For Horvat, Pearson, Benn, Tanev, Gaudette, and Stecher, it was the most important sporting event of their lives.
This was the moment they had been training for, a vital contest with everything on the line. Nothing could matter more than what happened on the ice Wednesday night.
No, I’m not talking about the Canucks game against the Minnesota Wild; I’m talking about something far more important: the inaugural Canucks Dog Race.
Gus Horvat, Emma Pearson, Lilli Benn, Riley Tanev, Zeus Gaudette, and Phoebe Stecher took to the ice during the second intermission to race for pride, glory, and dog treats. All six dogs looked adorable, wearing their doggy daddy’s jersey or an approximation thereof.
Gus Horvat and Riley Tanev didn’t seem to take the race itself too seriously: like their owners, they hung out in the defensive zone. Riley, much like Chris Tanev, is a stay-at-home pup, and barely moved from his starting position. Riley, however, earned a lot of fans through sheer cuteness.
The race itself came down to the wire. Phoebe Stecher jumped out to an early lead, but made a crucial mistake, leaving her lane. No, she wasn’t disqualified, because she’s a dog, and no one enforces lane violations on dogs. But it did mean that when she reached the finish line, she couldn’t find her owner, got momentarily confused, and got passed by Emma Pearson in a photo finish.
It was bad luck for Phoebe, which seemed to be a theme for the Stechers on Wednesday evening. Much like the dog race, the game between the Canucks and the Wild came down to the wire: I watched this much less important game before and after I watched this dog race.
- The game got off to a rotten start for the home squad, as Kevin Fiala opened the scoring with the Wild’s first shot a minute in. Jordie Benn gambled on a bouncing puck in the neutral zone and it skipped by him, giving Fiala plenty of room down the right wing, with Chris Tanev unable to close the gap in time. Fiala’s release was ridiculous. He let it go quicker than a Buddhist master: the puck erupted off his stick and went off the crossbar and in.
- Tyler Toffoli made his Canucks debut and immediately looked comfortable alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. He made smart decisions with the puck, won battles along the boards, and wasn’t reluctant to shoot. Plus, he was stone cold in the face of intimidation tactics by Devan Dubnyk.
- Toffoli was under strict orders from Travis Green. “I told him before the game, just enjoy it,” said Green. “Have fun. Don't overthink it. Shoot the puck whenever you can.”
- The Canucks carried the play for the bulk of the first period, but when it came time to put the puck past Dubnyk, they demurred. A Pettersson rebound bounced over Toffoli’s stick; a blocked shot came to Loui Eriksson with a wide open net, but he couldn’t find the puck in his skates; Miller was awkwardly robbed on a breakaway. Dubnyk was falling over like he was at a Charismatic tent meeting, but the Canucks couldn’t jam loose pucks into the empty net.
- Apropos of nothing, I enjoyed this little keepaway sequence by Pettersson and Quinn Hughes on the breakout. What seemed like a dangerous pass up the middle was nothing to these two, who casually passed the puck back and forth until Pettersson had enough room to safely give the puck to someone else. It’s a nothing play, really, but it’s fun to watch those two work sometimes.
- The Canucks finally cracked the Dubnyk code in the second period. Tyler Motte, in his first game back from injury, took a heavy hit to spring a 2-on-1 for an unlikely duo: Hughes and Jay Beagle. Hughes was just coming out of the penalty box and carried the puck down the left wing, showing great patience. He made like Ivan Pavlov and made Beagle wait before dishing the puck across and Beagle, salivating, ate it up, beating Dubnyk for the tying goal.
- While the Canucks were mostly the better team in the second period, they did have one bad shift. One really, really bad shift that lasted, in the case of Troy Stecher, 2 minutes and 31 seconds. For Edler, who had been out before a faceoff, the shift was three minutes long. By the end of it, they were flat-out exhausted.
- It wasn’t really the fault of the defencemen: the Horvat line got hemmed in the defensive zone and couldn’t move the puck out, with Eriksson in particular unable to handle a Horvat pass to clear the zone. When the puck finally left the defensive zone, only the forwards were able to change and the dead-legged defence couldn’t prevent Luke Kunin from getting a point-blank shot that wormed its way through Jacob Markstrom and over the goal line.
- The Canucks came out flying to start the third period, aggressively peppering Dubnyk like he was a flank steak. That’s when Toffoli came through with his first point as a Canuck, flinging a hard pass to Miller in the high slot, who tipped it like it was his favourite waitress. For once, Dubnyk didn’t fall over, but maybe he should have: the puck slipped through his pads and in.
- It wasn’t quite a slap pass from Toffoli, so we won’t call it a Sedin tribute, but it was awfully close. He’ll learn the ways of Vancouver: give him time.
- Eriksson had another opportunity with a wide open net, waiting out a down-and-out Dubnyk, but he shot it right into Dubnyk’s outstretched pad. It’s not enough for a net to be wide open for Eriksson: it needs to be empty. That’s when the magic happens.
- Miller has no such compunctions about scoring on goaltenders. After Pettersson beat out an icing call with his fleet feet, the Canucks’ top line put the Wild in the spin cycle. Once they were discombobulated, Stecher hit Miller with a nice cross-ice pass and the winger sent a snipe whizzing past Dubnyk so fast that if it were a Western, Dubnyk would have taken his hat off and found there was a hole through it.
- Unfortunately, the Canucks couldn’t quite close out the one-goal lead. They got out-shot 11-3 after Miller’s second goal and that’s when the bad luck bug bit Stecher once more. Alex Galchenyuk just flung a puck in front of the net and it deflected off Eriksson’s skate before banking off Stecher’s face and in. The last couple games, Stecher has been Jinx Malloy.
- Overtime solved nothing, but provided a little controversy when Fiala ran right over Markstrom with the flimsiest of shoves from Hughes as an excuse. There was no penalty call. “I wasn't frustrated,” deadpanned Markstrom after the game. “No, I was laughing and smiling at the ref.”
- The shootout started great, with Pettersson and Miller converting on their attempts, with Miller dodging a diving pokecheck from Dubnyk for the easiest shootout goal of his career. But the Wild matched the Canucks’ two goals in the first three shooters and Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Bo Horvat couldn’t beat Dubnyk.
- Toffoli had a chance to win the game in the shootout and be an instant hero in Vancouver, but he ran out of room and did a fadeaway jumper, sending the puck sky high as he himself went ice low. "Not the best first impression with the team, but I’ll make it up," he said to Thomas Drance after the game.
- Those misses opened the door for Galchenyuk to finish it and he sent Markstorm into the splits with a nice backhand move for the Wild win. Markstrom put the onus on himself for the loss: “We played a good game and we should have won today. I’ve just gotta come up with one or two stops in the shootout.”
- The Canucks can’t dwell on this loss: they played well overall and had some bounces go the wrong way. They have to get over it like Armand Duplantis and move on to the next game.