By Josh Plummer GETTING THE CALL
During a season of juggling line combinations and tedious shooting drills designed to find the elusive secondary scoring spark, the Vancouver Canucks have looked to the Manitoba Moose for answers.
Jesse Schultz played his first NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night. It was a perfect opportunity to get an up-close look at the process behind a call-up, starting with the phone call and ending with the post-game media scrum.
Schultz is a 6'0, 200 pound right-winger from Strasbourg, Saskatchewan and was signed as a free agent by the Canucks in 2003 after a tearing up the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets. He scored 37 goals for the Moose last season playing under Alain Vigneault, and his 7-8-15 points in 19 games this season earned him a call from the Canucks.
"It was pretty hectic," said Schultz. "I was at home and it was a Sunday evening at about 5:30 and Scott Arniel, the coach of Manitoba, gave me a call and said I got called up and the flight was leaving at 8:15. I didn't have a lot of time to get my things together." FIRST PRACTICE
Schultz tossed a bag together and was skating with the Canucks Monday afternoon at GM Place. Schultz chose #20 and skated on the second power-play unit with Brendan Morrison and Taylor Pyatt.
Practice ended an hour later, but Schultz stayed out even later spending another 15 minutes with assistant coaches working on line rushes in preparation for his NHL debut.
In the meantime, Morrison spoke about his potential new line-mate.
"He's an offensive guy who can score goals," said Morrison. "He had a great year last year and I guess he's been playing pretty well in Manitoba. It's a different look on the wing for sure - a right-handed shot and a guy who's got an offensive touch."
Media were anxious to talk to the 24-year-old and he looked genuinely shocked at the assembled scrum waiting patiently waiting for him to clamber off the ice. Schultz obliged.
"I was excited and a little nervous too, but any chance you to come up and play it's a good feeling," said Schultz, who ammassed five goal in his past five games in Manitoba. "Lately I've been playing a lot better and scoring some more goals, so I hope to come up here and contribute any way I can. I was brought in here to hopefully provide a little bit of offense." GAME DAY SKATE
As per usual on game day, the team gets the adrenaline rushing with a brisk, 30-minute mid-morning skate. Drills and tactics are redundant at this point - they've already been covered in off-ice video sessions - so coaches keep the players loose with reflex shooting and skating exercises.
Laughter and camaraderie abound, but the Columbus Blue Jacket's are still in everyone's mind - especially considering a few Columbus players and coach's are watching from the visitor's tunnel and from the stands.
Wearing a dark blue practice jersey, Schultz breezes around imaginary defenders, snapping shots on Roberto Luongo
and looking like he might have actually slept Monday night on the eve of his first NHL game.
"I'm definitely excited and I slept fine," says Schultz. "If I think too much about it, I'm going to get too nervous. I'm just trying to take it like any other game and get prepared that way."
Some players who get the call-up don't have time to assimilate themselves - they don't know their team-mates or coaches, but Schultz arrived during an off-day and he knew he'd get a chance to acclimate.
"That's huge," says Schultz. "Getting out there and skating with the guys and trying to get used to that really helps out, rather than flying in and jumping right into the game."
He might have wished he could jump right into the game - the morning skate and media scrums ended at 11:30 a.m., more than seven hours from the puck drop, plenty of time to think about the looking milestone in his hockey hockey career. GAME
The Canucks pour out of the tunnel for pre-game skate at 6:30 pm and Schultz flies around the circles.
He takes a few laps in the Canucks' end and then skates to the bench where Rogers Sportsnet's Dan Murphy does a live pre-game interview to be broadcast to all his family and friends back home. It's hard to blame him for looking as if he's trying to suppress a smile.
His first shift comes only minutes after the opening face-off - a quick 35 second skate that represents the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
But it's during the second period when Schultz showed why Vancouver chose him as the call up. Playing on the second power-play unit, he lets go with a couple zinging wrist shots on Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
Schultz finishes his first NHL game with 10:45 of ice-time and three shots on goal. Aferwards, Markus Naslund fileds a few questions about the rookie from Saskatchewan.
"He made some good plays and you can tell he's a shooter, says Naslund. "He was in the right spot and you can tell he's definitely got a quick shot."
From the centre of his own media scrum, Schultz assesses his performance and what he thinks he has to do to stay in Vancouver.
"I thought it went pretty well," says Schultz. "I was a little nervous at the start, but after the first period I got my legs under me and felt a little bit better after that."
"My job is to get open and when I have the puck - shoot it. I tried doing that last night and I was able to get some shots on net. I'm just taking it day by day. If I'm playing well, I'll stick around. I just have to concentrate on playing well every chance I get."
And what's the first thing a new NHL'er does after making his debut. Talk to the parents.
"I talked to a few of my family members and they're really proud of me and really happy. It's obviously a dream come true - I'm just hoping there's more games to come."