There’s always a lot to talk about at Vancouver Canucks training camp and never enough time to cover it all. So, let’s hit a few topics from the first day of training camp, with a dash from day two as well.
Garland on losing his lunch
Every player knows that the first day of a Travis Green training camp ends with a gruelling test of endurance and conditioning: the bag skate.
Green calls it the “40s skate” because the players have 40 seconds to complete four lengths of the ice. For the players new to the team, there’s only so much you can do to prepare for it and a couple of new Canucks — notably Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland — who struggled mightily.
“You can do it but it’s different when everybody around is pushing the pace,” said Garland. “It seems like the guys who did it for the first time maybe struggle more.”
Garland took the worst of it, throwing at one end of the ice from the exertion.
“A lot of people try to hold it in, I just let it go because then you feel better about 20 minutes later instead of feeling like crap all day,” said Garland with a chuckle. “I'd rather have done it in private but…”
Is Juolevi a victim of the bag skate?
It’s easy to forgive new Canucks like Garland for struggling in the bag skate. It’s a little more troubling when a player who has been through multiple camps struggles.
Ultimately, Olli Juolevi may have been the real victim of Thursday’s bag skate. The young defenceman visibly struggled, lagging well behind Garland in his group, and collapsed to the ice several times, lying on his back gasping for breath. It was significant enough that several veterans checked on him, then insisted that he get up off the ice.
“We do it for a reason,” said Green. “It's a tough skate but a lot of them have done it a lot of times. New players probably struggle with it a little bit more just because they haven't done it. Guys that have been here, they know what's coming. And again, I've seen the skate done a lot of times, so you learn a lot about what a guy's done over the summer to get ready, especially if they know that it's coming.”
Juolevi knew that it was coming.
On the first day of camp, Juolevi was paired with Tyler Myers. On the second day, he was paired with Brady Keeper and Victor Persson.
It’s tough to avoid reading into those pairings. The first pairing looks like Juolevi getting a chance to earn his spot on the third pairing. The second pairing is either a sign that Juolevi’s likely to get sent down to the AHL or it’s one hell of a message.
Jack Rathbone and Luke Schenn
There were two defence pairings on the first day of camp that had the potential to be the Canucks’ third pairing to start the season. One was Juolevi with Myers. The other was Jack Rathbone with Luke Schenn.
With Travis Hamonic not yet at camp — more on that in a moment — it’s possible that Schenn plays on the right side to start the season rather than being the team’s seventh defenceman. If he does, Rathbone would make sense as a partner: they’re the classic ying and yang of defence pairings: the big, stay-at-home defensive defenceman and the smaller, puck-rushing offensive defenceman.
That’s not to say Rathbone can’t defend. There’s always that assumption with offensive defenceman that they struggle in their own end, but Rathbone was quick to defend his, well, defence.
“Especially last year, I think I took a really big step in terms of rounding out my 200-foot game,” said Rathbone. “I think that's always going to be a question with guys like me and Hughesy, just the way we kind of play the game...but I try and put as much effort and thought into my own zone that I do to try and create offence.”
Rathbone showed some feistiness on day two, pushing back on Vincent Arseneau when he felt the grinding winger had hit him dangerously from behind on one drill. While Rathbone isn’t the biggest guy, he’s a fiery competitor.
The Canucks will likely need whoever lands on the left side of the third pairing to do some penalty killing and that’s something Rathbone is eager to do.
“I'm prepared for whatever role they see me in,” said Rathbone. “I killed in college and I think, like everyone that's trying to make this team, we're here to learn, adjust, and adapt into whatever role we need to do to start winning some hockey games.”
As for Schenn, he’s looked good at camp, using his size and strength to dominate battle drills and showed some quick feet when dealing with a slippery player like Garland.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rathbone and Schenn together on opening night.
Where’s Travis Hamonic?
The biggest question of Canucks camp is the absence of defenceman Travis Hamonic. Schenn drawing into the lineup only really makes sense if Hamonic isn’t in the lineup.
The official word from the Canucks is that Hamonic is dealing with a “personal issue,” but multiple reports have indicated that his absence is related to the team’s COVID-19 protocol
On Wednesday, Jim Benning reported that the team will be 100% vaccinated to start the season. Of course, Benning also said that Hamonic would be at camp, so...
Getting reacquainted with Travis Green
It’s been a while since the media has been face-to-face with the Canucks. While we’ve seen them on TV and on Zoom calls and been able to see any changes in appearance. They haven’t.
So, when I asked head coach Travis Green a question — with a mask over my face — it took him a moment to figure out who I was for a pretty simple reason: my hair. It led to what I think is the funniest moment of training camp so far.
The irony of Green commenting on my hair when I spent Wednesday commenting on the Canucks’ hair does not escape me.