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Classic Canuck Interviews - Jan 19, 1979 - Don Lever

Dont Toews Me Bro

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Donald Richard Lever has been a model of durability and consistency in his seven seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. Since being chosen by Vancouver in the 1972 amateur draft, Lever has missed only five games, all last year when he suffered a broken cheekbone. In his first six seasons, he averaged 24 goals a year, and going into this season was the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer. Lever is one of those players who seem to score in streaks, and since he seems to be in the midst of one right now, CJOR Sports Director Garry Raible took that opportunity to talk hockey with the Canucks’ captain.

Raible: Don, would it be correct to say that you’re enjoying yourself more right now than at any other time in the first half of the season?

Lever: Oh, definitely! I’m playing about 35 minutes a game; playing the powerplay and killing penalties. The latest streak started on the road, and we won two of those games, so I’m contributing as well.

Raible: I know players would rather not talk about why they’re going so well, but I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought about why a player is a streak scorer? Why do players often score in bunches, like you do?

Lever: Well, you try and figure that out every day of the season pretty well. You know, like when I missed that empty-net goal in Buffalo, or Chicago, or wherever it was. Harry Neale’s been playing me so much that I’m starting to feel so much more comfortable, handling the puck, and not being so tired. You play 35 minutes a game and you start to get used to it. This is the most they’ve played me here since I got here, I think. That has a lot to do with my streak scoring; my weight’s down, and I’m skating well.

Raible: Does the type of team you play for have anything to do with being a streak scorer?

Lever: Well, we’ve never had a high-scoring team; and in the last three or four years, I’m more defensive-minded playing left-wing than I am at centre. I’m back at centre ice, and I’m not that comfortable there, but when you’re scoring goals, that’s comfort enough. The last few years, I’ve been killing penalties, and have been asked to fill various defensive roles, so I’ve forgotten about my goal-scoring. These days, I’ve taken to shooting on net and not worrying about whether or not it goes in. Just force the goaltender to make a save. If you get two or three or more shots a game, you’re bound to score.

Raible: I think it was your third year, you scored 38 goals. Was that a typical Don Lever season? Do you consider yourself a goal scorer?

Lever: I consider myself a good goal scorer. Not a fancy one, but I work hard, and I get more chances on net. And I need those chances. I’m at least a 30-goal-a-season scorer. I think back to the year I scored 38, and I kept asking myself, “How did I do it?” That’s been my biggest problem. Regaining my confidence. And that’s been restored through Harry (Neale) and Dave Dunn. They’re using me on the power play, and I haven’t been used for that for a long time. Now, I usually get the full two minutes and sort of organize the whole thing, so that helps my confidence. You look at Ron Sedlbauer, they said he never had it in him. But his record shows he’d usually have 14 goals by Christmas and then he’d lose his concentration. Now look at him! He’s got his confidence and he feels he’s contributing something.

Raible: Now, I guess that would be the key to what the first half of this season is all about. Motivation is a key thing for an athlete, and it appears as if you, and Sedlbauer, and a number of others have been motivated a lot more than in other seasons.

Lever: Well, seven years here; and four years out of the playoffs; you get a little tired of it. I know Dennis Ververgaert was the same way, and he was playing his best hockey before he got traded. It’s hard for players to play on this team. You want to be in the playoffs; you want to do well. But the people out there don’t realize. They think we’re out there to earn our money and get off the ice. Motivation, this year, for Ron and I, at least, is the team leaning on us to do something. And we are; I guess that’s what comes with the “C” on this jersey. The younger players, Smyl, Fraser, Gradin, they’ve done their bit in the first half of the season, and if they can keep it going, who knows how far we can go?

Raible: All of that leads to self-motivation?

Lever: Definitely. A little pride in yourself. Trying to figure what this franchise is all about; the travel; the best way to look after yourself.

Raible: Don, the annual experimental switch from left wing to centre is on. You’ve made the switch so often; is it getting easier to make the necessary adjustments?

Lever: It bothers me when it’s done during a game. Not taking faceoffs and things like that, and all of a sudden you’re thrown into it. The faceoff is a pretty crucial part of the game; halfway through a game, you get switched to playing with two other guys. It’s tough, if you’ve been comfortable playing with two guys for nine or 10 games. But how could I be unhappy? I haven’t played this well in four or five years while playing at centre ice.

Raible: Don, I know when we talked during training camp, you were reserving judgment on some of the rookies that we in the media were raving about. Are you surprised at just how well some of them have performed to this stage?

Lever: I definitely didn’t think Stan Smyl would still be here. And Curt Fraser has been a surprise to me. They’ve shown a lot of poise and when the team’s been in trouble, you know, when other clubs try to run us out of the rink, Stan and Curt have been the first two guys to stand up and push back. I think that’s helped other guys on the team.

Raible: What about the coaching chance? It’s the inevitable question.

Lever: Well, Harry Neale makes the system seem so simple, and it’s easy to learn. Once fellows like Stan and Curt get the experience, you know, they’re only 21 years old, right. They’ll really help us in a couple of years. You get tired of saying it, I get tired of saying it, that we’re rebuilding. But it has to be done. With kids like Smyl and Fraser, and Derlago, stepping right in for the first year, that’s a plus for your drafting system. If we get a couple more like that, who’s to say what we can do in the next couple of years. Without panicking and without making changes just for the sake of making changes.

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