It was 2000s Night at Rogers Arena on Friday, as the Canucks celebrated the noughties with highlight videos, questionable music and a high-scoring game on the ice.
One question heading into the game was who the team would bring out to celebrate that era of Canucks hockey? What vintage players would take the ice prior to puck drop?
The team already had Todd Bertuzzi return for the home opener this season, and it would have been awkward for Bertuzzi to take the ice prior to a game against the Colorado Avalanche, for obvious reasons. Markus Naslund and Mattias Ohlund were just in Vancouver for Sedin Week and unlikely to make another flight from Sweden.
The 2000s era Canucks that are on staff with the Canucks are a little busy: Ryan Johnson is the GM of the Utica Comets, so he’s not typically in Vancouver; Nolan Baumgartner is too busy being an assistant coach of the Canucks to suit up in his navy, silver and blue orca; and Jason King assistant coach of the Utica Comets.
Kyle Wellwood is one of the few Canucks of that era to regularly play for the Canucks Alumni, but, as much as I might enjoy seeing Wellwood, he’s not necessarily the biggest draw.
Perhaps they could have called up Sami Salo, but he’s an assistant coach for TPS in the Finnish Liiga: he’s not flying out from Finland to skate out on the ice for five minutes. Besides, he’d probably tear his MCL dropping the puck for the ceremonial faceoff.
Instead, the Canucks called upon the one remaining member of the West Coast Express that had yet to take the ice for the 50th Anniversary season, along with a couple members of the media with a 2000s Canucks connection: Brendan Morrison, Alex Auld and Brad May.
It was great to see Morrison back in a Canucks jersey and Auld deserves kudos for the whopping 67 games he played in the 2005-06 season, but May was an interesting choice.
Particularly for a game against the Avalanche.
In 2004 May infamously issued a “bounty” on Steve Moore after the Avalanche centre hit Markus Naslund in a previous game. He actually said that there would “definitely be a price on Moore's head.”
Then, just this year, May called out Moore, saying that Moore was “perfectly fine” just weeks after the hit and called it “no different than insurance fraud.”
Short of actually bringing out Todd Bertuzzi, it’s hard to see how they could have brought out someone more directly connected to the ugliest incident of the 2000s for the Canucks.
I’m not saying it was the wrong choice to bring out a guy who played just one full season with the Canucks in the 2000s; I’m just saying that it was an interesting choice.
It was nothing like insurance fraud when I watched this game.
The Canucks came flying out of the gate in the first period, eager to end their four-game losing streak. Troy Stecher, who grew up watching the West Coast Express-era Canucks, opened the scoring after a nice set up by J.T. Miller, sending the platonic ideal of a wrist shot into the top corner.
I asked Stecher if, on that goal, he felt a bit like Ed Jovanovski, his favourite defenceman growing up. “I felt more like Quinn than Jovo,” he joked.
“You put the puck on net, good things are going to happen when you have traffic there,” said Stecher, and I had to point out that he put the puck off the post and in: he was being a little too humble. “Yeah!” he laughed. “Every once in a while I get one that goes off pretty good that isn't a muffin and I'll take it.”
- The man of the match was clearly Zack MacEwen, who had a major impact in just 7:15 in ice time. That impact was often literal, as he was crushing Avalanche players left and right. He set the tone early with a big hit on Kevin Connauton and seemed to have a big hit on tap every other shift. He finished off with a massive collision in the third period that sent Ryan Graves crashing into his own teammate, Joonas Donskoi.
i'm terrible pic.twitter.com/aZ83q9QgdS— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) March 7, 2020
“I like that Zack MacEwen had four hits,” said Travis Green. “He's a hard player to play against and a lot of young players can take a page out of his book.”
“I think that's on my mind to start every game,” said MacEwen. “It gets me in the game mentally and physically. I think going out and setting that tone is what I need to do every game.”
Antoine Roussel was full of praise for his linemate. “It just powered the team, you know?” he said. “It's just so much fun to get that vibe and he gets everybody going, and even the crowd's into it. It's so much fun to have that kind of player.”
The first line combined to make it 2-0 for the Canucks. Tyler Toffoli made a fantastic backhand bank pass to spring a two-on-one for Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. Pettersson showed the extreme patience of a well-trained dog with a treat on its nose, waiting for what seemed like an eternity before snapping a pass across to Miller for the treat of an open net.
- While Al Murdoch was still announcing Miller’s goal, the Avalanche responded. Coming off the bench, Tyler Motte made a poor decision to take Stecher’s man going to the net instead of picking up the trailer, Erik Johnson. Like a man that recently lost a lot of weight, MacKinnon was happy to find Johnson, who fired the puck under Thatcher Demko’s blocker.
- I love seeing clever bits of business from Elias Pettersson away from the puck. Here, it’s just a simple stick lift on Donskoi that frees up the puck for Tyler Myers. Then he finds a seam and gets a pass back from Myers for a decent opportunity. It’s those little plays that make him so valuable beyond his obvious scoring talents.
MacEwen made it 3-1 early in the second period, picking up a puck at the Canucks’ blue line after Roussel won a battle on the boards. MacEwen carried it down the right wing then went under the glove of Pavel Francouz with a wicked wrist shot. The F.O.U.S. (Fella Of Unusual Size) looked like a modern-day Jeff Cowan.
This time, Al Murdoch was able to finish announcing MacEwen’s goal before the Avalanche responded. Gabe Landeskog turned Tanner Pearson inside out with a quick pivot, giving the Avalanche captain a free shot from just inside the right faceoff circle. He beat Demko just inside the far post.
- Demko was crucial for the Canucks in the first period, making 17 saves on 18 shots, but his biggest save came in the second period. Nathan MacKinnon got a breakaway off a bad Canucks line change, but Demko kicked out the right pad to make the save, then lunged back again with the right pad to rob Vladislav Kamenev on the rebound. It was an incredible save that showed tremendous strength to keep the puck out as Kamenev came crashing into Demko, knocking the net off its moorings with a little help from Myers.
Demko couldn’t keep the Avalanche at bay indefinitely. Tyler Myers made a terrible gamble after a puck came loose off an offensive zone faceoff. He pinched in with no hope of getting the puck before Matt Nieto and the Avalanche got a two-on-one behind him. Unlike Myers, Valeri Nichushkin made no mistake, snapping a shot top corner past Demko from the left wing.
Fortunately for the Canucks, the line of Roussel, MacEwen and Adam Gaudette was on fire. Gaudette got shifty along the boards, shaking free from defenceman Ian Cole before zipping a centring pass to Roussel, who had a delayed reaction to putting it five-hole.
“I didn't even know it was in,” said Roussel with a chuckle. “I swear I didn’t know. When you shoot and you don’t know if you score, it’s fun.”
- One of the biggest plays of the game came in the third period: a shot block by Chris Tanev. On the penalty kill, Tanev laid out to take away a passing lane at one side of the net, then sprinted across to the other side to block a bomb from Nathan MacKinnon. He got a massive cheer from the crowd and plenty of stick-taps from his teammates.
“I didn't want them to get the pass across low and then right when he passed it back to the half wall, you can see the play develop, it's coming to [MacKinnon],” said Tanev. “I was just trying to get there as quick as I can. I mean if he's teeing 'em up from inside the top of the circle there, he can shoot the puck and it's going to be a tough save for Demmer.”
You know its crunch time when Tanev, of all people, starts gooning it up after the whistle. He was heavily involved in a few scrums, most notably crashing Vladislav Namestnikov to the ice with a double leg takedown after the Avalanche forward horse-collared him from behind. “He grabbed me from behind. I wasn’t too happy,” deadpanned Tanev.
There were nervous moments in the third period, given the way the Canucks have frittered away third period leads over the last few games, but the Gaudette line eased the fans’ jangled nerves with yet another goal. Gaudette cycled the puck down low and it skipped over the stick of Donskoi. Roussel jumped on the puck and immediately centred for a wide open MacEwen, who fired home his second goal of the game.
That gave MacEwen two goals, four hits, and a drawn penalty, all in just 7:15 in ice time. That, my friends, is efficiency.
To top it off, this game saw the return of the Insurance Line. Tanev picked off a pass from MacKinnon and flipped the puck to Loui Eriksson. He made the right choice, feeding the puck to the empty net sniper Tanner Pearson, who hit the centre of the net from centre ice. It was his sixth empty net goal of the season for Pearson, setting a new franchise record.
- The Canucks were temporarily outside the playoffs heading into this game after the Minnesota Wild won Thursday night and the Winnipeg Jets beat the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday. The win over the Avalanche put the Canucks back in the first wild-card spot, one point up on the Wild. The Canucks can’t afford another losing streak.