angle by icy missiles, I laughingly thought to myself “this must be what it feels like to be Roberto Luongo”. Relax, you crazy bandwagonners, and take a gander at the big picture. After 38 years I can tell you, being a Canucks fan is not a sprint. It’s not even an ironman. Most of the time, it’s the Badwater Ultramarathon, that most grueling 135 mile footrace through the summer heat of Death Valley. You simply must pace yourselves in order to survive. In 2006 the team narrowly missed the playoffs and pretty much threw out the baby, the bathwater and the bathtub. Here we are, a scant two years later, with systems changes and personnel changes and we haven’t moved one iota. One wonders what all the desperate upheaval was for, considering how far it got us. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Last week all the media outlets were positive we would make the playoffs, which was baffling to me. We apparently needed wins in six out of nine games to clinch for sure - in games against divisional rivals who were fighting for their playoff lives and/or superior playoff positioning. Nothing about that spelled shoo-in to me. Personally, I am amazed at how the Canucks have fought through this season of incredible, devastating injuries to key players, to still be alive in the playoff hunt. Now with Mo done for the season and Roberto off to the delivery room to welcome into the world Canada’s great hope for Olympic gold in women’s hockey in the 2030 Winter Games, we are staring down a pretty grim stretch. On the other hand, when the key blueliners were decimated earlier in the season, and all hope was lost, the lads rose to the challenge. Contrary to popular belief, I think the team has a lot of heart. And frankly, Roberto has been so morose lately, most of the season actually, and not terribly sharp in net. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has already asked management for a trade. His absence may actually focus the troops – the bambina-watch has surely been a bit of a distraction. This morning I was jokingly suggesting a straight-up swap with Tampa Bay for Vinny Lecavalier, which would deposit Louie happily back in the Sunshine State and get us that longed-for superskilled Canadian power centre. <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>But seriously folks, a refreshed and happy Daddy Lou may not even miss a game, Edmonton and Nashville may go into even worse tailspins than we have, and we may yet stagger in at eighth place – the one spot where I thought we might actually make a series of it in the first round. Seeing as these are most likely the last games I will ever see Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund wearing Canucks jerseys, I want to savour the memories and enjoy. I hope both of them take the opportunity to do the same. So many years of great hockey deserve a loving send-off. Drink fluids, regulate your breathing, don’t cramp up, pace yourselves, and keep focusing on the dream, people. All in a season’s work for the true Canucks fan. </td></tr></table>
  10. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>There were things to enjoy in the Canucks’ victory over the Stars on the weekend: the nine point performance of the Markus-Mo-Matt line; Willie “Timex” Mitchell – he takes a licking and keeps on ticking – battling and bleeding profusely enough to warrant admiration from Don Cherry; the crabby, frustrated expression on Marty Turco’s face at not being allowed to start the game. And the return to the ice of an old favourite. I was chatting with a woman sitting next to me during the interval a couple of weeks ago. She, like many Vancouverites, had a story to tell about Trevor Linden: how she had experienced the sad illness of a loved one, how Trevor had become involved with her fundraising cause, generously offering signed hockey merchandise, as well as his time and emotional support. What this woman wanted to know was why, in what is probably his final season playing for the Canucks, Trevor was spending so much time as a healthy scratch and not out on the ice, especially for home games? <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Yeah, yeah – a bunch of loyal fans still remember the day that the impossibly fresh-faced rookie pulled on a Canucks jersey for the first time, remember the weary but determined warrior from the 1994 run. I understand that we, and our precious memories, have no pull with the coaching staff. But Trevor hardly seems like a giant liability. He may not be the force he once was, but he still sees the ice well and thinks the game like a cagey veteran. More importantly he almost never puts his team in harm’s way, which cannot be said for some of his younger teammates. And, as my seatmate pointed out, he is gold in the shootout (probably because he is so old school that he confuses the current crop of young opposing goalies – no fancy dekes, no spinneramas, just plain old straight-up skate and shoot). <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>And, if Saturday’s game in Dallas is any indication, Trevor has not forgotten how to be a leader. He is no longer expected to score each and every night but is in the unique position of being able to advise those who are. Whatever he said during the pre-game, closed-door meeting was the thing his teammates needed to hear, perhaps because the message was delivered by one of their own who had been observing the team but not coaching it. Other teams have managed the presence of an aging veteran player who desperately wants to win the Stanley Cup. Heck, some teams have even succeeded in making said veteran the catalyst for the drive to team victory. So I say let a little nostalgia rule the day for the final home games of the season, and let the fans enjoy their last chance to stand and cheer good old Number 16. </td></tr></table>
  11. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>I would never count myself among the fans of Dan Cloutier, that legion of dewy-eyed babes, but I didn’t despise him with a passion either. I always thought he managed quite admirably during the regular season, considering how often his teammates, caught pinching up on the play, abandoned their hapless netminder to three-on-twos, two-on-ones or (yikes) three-on-nones. And as each regular season drew to a close without the team successfully purchasing or trading for a better goalie, I hoped against hope that Dan would somehow channel the spirit of Richard Brodeur (or maybe Martin Brodeur) and raise his game in the playoffs. Never happened of course, but I always hoped. <img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Last night, I hoped we would be treated to Classic Dan: ventilated, wandering and perhaps brawling. I thought that if there were currently a goalie in the NHL that Markus and the Sedins could use to bump their slumps and beat like a rented mule, it would be Dan. But alas, after a decidedly tough couple of years, Clouts put on an admirably brave performance against his old team. Fortunately, it wasn’t quite enough to win, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. I like the look of the Naslund, Raymond, Pettinger grouping – the 3M Line. Or maybe I just like the look of Markus, Mason and Matt (all that prevailing blond hotness – maybe we should call it the Chippendales Line). They had a strong game and seemed as if they have complementary skills. Now I realize that there are people in Vancouver who will not be satisfied until our beloved captain is clapped in irons and flogged at centre ice for the crime of once being unbelievably great and now having the audacity to wane with age. Hey, it annoys me too when Markus doesn’t score. But frankly, the slump I am much more worried about is the Sedin one. The Twins and Taylor Pyatt make up three of the top eight picks from the 1999 NHL draft. These boys should be right smack dab in their scoring prime. If ever they were going to be the difference in a game, night in and night out, it would be now. The Swedish cycle game is often effective, they often control the play, but if the result is not the one goal we so desperately need, then it is really just, dare I say it, an irritating time-waster. What that line absolutely needs is more finish, less Swedish. The guys scoring right now are the ones driving hard to the net. <img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Ahhh, the continuing excellence of Kesler and Burrows. How sweet it is. Other teams don’t really see them coming yet, but that won’t last. After struggling under the weight of expectation and injury last season, and failure to find the net early this year, it’s nice to see Kes coming up successful and smiling. And I do enjoy the fact that Ryan appears to have no capacity to disguise the emotions on his face in post-game interviews or out on the ice. If our so-called scorers actually get going soon, the Canucks could suddenly be scary-good, just in time for the playoffs. </td></tr></table>
  12. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Memo to Vancouver hockey fans: stop listening to panicky poultry. Chicken Little had it wrong – the sky is staying put. Ha - I wonder if the Nashville Tennessean newspaper has a cover story this morning promoting public self-immolation for disconsolate Predators fans? For those of you hysterically proclaiming that, without a doubt, Mr. Nonis should have traded our future talent for a rental player at the deadline, last night ought to serve as a rebuttal. The kids are definitely alright! The players clearly weren’t nervous at the start of the game but I was, partly because I was worried that it might be another ugly contest and partly because I was being interviewed by Scott Rintoul about my blog at the first intermission. I have done plenty of on-camera work before, as the spokesgal for any number of events and as an actress, but being stood up in front of the GM faithful, blasted with lights, and expected to answer questions coherently, well, that did have me working hard to scrape up enough saliva to speak. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a> Turned out to be fun though, and my mood was made better by the excellence of the first period. I was concerned though, that Scott might ask me to name my favourite player, and I would have been forced to own up to my devotion to Markus, whose pair of boneheaded errors resulted in the only two Nashville goals. Listen pal, if I’m going to keep defending you, you are going to have to stop being the only minus two player on the night. But mental errors aside, THAT, boys, is how you have to play for the rest of the regular season and, dare I say it, when you make the playoffs. Too often this year, the team has looked like it was trying not to lose. Last night, from the drop of the puck, and Alex Burrows’ fantastic quick goal, the Canucks looked like they were trying to win. That sense of confidence was undiminished by Nashville’s speedy, replying goals and a little early shakiness by our beloved goaltender. There were any number of things to admire on the night. Watching the lads take 44 shots on net, for a start. Shift after shift they controlled much of the play. Being a healthy scratch seemed to motivate young Mr. Raymond. Mason is definitely emerging as one of those skilled players I just delight in watching. Occasionally looking like the off-beat offspring of Pavel Bure and Nazzy (okay, don’t think too hard about it), Raymond demonstrates that sudden burst of speed and the dangerous, flat-out approach to the game that was the hallmark of Pavel’s playing style, and his smooth, skilled, confident goal from behind the net reminded me of the captain in his prime. Hmm, that’s a bit over the top maybe, and he still makes puppy mistakes, but let’s keep number 21 around a little longer, please.<a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a> But I would say my favourite moment of the evening belonged to Kevin Bieksa. Kevin was looking a little out of sorts even before his devastating injury and since his return he has seemed like he is still rediscovering his rhythm. But even though I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “the rough stuff”, I just love watching the man fight. When Kevin starts flinging off equipment, takes on that ferocious warring stance and focuses the famous Bieksa Bone-Liquifying Death Stare, I anticipate his opening single deadly punch with total glee. Heck, I have been the recipient of the Stare and even the muted version used on mere interviewers is powerfully intimidating. I am very grateful that, even though Bieksa was still attempting to whomp someone as he was hauled off the ice, the League has decided that a suspension for instigating a fight so late in the game would be “outside the spirit of the rule”. I’ll say – the man was rightly standing up for himself and his team. What a night. Even pretty little Ryan Shannon was interviewed wearing the bloodied eye of a scrapper. Now we can enjoy two whole days of blissful Cup-contemplation before the voices of doom begin to rise again. </td></tr></table>
  13. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Okay. I confess that I do bring a slightly masculine edge to my girlie pursuits. I am quite possibly the only woman with a guilty addiction to “MVP: The Secret Lives of Hockey Wives” who gets annoyed with the inaccuracies in the hockey aspects of the show. Conversely, I also view sports through a female gaze. So I have to admit that I am generally baffled by the passion displayed by the fellas for so-called “old-time” (read goon) hockey. To me, it usually indicates an evening where skill, style, talent, flash and all the other ingredients that normally cause me to delight in the game, are largely missing in action. If the Canucks are going to stage a “Slapshot” evening, could we not at least be treated to a reenactment of Michael Ontkean’s striptease, featuring Markus or Willie? Now, I always enjoy it when our lads refuse to be intimidated. If an opposing player starts it, I love it when a Canuck finishes it. But 193 penalty minutes? During the endless final seconds of the Oilers game, I was quite concerned that there would be another incident on GM Place ice that would once again make us the pariah of the NHL, and the chief emotion I felt when the final buzzer sounded was not joy at the win, but relief that nobody left on a stretcher. Still, obviously, this was a game that the Canucks needed to play. After a month of disappointment and one-goal losses, you just knew that the pent-up, testosterone-fueled frustration was reaching epic levels. And the boy-bonding exercise of group brawling seems to have been a real tonic for the team. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>After the uncharacteristic flurry of goals exchanged with Minnesota a week ago, last night’s tilt against the Wild seemed a bit more in keeping with the usual battles between the two teams. That is, it featured precious little room to move and solid goaltending with ugly goals going in off deflections. But both games did feature one pleasing common denominator – the ability of the Canucks to battle back. In fact, after spending much of the season as the team that was doomed if they were behind going into the third period, the boys finally seem to be leaving that stat behind. The Canucks were looking dominant throughout last night, but that hasn’t always translated into a positive outcome for the team. I was getting that old sinking feeling with ten minutes left to play. Fortunately the captain’s timely goal buoyed me up (even the anti-Naslund squad must admit that Markus has been playing rather well of late). And just as I was thinking that the Minny crowd’s loathing of mild Mattias Ohlund seemed all out of proportion to his actual crime against Mikko Koivu, and that their lusty booing might actually be motivating the Canucks, stalwart Matty was the catalyst for Daniel Sedin’s overtime winner. How sweet it is. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>But when it comes to motivation, there is nothing quite like the endless (life-long, really) desire to impress your dad. Having their fathers in the house seems to have smartened the lads right up. Was there a threat of grounding, or car keys being confiscated, as punishment for a loss? And finally, the flaps flap. Once again I will state that a rule for one should be a rule for all. If one goalie can wear the flaps, they all can. If a player gets a high stick in the face, it’s a penalty, whether that player is a superstar sweetie or pesky Ryan Kesler. If punching a player in the back of the head is a suspendable offense, everyone who does it should get a suspension, period. And, man, if you really want to limit the superhuman abilities of Roberto Luongo, you can’t just cut off the flaps of his goalie pads. You’re going to have to cut off a limb. </td></tr></table>
  14. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Yeesh. Pity the poor ticketholders who witnessed the Canucks on Saturday night, looking more snowed under by Avalanche conditions than the Coquihalla Highway. It was beginning to feel like an Old Yeller moment, where the kindest thing might be to take the team out behind the barn and put them and us out of our collective misery. So, bravo boys, for coming up with a feisty effort the very next night and coming away with a win. I have been yelling for some time that those who ain’t scoring better be hitting. They seem to have finally heard me. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>It was delightful to see Alex Burrows get a pretty breakaway goal. Alex endlessly cracks me up – I love his zippiness and determination and obvious passion for the game. So it’s nice for him to be rewarded with a right-place-at-the-right-time pass, and most importantly, to display some rather dazzling finish. And a little finish, or more accurately Swedish, from our captain – making like the Markus of old, providing those last minute heroics as he has done so many, many times before, and tipping in the tying goal in the dying minutes of the third period. How disorienting and ego-deflating it must be to celebrate as a Stanley Cup champion one minute, and the next, you’re toiling away on the farm team due to injuries. So, I’m happy to see Ryan Shannon back with the big club. And if he was trying to make an impression, I would say he succeeded with that shootout move. My opinion is that Khabibulin made first contact with his attempted poke check, which contributed to the tumbling action by our mighty mite hero. In other words, it looked legal to me, but I would, of course, have to admit to a pro-Canuck bias. Clearly, over time, it’s getting harder for players to score in the shootout. So naturally they are becoming more creative to improve their chances. I predict the already circus-like atmosphere of the shootout will only get worse, with shooters inventing ever more goofball or dangerous moves and the League ruling on them the next day <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Oh, and apparently it is, once again, acceptable for one hockey player to punch another in the back of the head at GM Place. At least, I didn’t notice the VPD descending upon the cranky Russian netminder. Considering that a blow to the back of the head has previously been condemned as the worst crime in the history of hockey, I am surprised that a suspension isn’t at least being discussed. </td></tr></table>
  15. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>The sand on Waimea Bay beach is the colour of cornmeal and the dramatic North Shore waves crash and froth over it like so much macchiato foam. But even a week in Hawaii with a frosty girl drink in hand can’t prevent a gal’s brain from turning to the great frozen game. I have to say, it is much easier to pick up the hockey scores in far flung places than it used to be. I remember trying (and failing) to follow the 1989 playoffs while roaming about in Greece and Italy. I had to rely on phone calls home to my dad to get the real scoop on the action. Our national game may be the least loved sport in many locations but if they are broadcasting ESPN, you can at least find out who won. I might not have bothered. The Canucks tanked in all three appearances during my vacation. Good thing I didn’t see the Naslund missed penalty shot. More heartbreak for the captain and those who adore him. Still, Nazzy was pretty snazzy against Dallas. All three pucks that beat Turco came off the stick of Number 19. Finally, Markus stopped deking around in the shootout and just fired the shot – exactly what I have been screaming at him to do for ages. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a> Once again a blast on the old Moose call was needed to attract some gangly young calf defencemen to the team. Cripes, Canucks blueliner is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. You’ll start to see players taking up mining in China before they agree to suit up here. But I thought the baby boys did rather well last night. I do like Luc Bourdon and I love that extra burst of speed that Mason Raymond can produce. I don’t want Dave to resort to some crazy desperate trading strategy that ruins our future depth even more, but something must be a-brewing, what with all the endless losing. I still think we are so close to the win column that the addition of a genuine scorer would completely turn the tide. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Speaking of which, sounds like we might still be alive in the Forsberg sweepstakes. I’m telling ya, Peter my dear, I would be willing to do just about anything to see an orca emblazoned on your chest. Not that Foppa the Great would likely be interested in anything a crabby puckcougar could provide. And considering that the last time that Markus and Peter played professionally together, it lasted all of one shift before Forsberg was out with an injury, we actually might not want his services. Already down a spleen, who knows what other organs he could rupture before we got anywhere near the playoffs. But I’d be willing to take the chance if it only cost us money. Despite a solid work ethic, like Trevor’s shootout effort last night, the team’s good fortune seems to be endlessly pinging off the iron and going wide. I can suppress the rising panic for a little while longer but man, we could surely use a break (and please, not to the foot of another defenceman). </td></tr></table>
  16. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>“Losing is a disease…as contagious as bubonic plague.” The Natural About now we need Roy Hobbs (with a talented, aging Swede named Mats or Peter standing in for Robert Redford) to leap over the boards clutching “Wonderboy”, his lightning-bolt-emblazoned stick, to save the day, the season, and the team. Yes indeed, if life worked like the movies, we would now be in the middle section of the film, that sad, frustrating part where the team is being tested. All we audience members would need to do is await the inevitable comeback, the victory and the happy ending. I think fans and players alike could really use the upcoming intermission, in the form of the All-Star break, to stretch our legs, exorcize or at least exercise our demons, and recharge our batteries. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Frankly, there are two things that I am hoping will come out of the All-Star Game. First, I hope Roberto returns relaxed, happy and ready to look at the remainder of the season as a fresh start and a chance to regain his position as best goalie in the League. Second, I dream of the emergence of Henrik Sedin as an individual. This weekend, shift after shift, Hank will be forced to tailor his game to two linemates who do not share his DNA. Heaven forefend, he may actually be forced to become the red-headed Scandinavian who takes the first shot at the net off the rush. I would dearly love to break Henrik of the habit of always, always thinking his only choice in every situation is to try to find Daniel. Cripes, do we ever miss Willie and his magic stick, Kevin and his physical, feisty play, and the timely goals of Mo. This team’s top forwards are skilled but don’t physically dominate, and its biggest forwards can create room but at times struggle with hitting the back of the net. I want us to start winning again but I don’t want Dave to make some crazy deal that scorches the earth and wrecks our future for years to come. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>The hardest thing for this fan at the moment is that the team is not really playing badly. So I can’t throw up my hands and walk away in disgust. The line between winning and losing is a microfiber right now. The coach calls for more shots on net, the lads respond. They don’t actually score any more goals mind you, but they do take more than 40 shots. They are not making spectacularly bad defensive decisions. Unfortunately, breakdowns are inevitable, no team plays a perfect game, and these days, the puck seems to sail in behind Roberto ever time there is a miscue. It feels like we are so close to the win column, but we ain’t playing horseshoes here, so close doesn’t count. Speaking of which, maybe we need to get a medical team into the locker room to surgically implant some horseshoes. The boys are way overdue for a little good luck. Let’s hope the Blues have the blues when they leave town on Wednesday night. </td></tr></table>
  17. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Last weekend, for a change of pace, I watched a couple of periods of the Detroit/Ottawa game. In some ways it was like travelling to a different country – things looked vaguely familiar but oh so different. There was almost no back or forechecking – the top lines rarely went anywhere near the boards, and certainly would not be caught dead scrambling for pucks behind their own net. Nope, it was just skate, pass, shoot, skate, pass, shoot. When Detroit went down by two goals I kept thinking, just chip the puck in, do a little digging for it and take a shot from an ugly angle. Emery was fighting the puck so much, it was likely to go in. But they kept staying the skill-first course. Fascinating. Meanwhile, back in the land of the endless grind… I was pretty depressed coming home last night to watch the game, thinking “man, oh man, have we really come to this – Markus playing on the checking line?” Can a rain of toads be far behind? But I actually thought the Kesler, Burrows, Naslund unit looked okay. Well, as good as any line looked on a night like that <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>I know our injuries are starting to crush us, but to me, a hockey team has to play like they can score, even if they are not stocked with great natural scorers. If the Canucks go in thinking they won’t get goals but will merely prevent goals, well, they’re hooped. They stop moving their legs and start taking penalties. A team that tries not to make mistakes will do nothing but. I’m getting to the point where I almost don’t want to watch anymore, especially if we’re losing going into the third, and that scares me. My heart goes out to the Brown, Cowan and Rypien line – they struggled and looked out of synch. Both Cowan and Rypien have been the goat-boys deluxe in recent games. Perhaps an injection of Trevor would be the perfect tonic – a little glue to keep the pieces together. And about developing youth. If we are going to drop a point or two, I’d rather watch Mason Raymond show some promise of being a future scorer than watch an energy line with little energy. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>How about this? Markus calls up Mats Sundin and says “hey compatriot, what do you say we join forces? Neither of us has won a Cup, we’ve both made an Ikea warehouse full of money. Next summer, let’s offer ourselves as a package to some team for a grand total of $1 million each – we’ll be co-captains so that a Swedish player will finally lead a team to victory and we can make that teasing conference call to Don Cherry.” The Canucks would be a perfectly good team to make the offer to, as they already have great goaltending and solid defence in place, but at this point, I’d just like Nazzy to get a chance to play his style in a city where he’d win and where he wouldn’t have to deal with the daily grief. Oh, and one last thing. Suppose, in two years, Dave makes Roberto the most staggering offer he can imagine, but so do half the teams in the NHL, and our great and glorious goaltender signs with an Eastern Conference team where the fans and media are less rabid, the schedule is easier, the wife is happy and the baby gets to live in the same time zone as her grandparents. On that day, I wonder if the same people who so vigorously supported Luongo’s “family first” stance regarding the All-Star Game will be quite so generous? Methinks they will instead be yowling like tasered cats. Sometimes, you have to laugh. </td></tr></table>
  18. <table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>For those of us who agonized through the Stanley Cup final in 1982, a visit from the Islanders always provides a small jolt of nostalgic emotion. The 2008 version of the old foe could really use a little help from Mike Bossy. Now, I just loved the first period last night, and obviously, so did the Canucks. But, they are still too easily seduced into embracing the delusional belief that they are an offensive powerhouse. They control the play in the attacking zone for a while, get a bunch of shots on net, and before you know it, they begin to make dangerous passes or unfocussed dipsy-doodles with puck in the neutral zone, thinking that they are all that, and victory will be a piece of cake. You can see trouble thundering towards you like a freight train, from fifty miles out. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Boys, boys, boys. You are not the Detroit Red Wings. If they had two breakaways on the same shift, they would score. Defence got you here and defence will have to carry you. Fortunately, a guaranteed splash of cold water to the face comes when our freshly minted All-Star goalie starts playing like Dan Cloutier with a concussion. That second goal cracks me up every time I watch a replay of it. To quote Bugs Bunny, “what a maroon!!” Maybe it was the result of staring across the ice at DiPietro, as if looking into some kind of crazy time-warp mirror, who was playing the sort of excellent game that is normally Luongo’s bread and butter. Still, one of the many, many great things about Roberto is his ability to get mad and then get determined. He was stellar in the shootout, when it really counted. A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants. Or in the Canucks’ case: a little scoring, a skating race, a little pie in the face. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Normally, I’m there every season, but I didn’t attend last year because I figured Canucks Superskills might be an oxymoron. Still, there was plenty of talent on display last Saturday. This year’s recipient of the whipped cream facial was Mason Raymond, the fastest skater of the afternoon. This is such a nice, happy event – packed with kids, including those belonging to the players. It’s a pleasure to see the lads without their helmets, laughing, teasing one another and goofing around. And you know going in that you will leave GM Place with a smile on your face (under normal circumstances, not a guarantee). I particularly enjoyed the addition of the (probably) Steve Nash-inspired punishment for the losing squad – the entire side had to do 20 push-ups with the crowd counting them out for good measure. Steve has employed the same chastisement at his own Vancouver Charity basketball event for the last two years. Willie Mitchell, who was on the winning squad but not to be outdone, dropped down and showed off with a few quick push-ups himself, between turns during the hardest shot competition, while flashing his trademark giant grin. As you know, I’m fond of devising entertaining team punishments when the boys are less than successful. I’m glad to see that the Canucks organization is beginning to see things my way. Now if they would just start dishing out similar sentences after disappointing games, I’m sure it would cheer up the home crowd. Although, considering that the last time the Canucks lost in regulation at GM Place, the earth was still cooling, the home crowd has had no reason to be crabby. </td></tr></table>
  19. <table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in that white hot courtyard in Bolivia, the Canucks suck at shootouts. This year, anyway - last year they were better. They also seemed to turn it up a notch in the overtime period last season, ending the contest before it even got to a shootout. I also think other factors, like the nagging wrist injury to the usually reliable Mo, have played a part. We are into the third season with the shootout and it still bugs me. I’m glad my dear old dad is not around to witness it – I’m sure he would be appalled. I dread the day that they decide to include it in playoff games. And I despise the fact that teams playing a tepid game and a safe, uninspired overtime, waiting for the chance to triumph in the tacked-on superskills competition, receive the same two points as a team that clearly dominated in regulation. As far as I am concerned, the team that wins the shootout should merely earn an extra half point – a lesser reward for a lesser win. But as long as the league is awarding a full point, the Canucks ought to start regularly practicing their shootout moves. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>It is a rare day that I would ever suggest any man, particularly a hockey player, is thinking too much. But it seems to me the Canucks are excessively calculating their moves during the long, lone skate. Everyone tries to throw in that one extra deke – goalies are less inclined to be suckered by it these days. I keep begging for Markus to shoot about two strides earlier than he has been. Nazzy is still one of those guys who can hit a tiny slice of daylight shining behind a goaltender, if he would just get the shot away. If I were running the practice (man, THAT is a contest I wish the Canucks would have – Coach For A Day) I’d first like the lads to do a breakaway drill, where the shooter in question was steaming towards the net while being hunted down by a pack of players. This would encourage speediness in both the approach to the net (a quality that is sometimes lacking during shootouts) and in the release of the shot. Maybe it would just help loosen them up a bit. They currently go into the shootout like condemned men heading to the gallows. I’d also try to emulate the conditions of an actual shootout as closely as possible – with just the shooter and the goalie on the ice and the rest of the team at the bench. Maybe they could even pipe in a little crowd noise for extra authenticity. And I’d add some kind of mild carrot and stick, reward and punishment system to encourage accuracy. Perhaps I’d make them remove a piece of clothing every time they missed – that would cheer me up, if nothing else. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>I’d also like the players to demonstrate that stunning little move that I just know each of them has been secretly working on since peewee. There might be an idea in there that could be used in a real game situation. Or, if all else fails, maybe they could just score more goals in regulation than the other team. It’s a concept just crazy enough to work. </td></tr></table>
  20. <table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Well, that was a pretty darn entertaining slice of history, wasn’t it? Maybe now the schedule makers will see the value of allowing the Canucks to participate in the occasional Saturday night game. Despite the loss, it was an absolute value-for-money experience. I left GM Place with the same feeling of giddiness that usually accompanies a win. I mean, c’mon – this was perhaps the first and last time we will witness Matt Cooke drawing five for … okay, not fighting exactly. Five for not backing down. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>And the penalty shot with Crosby versus Luongo – that was something else. Fresh in my mind was the same battle at last year’s All Star Superskills competition, where the Kid beat our beloved goalie on two shots before Roberto, looking furiously determined, stopped the last one. Louie went two for two on Saturday – so maybe he has figured out the superstar scorer – our boy does seem to be a quick study. I’m grateful to have witnessed it live. And I look forward to these two lads serving on the same side, representing the True North at the 2010 Olympics. The Canucks did get off to a sluggish start, which is to be expected when they were playing a high-expectation game in front of their home crowd, in the middle of the road trip from hell. And when, a minute into the game, they took an extended penalty for breathing on Number 87. It’s not unusual for men’s brains and sticks to be out of sync, but the frequent lack of crisp passing by the Canucks could be credited to nerves – the boys too often looked like they were afraid of making a mistake. When you play that way, it’s hard to generate any real offense. On the other hand, they did an excellent job of shutting down the Penguin’s young scorers, who were frequently forced to the outside, or had the puck poked away before they had a chance to make a play. And when they did, Roberto was there, in amazing technicolour. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Mr. Crosby failed to score a single goal in Western Canada, and had no points in two games. I have always maintained that if young Sid had to play regularly in the Western Conference, especially in the Northwest Division, he would not have been able to put up quite such impressive numbers. But that said, the Penguins seem to be developing into a good team, and so they should, given the number of top draft picks they have had, and the excellent value they have been getting from their young, relatively low paid lads. They have a small window of opportunity here before the salaries of their stars become unmanageable, so they better take advantage. Their weak spot continues to be goaltending. Dany Sabourin played very well against his old team, having had the advantage of being able to learn from Ian Clark and Roberto and to spend most of last season studying the moves of the Canucks shooters. But he probably isn’t the long-awaited answer in net. And to the nattering nabobs of the NHL I say please stop fussing about size of hockey equipment. You don’t have to have a ton of goals to have a great game. A high score often indicates head-shaking breakdowns somewhere along the line and in no way guarantees a more exciting audience experience. Change the schedule so that we get to see every team every year. That would be a change worth talking about. </td></tr></table>
  21. <table width=85% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Orcas are usually ferocious predators, leaping onto the ice to make a meal of unwary flightless birds. I hope this biological imperative holds true on Hockey Night in Canada. It appears to be up to the Canucks to be the standard bearer for Western Canada tomorrow night, as both Edmonton and Calgary have fallen dazed and bleeding to the March of the Penguins. If our lads can put on a defensive show early and prevent Sid and Evgeni from having Happy Feet, we should be okay. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>I’m looking forward to being at GM Place when it all goes down, although I have to admit that, seeing as the last game I witnessed live was the Philadelphia cream-cheesing of the Canucks back in October, I’m feeling a little nervous. But, the house should be rocking. The boys better come out with more jump than they had last night against Nashville in the first period. Yikes! However, nowadays, the team has the ability to recover nicely from a lousy twenty minute stint and still eventually dominate the game. Just at the point that I start shouting insults at the television, like “c’mon you useless, invisible Swedes – do something!”, the top line collectively produces six points. It’s also a huge relief these days to have a team that can take the lead and hold it through the third. Curtis Sanford has certainly been a pleasant pickup. He looks like he has been studying hard and making the most of his scholarship to the Luongo/Ian Clark college of goaltender positioning. The single monthly exams that always count towards the final grade must be a little stressful, though. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Anyway, I will be happy to finally get a look at the “Future of the Game” in action. That is, if he doesn’t twist his ankle on the seawall before puck drop. I eagerly purchased a ticket for the 2005 Top Prospects game, which was meant to be a showdown between Gilbert Brule and Mr. Crosby. Unfortunately, Sid didn’t get the memo, although the event was still very entertaining. The humungous amount of media coverage that Number 87 has garnered in Canada on this road trip should tell NHL executives something (I hope). Nice play by Trevor Linden to ricochet that shot off the boards and into the empty net for the final goal of the game last night. Way to make Markus keep his eyes on the rearview mirror for that all-time scoring title. The notion, spread through the media this week, that Trev no longer fits with the team, was terribly sad for this long-time fan. Not very often does an eighteen year old rookie step up, immediately pay dividends, and in short order rise to lead a team. Trevor was one of the rare ones. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Are you seriously telling me, Coach, that one of the greatest Canucks of all time, the guy who scored two goals in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in a desperate bid to carry his team to victory, the guy who, even at the age of 37, was a playoff force, that guy doesn’t fit in with the team?? I’m all for developing the next Linden, the next Naslund, the next great top six forward. I’m less concerned about developing the next fourth line grinder. And finally, heaven forfend – a coach told his team that an opposing player would have to “pay the price”? Someone should also alert the media that a bear uses the woods for his bathroom breaks. </td></tr></table>
  22. <table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>I think I owe Ryan Kesler an apology. I have been a little sarcastic about his abilities over the last couple of years. Turns out hockey players, like children, will insist on developing in their own time. Now, Kess has been under a great deal of pressure since he was wooed by Philadelphia and given such an impressive contract last season. He was a relatively high draft pick, the Canucks were in desperate need of scorers so, naturally, everyone was expecting him to instantly step it up. But he struggled, and got injured and his point production dropped. There has never been anything wrong with Ryan Kesler’s speed or his physical tenacity. I just found it a little infuriating that he would get himself spectacularly in the clear, then somehow miss the net, or fail to get the shot away or be unable to poke the loose puck past a sprawling goalie. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>I grumbled menacingly about forcing Ryan to stay after practice and fire away at the Shooter Tutor until his hands bled. But that was the hysteria talking. Turns out that moving the best three forwards to the top line created a job opportunity for a new quarterback on the second line. And Kelser responded, becoming an impressive checking centre and often, one of the team’s best players. But he was still missing the damn net. And then, much like when you stare furiously at the kettle, waiting for it to boil, it is the moment that you look away that things start to heat up. Once I stopped expecting Kess to score, he actually started popping them in, including an absolute beauty of a goal, his second of the game last night. Quatchi, er, Bertuzzi the hockey playing Sasquatch returned to GM Place yesterday and promptly disappeared. Long suffering Canucks fans are well acquainted with the invisibility cloak that big Bert sometimes magically wraps around his massive shoulders. That famous defensive fade was well in evidence when Todd made a half-hearted swipe at the puck that his old buddy and our beloved captain corralled and zinged into the net for the opening goal of the game. Ah, memories. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>And finally, last night did nothing to endear Chris Pronger to the Canucks faithful. Oh sure, there is some entertainment value in an entire arena chanting “Pronger sucks” or in Chris holding up Lukas and Mo, one in each hand, like some Three Stooges out-take, but not enough to make up for the inexcusably cheap and dirty way that such a talented player plays the game. I really hoped that karma would prevent Chris from ever winning the Stanley Cup. Back in 2002, Pronger, adding to his unpleasant career resume, attempted to destroy what was left of Steve Yzerman’s knee. Fate saw to it that it was creepy crosschecking Chris who suffered the season ending knee injury and Stevie Y who triumphed. Unfortunately, last season, karma was too busy allowing Rob to finally enjoy a Niedermayer family picnic without painting on a smile, choking down a cheeseburger and silently wishing he had taken the opportunity to smother Scott with a pillow when they still shared a bunkbed. So, unless I can get close enough to the Cup with steel wool in hand before the guards throw a net over me, Pronger’s name is engraved in history. And that truly does suck. </td></tr></table>
  23. <table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>The big guy has returned. No, I’m not referring to the Santa Claus Parade. We are unlikely to get a jolly ho-ho-ho out of Todd Bertuzzi. I must admit, old number 44 would be on the list of my all-time favourite Canucks. I am certainly not sorry about the move that sent him away and brought Roberto to us, but I supported Todd through the various times that other fans were demanding a trade, including back in 2001 when he received a 10 game suspension for leaving the bench to join Jovo in a brawl. Said punishment marked a turnaround in Bert, and led to the magical era of the high flying Westcoast Express line. I miss those days when Todd was merely a cartoon supervillain with soft hands and thundering bodychecks that terrorized defencemen around the league. I loved the thinly veiled contempt, the death stares and the quotable quotes. I loved the stark contrast of his glowering dark presence to that of our fair-haired Swedish captain. I loved the glorious plays, the passes, the goals and the joyous celebrations. And frankly, none of the sad days that followed have dampened my enthusiasm. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>I was there to join the tremendous cheer that greeted Todd the moment he stepped on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum for the Brad May charity game during the lockout. I hope he gets cheered tonight. I hope he had a chance to enjoy his favourite sushi while he was in town. And I hope his new team loses the game. Meanwhile, it’s a burden being right, but one I frequently must bear. It seems I have been the only sports scribe in town with a continuing faith in Markus Naslund. Buckets of ink have been spilled during the last week, discussing the remarkable resurgence of the captain. Oh please. All along I said that the problem was the lack of equally talented line-mates. I suspect that if you saddled Daniel Alfredsson or Joe Sakic with lesser linemates, those captains would not exactly be lighting it up either. Add to that the double whammy of demanding rigorous attention to defensive responsibility and you have a recipe for a scorer who begins to doubt his own abilities. But it sure has been a pleasure to once again watch Nazzy fire in beautiful goals off the rush. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>And c’mon, you had to love the whole Pinky and the Brain thing, especially the decisive answering performance of the Sedins and their fearless leader in Minny. Being compared to genetically altered lab mice was perhaps the most intriguing thing to ever happen to the Twins – it finally got them noticed around the NHL water cooler. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking Danny?” “I think so Henrik, but where are we going to find puffy hockey pants and ten pounds of Swedish meatballs at this hour? Narf!!” Still, I think the cartoon rodents that the Sedins most resemble are Chip and Dale, those obsequious chipmunks: “I insist, Daniel, you take the shot”. “No, no Hank, after you”. Hey, they can be robotic ferrets for all I care. As long as they keep playing like they have been playing. </td></tr></table>
  24. <table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Jiminy Jillikers Radioactive Man! What are they putting in the Gatorade over at GM Place? Who among us would have imagined that the way to add offence was to subtract defence? Go figure, Pythagoras. Yesterday, right next door, our local, solid-from-top-to-bottom football team should have won but couldn’t. Meanwhile, stripped of veterans and playing with a number of baby-faced defencemen so wet behind the ears that their heads should have been encased in blocks of ice by the end of the game, the hockey squad triumphed. The team that can’t score has ten goals in two games. I know it was chillier this morning but has Hell actually frozen over? Is Satan flying down the wing making tape-to-tape passes? Because the Canucks sure are. Last night, post game, John Garrett suggested that the Sedins had finally gotten Nazzy to play their style. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a> I think it’s the reverse – Markus has coaxed the Twins into his more freewheeling world. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. The redheads are making spectacular moves in front of the net, not just behind it, and the Captain is also skating into the dirty areas to clean up the garbage. He was certainly looking like Classic Naslund last night, zipping around, hypnotizing the opposition. And I know we turned the clocks back a couple of weeks ago, but did we turn them back to the early 1990s? Because it was vintage Trevor Linden scoring his first goal of the season against Minnesota. It’s all enough to make your heart positively sing. I know I have previously moaned about the current schedule, but, considering that we have yet to lose to a Northwest Division opponent in regulation time, I guess I wouldn’t mind if we played nobody else for the rest of the season. And lastly, I admired the restraint shown by Dave Nonis and Mattias Ohlund when answering questions regarding the latter’s four game suspension for slashing Mikko Koivu. I wish Matty had shown the same restraint in responding to an elbow to the head, but I understand that, as they say, in the heat of battle sometimes restraint is not an option. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a> I must say, four games seems a little severe to this viewer who has witnessed infinitely worse whacks over the years that raised nary an eyebrow. Last week we were treated to Mark “The Blubbering Mess” Messier being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Old Moose was hardly known for his gentlemanly use of the stick during his playing days. The Hall is, in fact, littered with lads who used their lumber like axes. But, I’m all for issuing suspensions for two-handed swings of the stick and for shots to the head. I’ve always hated those things. But I would like the suspensions to be equitable, whether you play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers or the Vancouver Canucks; whether you are a superstar or a rookie nobody. Frankly, I don’t think we are quite there yet. </td></tr></table>
  25. <table width=90% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src= align=left hspace=4>Phew. After the Canucks secured seven out of a possible eight points in the last week and a half, things are looking a little brighter. Passing is crisp, the stickwork is excellent, defensive systems are being deployed properly and Roberto rocks. We still can’t win faceoffs and scoring is still a rarity, but at least these are familiar problems. I can finally watch the games without cringing. I have been meaning to have a small rant about the Sedins. Now, I like the Sedins. After all, they are our best chance to score most nights. So it makes me almost ashamed to admit that I think it is unlikely that I will ever love the Sedins. This is partly due to the fact that they are basically a black hole of charisma. Personality-wise, they seem as bland and milky as their Nordic complexions. They appear to be nice and a bit playful but pretty darn dull. Even their goals seem a little too workmanlike. Maybe one of them (I’ll vote for Henrik) could practice being the evil twin, to give them an interesting edge. Hard working and impressively determined they are. Dazzling, they mostly ain’t. Or maybe, after all these years, I am rarely dazzled by their telepathic passing anymore. As I’ve said before, I long for the days of a top line that can skate, pass and score without ever having to dig the puck out along the boards.<a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a> When Coach Vigneault was hired here, the one edict that came from on high was “Thou shalt not split up the Sedins”. This seems like stating the obvious, as a lifetime of shared genetics and a career of shared passes has made the Sedins unique in the NHL. But I also believe it has acted as a bit of a crutch and possibly slowed their development in some ways. The more I watch, the more I think our homeliest of Swedish twins would benefit from being separated, if only occasionally in practice. Teams around the league have begun to deal with their cycling. Not entirely successfully, mind you, as the redheaded lads have 31 points between them, but there are shifts and nights when Daniel and Henrik get trapped behind the opposition net, controlling the puck, sure, but not getting anywhere near a genuine scoring opportunity. They also have been getting stuck in their own end for too many shifts. The blame for this is usually heaped upon whatever Triplet is lining up with them, but at this point, I think the boys should be able to shoulder the load themselves. Now, to their credit, every year the Sedins work to improve and they do get better. But it seems like a slow process. <a href= target=_blank><img src= border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>They’re 27 now, smack dab in the middle of their prime, and have never played apart. A little separation anxiety might force the Sedins to think their game differently, perhaps more creatively, and to expand their repertoire. Maybe Hank would start to shoot the puck more. I’d like to test my theory in a game when the team is down by three goals, but I don’t expect it to happen. Meanwhile I do like the look the defense right now – adversity becomes them. Willie once again demonstrated why the longest stick wins and even young Luc is growing confident enough to display some wicked moves with the puck. And I love to watch Jannik Hansen – his enthusiastic skill and energy are a sweet Danish delight. That lad is overdue for a goal, so much so that I would have sent him out in the shootout last night. Ha – that will be the next crazy idea from the NHL head offices to generate more fan interest – the audience choosing the shooters. </td></tr></table>