VANCOUVER, British Columbia--Trips back to his native British Columbia have been few and far between for Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrick Wiercioch during his hockey career.
Born in Burnaby, roughly eight miles southeast of downtown Vancouver, Wiercioch spent most of his childhood about 45 minutes east of the city in Maple Ridge. He played junior hockey locally for the Burnaby Express of the B.C. Hockey League before moving to the United States to play in Omaha in the USHL and then at the University of Denver. After two seasons with the Pioneers, he signed with the Ottawa Senators and has played the majority of his professional career out east.
Now in his first season with the Avalanche, Wiercioch will make only his second appearance in his home province against the Vancouver Canucks this evening.
"It's special. Obviously, you came to this rink selling programs as a minor hockey team, trying to raise money," Wiercioch said after the Avs' morning skate. "It's fun to come home, always a lot of excitement playing in front of your friends and family. Hopefully, we just have a good effort tonight."
This evening's contest will be Wiercioch's first at Rogers Arena, the usual home rink of the Canucks. His only other game in the city came across the street at BC Place in the Heritage Classic "outdoor" game on March 2, 2014.
Ottawa defeated the Canucks 4-2 in that contest, one that was supposed to be played in open air but instead had the stadium's retractable roof closed due to weather concerns.
While not officially being outdoors, playing in that spectacle of a game in front of family and friends was still an amazing experience for the rear guard.
"It was awesome. It was my first chance at an outdoor game, a stadium game or whatnot. So it was pretty neat," Wiercioch recalled of playing in front of 54,194 people. "It was special, again just another venue that you're familiar with growing up. To be on center stage of that kind of rather than in the stands was a special experience."
Video: Patrick Wiercioch on returning to British Columbia
Like the team, Wiercioch's first campaign with Colorado has had its ups and downs. The blueliner has eight points (two goals and six assists) in 32 games and is expected to play in his third consecutive contest after being a healthy scratch for two outings last week.
"Obviously with where we're at in the standings, it's tough to look at where you're at individually," Wiercioch said. "It's been a transition move from the east to the west coast, a new team. To get into the locker room, I feel like I've been welcomed by all the guys. That's really a big part of joining a new organization, that first step, and it's been really, really, really awesome to join a new team."
Wiercioch is one of two Avs players from Canada's most-western province, with the other being defenseman Tyson Barrie, who grew up in the capital of Victoria on nearby Vancouver Island.
Barrie, who is on a career-high four-game assist streak, has played in front of family and friends in Vancouver eights times before, but he still enjoys coming back to the province during the season. There will once again be a sizeable contingent of Avalanche fans wearing No. 4 jerseys tonight in the home of the Canucks.
"It's the best. I love it," Barrie said Sunday about coming back to B.C. "I'm very fortunate to be from a beautiful part of the world, and it's always nice to get back there and see all the friends I grew up with. Lots of family comes over, and it's usually pretty fun."
The Avalanche lost the first of three meeting against the Canucks on Nov. 26 in Denver, falling 3-2 in a shootout--ending a streak of nine straight wins for the club via the tiebreaker. Colorado was 9-10-0 at the time of the first matchup and has only won three contests since then.
"As a group, you got to stick together, and I think it's challenging but you definitely don't see guys quitting, giving up," Wiercioch said. "I think that's the biggest thing, that we're playing for each other and we're trying to figure it out. It's not an easy grind right now, but we just need a few things to start clicking and get the ball rolling."
Looking back at that first meeting against Vancouver, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said the team probably deserved better. The Avs outshot the Canucks 34-31 and out-attempted them 66-48.
The Avalanche will be looking for a little payback this evening in the Canucks' home barn, one that will hopefully jumpstart the club for the start of the 2017 calendar year.
"I think this is a game that we need to win, and this is a game that we look at on the schedule," Landeskog said. "It's an opponent that we've had some history with in the past. Back when we were in the same division, we played each other a lot. So we know what they're all about but for us, we want to start the New Year on a good note and start it off the right way. That's what we're going to do tonight."
Video: Gabriel Landeskog talks about the Vancouver Canucks