“Greener” enters his 19th year in the National Hockey League, 14 years as a player, and now starting year five as the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s a great league, I always felt it was a privilege to be in the league when I played and as you get older you have a stronger understanding of what a privilege that is,” Travis Green said, “and to be coaching, I have a greater admiration.”
It’s an NHL that has changed dramatically since he was involved in playoff line brawls in the early 2000’s. He says it’s changed for the better, but he wouldn’t trade away his playing days. He laughed when I brought up his likely pinnacle playing experience, the 2002 opening round Stanley Cup playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. He was a Maple Leaf playing on a line with Darcy Tucker and Shayne Corson against his former team. The Isles drafted Green, developed him, and it’s where he spent his first five-and-a-half years.
“…when you play in a Canadian market, or coach in a Canadian market, that people are passionate and with that passion sometimes comes criticism and that’s part of it.”
“When you play and you love the game, you always miss playing, it’s always in you,” Green said. “I loved my time playing in the NHL, I have a lot of good memories, a lot of good friendships, but to say you’re going to miss it, yeah, you’re always going to miss it, you miss times in your life that were good and enjoyable. That’s part of life, I think if you ask anyone, they might miss certain things, but you’re always looking forward and I couldn’t be happier than where I am today.”
I brought up that series as a benchmark because as an NHL coach, Green hasn’t reached a moment, or a series of moments, like that one. The 2019-’20 postseason saw his Vancouver Canucks make a nice little run in the bubble, but it didn’t come close to reaching sheer madness, especially since the 2020 playoffs featured no fans. If and when the team reaches higher and strives further and the tension and pressure builds, the fans will get louder and the intensity will increase. It’s one of the fringe benefits of winning.
He smiles thinking back to those games at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
“I would rank it right there,” he said. “That was an intense, physical, hard fought series that, I think if you look back over the course of the NHL, it would be right up there with the most physical series that’s probably ever been (played) in my opinion.
“It was unbelievable,” Green added, “it was intense.”
Indirectly, that experience is the goal of every player and coach. To shake a building to the foundation. Vancouver has experienced it during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and in 1982 and 1994 as well, all years they reached the Cup Final. The 2010 Winter Olympic Gold Medal game epitomizes that kind of tension and excitement, except it’s one game rather than many. To get to points like that you’ve either made it, or you’re getting close.
Green and the Vancouver Canucks regime hope that tonight in Edmonton is the start down that path, whether it’s a nine month realization or a two season effort. The flip side of that aspiration is the reality of coaches being “hired to be fired”, the ongoing pressure of hearing “he’d better win or else.” The Castlegar, BC native knows what’s at stake.
“I think coaching in Vancouver is … first of all I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere else,” Green said. “The passion to be playing hockey in Canada, to be coaching in Canada, to coach in Vancouver is second to none. It’s awesome and I never once look at it in a bad light. But it does give you a strong understanding when you play in a Canadian market, or coach in a Canadian market, that people are passionate and with that passion sometimes comes criticism and that’s part of it.”
Stan Fischler, a writer and broadcaster in New York City for decades, first met Green when he played for the Islanders in the early 1990’s.
“He was diligent, determined and thoughtful as a player, and it’s what he is now as a coach,” Fischler states. His son lives in Portland, Oregon and was there when Green became an assistant coach in 2009.
Green took over the bench in Portland mid-season in 2012-’13 for suspended head coach Mike Johnston and finished his portion of the Western Hockey League season 37-8-2. The Winterhawks featured a number of future NHL’ers including star defenceman Seth Jones of the Chicago Blackhawks and current Vancouver Canuck Nic Petan. The team went on to win the WHL championship but lost the Memorial Cup Final to Halifax of the Quebec League. The Mooseheads featured junior phenoms Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon.
Green immediately jumped to the American Hockey League the next season where he took over as coach of the Canucks’ affiliate in Utica, New York, the Comets. In his second year of four there he led the team to the Calder Cup Final. He tasted success, so close to the pinnacle at two lower levels, and in 2017 he was named head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s different, I think it’s changed for the better, it’s so fast and skilled,” Green said of the current NHL. “There’s still elements of toughness and grittiness, going into hard places, but I think the league has done a great job in developing and making sure that the game is exciting to watch for the fans.”
Tonight marks the start of the climb, the ascent towards those irrepressible moments, periodically enjoyed by those most fortunate. The opportunity itself, the fresh start, feels like a holiday.
“Especially with the way the NHL and the world has gone the last couple of years, now that we’re back playing again …” Green started, “it’s one of the most exciting days of the year. For people in hockey it’s a lot like Christmas, the beginning of the season.”
Enjoy the hockey action, folks!