The Sedins’ jersey retirement ceremony was almost as classy as the Sedins themselves.
The hour-long pre-game ceremony somehow flew by in no time at all, filled with laughs, tears, cheers and, yes, even a few boos. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly got booed, likely because the crowd thought host John Shorthouse was about to introduce commissioner Gary Bettman. Then, of course, Bettman got booed.
The other boos were reserved for when Henrik Sedin casually brought up the upcoming game’s opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, including — and here Henrik paused meaningfully — Duncan Keith.
The boos rained down and Henrik laughed.
One player who didn’t get booed was Ryan Kesler, who had admitted to being afraid of what his reception might be after years of getting booed in Vancouver as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. He needn’t have worried: the fans gave him a massive ovation when he was announced and then again when Daniel Sedin mentioned him in his speech.
“I almost started tearing up,” said Kesler. “To look around and have those fans standing up, cheering, back like they used to, it was a pretty special feeling that I’ll never forget.”
Think of the people the Sedins brought together at centre ice. Not just the teammates that meant so much to the twins — Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Kevin Bieksa and Mattias Ohlund — no, not just them. There on the same small carpet were Jim Benning, Francesco Aquilini and Trevor Linden. Sitting together in a row were Mike Gillis, Dave Nonis and Brian Burke. Whatever differences any of them might have had, they set them aside to honour the Sedins.
And if the cheers were a little louder and more prolonged for Linden and Gillis than they were for Benning, well, let’s just attribute that to absence making the heart grow fonder. After all, there are many opportunities these days to cheer for Benning, but so few to cheer for Linden and Gillis. If the same fans can cheer for Kesler after booing him for years, they can cheer for Gillis after calling for him to get fired.
Most importantly, on the left side of the podium, were the families of the Sedins: their parents, their brothers, their wives and their kids. The Sedins words of gratitude and praise for their families was one of the highlights of the evening, even if Henrik forgot exactly how many years he had been married.
The evening was perfectly paced. It started with cheering for the returning players and management, then an emotional montage accompanied by the Jim Byrnes Band playing “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan. Before there were too many tears, however, Kevin Bieksa provided the laughs, bringing the house down with a hilarious speech.
Bieksa riffed like a well-practiced stand-up comedian, likely earning a few more subscribers to the Kes and Juice Podcast. He poked at Henrik’s love for cheesecake and Daniel’s candy addiction; suggested their telepathy was just a well-hidden ear-piece; praised them for being the “second and third-best conditioned guys on the team.”
It was hilarious, but he also cut to the heart of how much the Sedins mean to the Canucks and the city of Vancouver.
“There’s a Sedin culture to this organization and it’s been absorbed by guys like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom and our new captain Bo,” said Bieksa. “And I’ve already seen them pass it along to Petey and to Quinn and to Brock, and they’ll pass it along to the next generation of core players. And in 20 years, there will still be a Sedin flavour to this organization and a Sedin culture in that dressing room, and that’s something that will transcend any on-ice statistics that they have.”
The Sedins struck just the right tone with their speech, starting by sending their best wishes to Jay Bouwmeester after he suffered a cardiac episode and collapsed during the St. Louis Blues’ game against the Ducks.
They then thanked seemingly everyone that had even a tangential impact to their NHL careers, from managers to coaches, teammates to agents, training staff to the communications team and, most of all, their families. You could see how their words touched everyone they thanked. It was marvelous
And then their numbers, 22 and 33, were raised to the rafters to join Stan Smyl’s 12, Linden’s 16, Pavel Bure’s 10 and Markus Naslund’s 19. It was a truly special, unforgettable moment.
Oh yeah, then the Canucks played a hockey game. After drying my eyes, I used them to watch this game.
In a classy touch, Gillis showed up to the arena wearing three pins to honour Pavol Demitra, Luc Bourdon, and Jason Botchford. A planned fourth pin to honour Rick Rypien was reportedly not available in time for the ceremony.
- Before the ceremony started, the Canucks draped the burgundy seats of Rogers Arena with free T-shirts, making the seats look a brilliant blue. They looked incredible, almost as if having seats in actual team colours might be a good idea. Maybe.
Perhaps because they sat through a one-hour ceremony that disrupted their usual pre-game routine, the Canucks looked exceptionally sluggish in this game. They played like they retired the offensive zone along with the Sedins’ numbers: no one’s allowed to wear 22 or 33, or maintain possession of the puck for longer than 10 seconds in the offensive zone.
Fortunately, one Swede evidently took inspiration from his fellow countrymen. Jacob Markstrom was absolutely brilliant in the Canucks’ net, setting a new franchise record for most saves in a shutout. If he keeps this up, he has a strong chance of becoming the seventh-best Swede in Canucks history.
Markstrom stopped all 49 shots the Blackhawks sent his way. Nothing was getting past him, whether it was pucks, puns, or references to 18th century Russian literature. “You’re stopping releases like Catherine the Great stopped A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow,” Chris Tanev probably said, and Markstrom totally understood the reference.
OK, one puck did get past him, but the referee quickly waved off the goal for goaltender interference and it proved to be the turning point of the game.
The goaltender interference seemed pretty clear cut: Brandon Saad made little effort to stop and ended up hanging off the crossbar, preventing Markstrom from moving to his right to stop a Patrick Kane shot. For some reason, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton challenged the call, even though the odds of the call being overturned were like a monastery for the mute: no chance.
The failed challenge put the Canucks on the power play, where they took advantage of some sloppy penalty killing that left Brandon Sutter wide open down low and Bo Horvat wide open in the slot. A couple crisp passes later and Horvat was putting the puck top corner where detectives take all the most-difficult and important autopsies. No wait, that’s the top coroner. My mistake. Horvat, however, made no mistake: 1-0 Canucks.
That was the story all game: the Blackhawks poured on pressure, they didn’t score, and the Canucks made the most of their few chances. It was like Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy, except Markstrom was the rope the Canucks were leaning on.
Fortunately, Markstrom was like the giant mooring ropes used to dock ocean liners, able to bear weights over 150 tons, easily enough to handle the full weight of an entire hockey team for one night.
- After the game, Markstrom said he didn’t like the way he started, but one shot to the head woke him up. It was an intentional and very necessary head save, as he headed the puck labeled for the top corner up over the bar like a soccer defender. It was a fitting tribute to the Sedins given Bieksa’s story about Henrik juggling a soccer ball on his head “like a seal."
- My favourite of his 49 saves on the night was this blocker stop on Blackhawks rookie Kirby Dach. It’s not your typical blocker save, as he trapped the puck between the ice and his blocker while sprawled out. It was a classic case of doing whatever was necessary to keep the puck out.
Beyond those two more unusual saves, there were a litany of fantastic kick saves, great glove saves and plenty of pucks that he took to the crest and swallowed up because of his superb positioning. Really, he was in super position, at least in a linear system, responding to the vast array of stimuli with the correctly summed response to each of those stimuli to make the save.
Almost every Canuck got buried on the shot clock in this game, none more so than Bo Horvat, who was in the matchup role, tossed on the ice whenever Patrick Kane and/or Jonathan Toews stepped off the bench. He played more than 20 minutes and got crushed: shot attempts were 26-to-two with Horvat on the ice at five-on-five. But he scored a goal and Kane and Toews did not, so it all worked out.
The Canucks were held shot-less for long stretches of time: more than 10 minutes to open the game and more than 12 minutes to start the third period. When the Canucks finally got a couple shots in the third, they were both from the defensive zone from Alex Edler. They only had two shots from the offensive zone in the entire third period, which seemed, ironically, offensive in a game honouring the Sedins.
While the Canucks didn’t get many shots, they were opportunistic. They took a 2-0 lead in the second period after Jordie Benn ran over Drake Cagguila in the Blackhawks’ zone, steamrolling him like he was Judge Doom. That created a turnover and the Canucks struck quickly, much like the Sedins always did on turnovers. Sutter passed to Antoine Roussel from behind the net, but instead of shooting, he moved it to Adam Gaudette for the open net tap-in. Now that was a proper Sedin tribute.
The Canucks have been feeling extra fighty lately and that continued in this game as Tanner Pearson dropped the gloves with Caggiula after the Blackhawk forward hit him from behind, then Adam Gaudette challenged Connor Murphy after a high hit. They’ve been feeling punchier than a high school dance.
With the way Markstrom was playing, the Blackhawks had no chance for a comeback, but it was still comforting when Sutter sealed the deal with a long-distance empty net goal. That gave Sutter three points in the game, only his sixth three-point game in his career, but his second this season. Of his 15 points this season, 40 per cent have come from just two games.
- Markstrom has pushed his way into the Vezina conversation with his exceptional play, but in the second intermission, Colby Armstrong suggested that he should be in consideration for the Hart. The award is intended to go to the “player judged most valuable to his team” and is anyone more valuable to their team than Markstrom?