VANCOUVER – Twitter drove David Booth to the University of Oxford to study theology in the summer, so perhaps it's not surprising that John Tortorella thinks the Vancouver Canucks' forward is "a weird dude."
Less surprising was Booth's response.
"That's probably the nicest thing a coach has ever said to me," Booth said with a big smile after Thursday's morning skate. "The opposite of weird is normal, plain, boring, mundane. Weird means extraordinary character. So you know what? That's a great compliment in my opinion."
Tortorella immediately tried to temper his comments from the day before, adding that, "it's good to have weird dudes. … Sometimes we have locker rooms that are just blasé. You need personality."
Booth certainly isn't lacking there. The 28-year-old Michigan native has become well known, if also somewhat divisive, among Canucks fans for two things: Hunting and his religious beliefs, both of which he shares openly on Twitter. He started a separate account on the social media outlet for his hunting exploits, but when some questioned him on Twitter about his faith, Booth went a step further – all the way to England.
"Twitter raised questions and I kind of wanted to just strengthen my faith to get answers," Booth told NHL.com of the seven-day course he attended at Oxford. "I always knew the answers, but it would be hard for me to have a conversation and explain them. It made my faith more understandable, more reasonable, more believable."
So when Tortorella's "weird" commentary included describing Booth as "inquisitive," he wasn't far off. But the biggest question the Canucks need Booth to answer now is whether he can stay healthy long enough to return to his old 31-goal form from 2008-09, which was his second full season with the Florida Panthers.
It's a question Booth is keen to answer, perhaps even too eager.
The Canucks held the oft-injured Booth out of the start of training camp and some preseason games. Unable to do any cardio while recovering from an ankle injury that limited him to 12 games last season, Booth put on 30 pounds of upper-body muscle over the summer, ballooning to 237 pounds.
"It was harder to deal with than my concussion [in 2009], and that was tough when you can't do cardio because you can't put any weight on your legs," Booth said of the ankle injury. "I enjoy working out and I was doing too much upper-body strength stuff, so I just put on a ton of weight. It's the biggest I've ever been, and then when I was able to do a little more speed work, some conditioning, it all came off."
Tortorella described Booth, who also missed the start of last season with a groin pull suffered during preseason fitness testing, as a "maniac" in the gym. But the Canucks want him to train in a more sport-specific manner.
"It's about using the power I have in an efficient, effective way," Booth said. "I generate a lot of power. It's just having the supporting muscle groups to handle that, so that might be a thing I have to adjust."
As for his personality, Booth doesn't want to change a thing.
Tortorella may think he's a "weird guy," but the new coach also saw Booth at his best in Florida, where he averaged 25 goals over his first three full NHL seasons, and has said several times Booth can be an important part of the Canucks this season. His speed and power game both fit perfectly with the aggressive forechecking style Tortorella preaches.
"It is a fresh start," Booth said. "I had my best years in Florida when coach was over in Tampa [coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning], and we played them a lot. So I think he knows what type of player I can be. And if I can get an opportunity again, I think I can really play the best hockey I have ever played and I think I have my best years ahead of me, so that is something a new opportunity, a new start, can make happen."
With one goal in his first four games, Booth has already matched his total from last season, when he collected one empty-net goal in 12 games. He also assisted on Mike Santorelli's overtime winner Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, and despite still being in what Tortorella called "his training camp," there have been glimpses of his old form.
As for his off-ice activities, Booth says they help him at the rink.
"You can't just sit there and think about hockey 24-7," he said. "When you do other things it revitalizes you to come back and play hockey."
The same goes for showing his personality, however "weird."
"You can really beat yourself up over this game if you let it get to you, so maybe just try to keep it light, easy," Booth said. "I think it's good. I remember taking a class in the 10th grade and it was just about trying to be your own person, not just fit in with the crowd. If you go through life just being normal, I think you kind of get lost."
Booth felt lost at times during his first two seasons in Vancouver, and especially this summer. But the Canucks are now hoping he finds his game too.
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