Remember the post-game buzz when David Booth and John Tortorella met behind closed doors nearly two weeks ago at Rogers Arena?
Rumours swirled that the much-maligned winger was lobbying for more playing time in the minors because, as a healthy scratch that night, Booth was becoming less of a factor with the Vancouver Canucks and appeared destined to become a compliance buyout next summer.
Turns out Booth wanted more. A lot more.
He successfully lobbied the coach to allow highly-respected local power-skating coach Barb Aidelbaum to work with Booth and the club’s strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi.
Booth’s commitment to regain his powerful stride and balance after knee, ankle and groin injuries the last two years wasn’t just talk.
Before the Canucks departed on their last road trip on what was a travel day, Booth and Aidelbaum had a 7 a.m. skating session at Rogers Arena. During the four-game trip, teacher and pupil exchanged technical analysis, and when the club returned Wednesday, Booth and Aidelbaum had another session.
The results have been quick and quite remarkable.
Booth scored in successive games on the trip, but his bold move out of the corner and powerful cut to the net to bury a backhander on Nov. 30 at Madison Square Garden was an eye-opener. He looked more like that 30-goal scorer with the Florida Panthers in 2008-09 than someone who has struggled to score three times in 18 games this season and has been in the Tortorella doghouse.
That goal against the New York Rangers was beyond encouraging. It was an epiphany.
“That was technical,” Aidelbaum said Wednesday. “With the skills comes comfort, and with comfort comes confidence, and it works directly in that order. If the skating is sharp, the mind is sharp and they feel they can conquer the world.
“Because of his injuries, David was in a protective stance. When you’ve had groin issues, you don’t want a wide stance or your knee over your toes, and we focused on that. It wasn’t like we were starting from scratch; he needed to be placed in the right position again.
“He will surpass the top level he had before and it will happen very quickly. He’s very dedicated.
There are not a lot of players I know — and I’ve coached hundreds of NHL players over the years — who will stand up to a coach and say: ‘This is what I really need.’ Some will just go with the flow, and it’s a pretty gutsy thing for David to do.
“He and Tortorella had a long talk. David felt his skating was off, and it’s like a high-level tennis player: if the running is off, he can’t hit the ball. For him, he felt the skating was off and he was struggling. Things weren’t firing sequentially anymore.
“And because he’s a good communicator and listener — and with that coach — there’s a solution.”
The teacher in Aidelbaum admires Tortorella. She was working with former Calgary Flames forward Martin Gelinas in the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs when Tortorella guided the impressionable Tampa Bay Lightning to a Game 7 final series triumph.
“Never underestimate a coach who has won a Stanley Cup,” she said. “He has more tricks up his sleeve than I’ve seen in a long time. He’s teaching until the bitter end — he’s not just a bench boss. David will prosper under that direction.”
That includes off-ice sessions with Booth in skates to properly align hips and knees and then applying exercises in the gym with weights or medicine balls to add strength and flexibility.
It doesn’t hurt that Booth is also an elite golfer and can adjust on the course and on the ice because he understands motion and stance. His balance is better because his control of skate edges is better, but Booth’s biggest plus is a zest to improve.
After all, you can’t just have passing interest in methodically addressing skate boot structure, orthotics, heel lifts, blade sharpening radius and profile. There has to be a buy-in.
“He’s the type of player where you can tell him something and the way he thinks the game through, he can go out and adjust on the fly,” added Aidelbaum, who has also worked with Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis and former Vancouver centre Manny Malhotra.
“David has got it all going on. If you have the edging and the balance and the starting quickness and stride, that’s going to make for a very good forward.
“Sitting there and watching his first game as a Canuck, I thought: ‘I hope his hands can move as fast as feet.’ The speed I had watched like that was Pavel Bure — whom I also coached a bit.”
At this point, the Canucks would be happy if Booth looked something like Valeri Bure, who had a 35-goal season with the Flames and four 20-goal NHL campaigns