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Vancouver Canucks AM Skate, Alberta Blues, Death of a Legend

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Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers
Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers scores to tie the game in the third period Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

It had been a long road, literally, for the Vancouver Canucks due to their series of NHL schedule postponements on home ice. Five weeks after the previous home game on December 14th, a thrilling come from behind 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Canucks lost in a shoot-out 2-1 Friday night to the league-leading Florida Panthers.

“I think the people in Vancouver were just as happy to see us play as we were to be home here,” Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said, “it’s tough when you play nine straight games on the road. We’re very appreciate of what the fans, the amount of cheering they did and everything else, we an only imagine if we win consistently and they start putting 18,000 people in this building what it’s going to sound like.”

Both teams played hard. Decimated by Covid protocols, the Canucks kept it simple against a team with a great deal of intrinsic confidence. Tops in overall NHL points, the Panthers were playing their third game in four nights but still worked diligently throughout the sixty-five minutes of play. They came away with the extra point in the standings by winning the skills competition in three rounds, with under-rated superstar Aleksander Barkov putting on the finishing touch with a Forsberg-esque manoeuvre on Canucks goalie Spencer Martin.

The Vancouver Canucks practice at Rogers Arena at 11 am Saturday in preparation for Sunday evening’s game against the 24-11-and-5 St. Louis Blues. They sit in second place in the NHL’s Central Division.

Big Night in Alberta

Speaking of the blues, teams in Alberta have been singing them recently, especially the Edmonton Oilers. After taking a commanding lead in the Pacific Division in November, the Oilers have been slip, sliding away. They’ve lost seven games in a row, one of those in overtime. Their last victory came in Seattle against the expansion Kraken on December 18th by a 5-3 score. They can now be seen in 7th place in the Pacific, two points behind the Vancouver Canucks.

Calgary hasn’t exactly kept a consistent fire burning. Despite featuring the division’s best goal differential, a plus-22, the Flames are 3-6-and-1 in their last ten games and find themselves in fifth place just two points ahead of Vancouver. Not as catastrophic as Edmonton’s goaltending, Calgary’s did however take a little bit of a dip.

The team’s number-one, former Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, has struggled in three of his last five games. They’re hoping his last outing, a 28-save victory over the aforementioned Panthers, is a clearer indication of what’s ahead.

All that said, Saturday night’s tilt in Edmonton should be a dandy. The “Battle of Alberta” isn’t a myth these days. I’ve seen a couple of these match-ups recently in person and they still have a throw-back quality to them, laced with ire and intensity and fired up crowds. One would hope, and think, we’d see that from a very desperate Oilers team and an almost as desperate Flames squad this evening.

Great and Scary

I remember as a teenager watching the New York Islanders win four consecutive Stanley Cups and hating them. They were too good. Seeing the late-1970’s Canadiens dynasty was tough enough, but then to see these dirty, annoying upstarts go on a run in 1980, it annoyed the hell out of me and a great majority of hockey fans outside of Long Island.

The two predominant memories; the angry, sometimes vicious antics of crazy competitive goaltender Billy Smith, and the top line of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Clark Gillies. Gillies was the muscle who could score. While Bossy and Trottier would light it up, Gillies contributed some offense, but mostly a consistent presence. Back then, leading scorers required a bit of protection, a little extra room on the ice. Gillies provided both, although not in a one-dimensional manner.

In the early 2000’s I travelled around North America interviewing Hockey Hall of Famers and other NHL alumni for a Toronto-based television show. Every time that era was discussed, the name that most often came up when discussing ‘fear’ or ‘scariest fighter’, it was Gillies.

“Oh my, we didn’t poke that bear” or “leave him alone” were common refrains. I guess I expected to hear the names of more demonstrative or theatrical enforcers, in the tradition of a Dave Schultz or Gretzky’s first enforcer Dave Semenko. Nope. Gillies. Quiet, tough, fearless, and scary. It’s why they won.

The 67-year-old Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan native and Hockey Hall of Famer died Friday of unknown causes at this point.

I only met him once, but felt like I knew him very well via the dozens of conversations I had with ex-players and teammates who held him in the highest regard.

My writer pal Lance Hornby had a ‘says it all’ clip in the Toronto Sun on Saturday morning that transcends the generations.

Current Isles’ winger Matt Martin said Gillies went out of his way to welcome all newcomers to the team.

“He epitomizes everything an Islander is. He carries the room. First time I met him, I thought ‘that’s what I want to be when I grow up.’”

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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