Rick Tocchet is an expert prognosticator or so it seemed at the 2024 NHL All-Star Game. There were six Vancouver Canucks players on the ice but it was their head coach who provided the highlight of the night.
The six Canucks got knocked out in the first round of the two-round mini-tournament on Saturday in Toronto, coming up short in the shootout. That’s no surprise — the Canucks have lost both times they’ve gone to the shootout this season. Thankfully, there’s no shootout in the playoffs.
Lindholm and Team MacKinnon fall to Team McDavid
The newest Canuck, Elias Lindholm, was first up with Team MacKinnon after the former Calgary Flame was picked by Flames fan Tate McRae in the draft before Quinn Hughes could get to him. Lindholm and his team faced Team McDavid in the first game of the afternoon.
Lindholm had a handful of chances during the game but picked up just one point, a secondary assist on a goal by the Seattle Kraken’s Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The game was relatively fast-paced for an All-Star Game and it seemed like Lindholm and Team MacKinnon were on their way to a 3-1 win heading into the final minute. But then Team McDavid came up with two goals in the final minute to force a shootout, with Connor McDavid scoring on a backdoor pass from David Pastrnak with 5.4 seconds remaining.
Team McDavid finished off the comeback with goals from McDavid and Pastrnak in the shootout, ending Lindholm’s All-Star experience.
“[Travis Konecny] found me a couple of times, I just couldn’t put it in the net,” said Lindholm. “But I had a lot of fun out there.”
“I’m so happy to be a Canuck and join this great team,” said Lindholm.
Team Hughes faces Team Matthews
Then it was time for the five long-time Canucks to take the ice for Team Hughes, facing the Leafs-heavy lineup on Team Matthews.
Quinn Hughes skated in a trio with his good friends Brady Tkachuk and Kyle Connor. Elias Pettersson got a chance to skate with the NHL’s leading scorer Nikita Kucherov and Anaheim Ducks forward Frank Vatrano, a player who has been in trade rumours all season. Pettersson’s Lotto Line teammates, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, skated with the New Jersey Devils’ Jesper Bratt.
Hughes, Tkachuk, and Connor clearly relished getting a chance to play together for something other than off-season training. Pettersson and Kucherov had some fun chemistry on the ice, connecting on some clever passing plays. And Miller and Boeser? Well, they got scored on a bunch.
Kucherov opened the scoring on a breakaway, then Alex DeBrincat tied it for Team Matthews on a 2-on-1 with Boeser as the last man back. Then Vatrano sniped the top corner off a stretch pass by goaltender Cam Talbot to give Team Hughes the 2-1 lead.
“Vatrano, I was really impressed with him and his shot,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet after the game.
Then Boeser turned the puck over to DeBrincat at the blue line for the game-tying goal, much to Boeser’s consternation, as his dismayed “Oh!” was loud enough to be heard on the broadcast.
Pettersson nets the lone goal for a Canuck
Boeser had a chance to get one back in the second of two periods off a backdoor pass by Miller but got robbed by Igor Shesterkin. Then Thatcher Demko responded with some robbery of his own, stopping Mathew Barzal on a between-the-legs move.
Demko, incidentally, had some gorgeous All-Star Game pads on, an all-black setup with the skate logo and some bright yellow stars. It’s a setup that would give his goaltending coach, Ian Clark, fits — Clark is opposed to anything but white pads, as he believes the dark-coloured pads make it easier for opposing players to spot gaps when they’re shooting.
"It was kind of tricky because we didn't know what team we'd be drafted to as far as the colours went," said Demko about his custom pads. "We figured the black would look good with 75% of the jerseys and we were just kind of playing the odds. It worked out."
Demko's custom All-Star mask featured all of his fellow All-Star teammates as well as his head coach, which was a nice touch.
"It was a cool opportunity for me to pay homage to the rest of the guys, being here with so many of them," said Demko. "I think they liked it. It turned out really well and I'll them sign it for me so it's something that I'll be able to hold onto for the rest of my life."
After Mitch Marner gave Team Matthews the lead with a top-corner shot on Demko, Pettersson responded with his first and only goal of the All-Star Game.
It was a strong shift by Kucherov, who seemed to have saved up all the energy he didn’t expend at the Skills Competition. After Pettersson couldn’t quite tuck the puck in on a wraparound, he chopped a pass from Vatrano upstairs over Shesterkin to tie the game 3-3.
Team Matthews responded, as Filip Forsberg banged in a rebound while once again out on the ice against Miller, Boeser, and Bratt.
Tocchet had his old buddy, Wayne Gretzky, with him on the bench for Quinn Hughes and got a little bit of coaching advice after Forsberg’s goal.
“Wayne wants me to bench the Miller line, they’re minus-3,” quipped Tocchet to Kevin Bieksa in an on-the-bench interview.
"To me, he was probably the same because I was dash-3," said a laughing Boeser about having Tocchet behind the bench at the All-Star Game. Michael Bublé was more of a comforting presence: "He was hugging me every time we got scored on, so that was nice to have."
Rick Tocchet's expert predictions
Tocchet's interview with Bieksa led to one of the best moments of the All-Star Game, as Bieksa asked Tocchet which of his players would score next. Tocchet predicted that Tkachuk would get the next goal and, sure enough, Tkachuk took a pass from Hughes a moment later and tied the game 4-4 with a five-hole slider.
Bieksa immediately went back to Tocchet for another prediction and this time Tocchet predicted a goal from Vatrano. Hughes once again made that prediction a reality, making a slick pass to Vatrano for the 5-4 goal.
“Wow. Wow. Get the plane, we’re going to go to Vegas right now,” said Bieksa to Tocchet and Gretzky, which is awkwardly hilarious given their shared gambling history. “You just called the last two goalscorers.”
“He’s a good coach,” quipped Gretzky.
It should be noted that was Hughes's third assist of the game, which is fitting given how many goals he's set up for the Canucks this season.
Unfortunately, Tocchet’s next prediction — a goal from Pettersson — didn’t come true. Instead, Pettersson turned the puck over for a breakaway by Forsberg, who went top shelf on Demko to tie the game 5-5.
“I predicted Pettersson to score but I guess I meant turnover,” said Tocchet with a laugh after the game.
Coming up short in the shootout
That sent the game to the shootout. Demko stopped the first three shooters he faced but no one on Team Hughes could score, with Pettersson losing the handle on a deke. DeBrincat fired a puck past Demko to give Team Matthews the advantage, then Miller got pokechecked by Shesterkin before he could finish off his usual wide-left shootout move.
Team Matthews went on to win the mini-tournament with a 7-4 victory over Team McDavid, with Auston Matthews taking home MVP honours.
All-in-all, it was a fun All-Star Weekend with a few highlight moments for the multitude of Canucks on hand. The All-Star tournament featured a decently high pace, some pretty goals, and a top-tier musical performance by Tate McRae.
"The highlight for me was drafting," said Hughes. "Petey's one of my best friends and then obviously with Jack too, my brother, and Michael [Bublé] up there, so it was fun...It's really special, it's an opportunity that probably won't happen again, just to have six guys in the game plus the coach. Very, very special and it puts a light on how successful our team's been."
Most importantly, none of the Canucks got injured. There were surely plenty of Canucks fans cringing every time Demko went into the splits to make a save but everyone came out none the worse for wear and ready for the stretch push to the playoffs.