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Canucks in Stockton

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Split-squad NHL exhibition games give teams a chance to evaluate twice as many players while working on line combinations and team strategies during actual game action.

On Tuesday it also gave the Vancouver Canucks the chance to play in a new arena.

The Canucks were originally scheduled to play their split-squad games in Vancouver and San Jose, but Katy Perry added a second show in San Jose leaving the Canucks and Sharks rinkless in California.

Insert the Stockton Arena.

Stockton, a city located in San Joaquin County, has a population of just over 300,000 (as of 2013), 6,810 of which packed Stockton Arena Tuesday night to see NHL hockey live for the first time ever.

Stocktonians, all madly waving This Is Sharks Territory signs, weren’t the only ones excited for the game.

It took the Canucks a hefty four-and-a-half hours to get to Stockton; the team flew to Oakland then bused to Stockton. It was grueling to say the least with the team returning to Vancouver post-game at 3 a.m., but general manager Jim Benning and coach Willie Desjardins took it all in.

They wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I just think we’re a working group and maybe that’s not the easiest one [trip], but I don’t want our guys to look at taking the easy route,” Desjardins told the media during training camp. “If you want the players to do it, I think it has to be the same for players and coaches.”

“Have you ever been to Stockton?” asked a reporter, before the entire scrum began laughing.

“No,” replied Desjardins.

After visiting the city firsthand, an annual game in Stockton would be a welcomed detour to the exhibition schedule.

Stockton Arena, built in 2005, is home to the Stockton Thunder, an ECHL team that was affiliated with the Sharks in 2010 and 2012 and is currently a farm team of the New York Islanders. It’s an intimate barn with a great deejay, cool scoreboard and loud, supportive fans, the majority of which were in Sharks jerseys or t-shirts.

There were approximately 50 Canucks fans in the house, most of who make the trek to San Jose from all over California when Vancouver is in town. They appreciated Stockton getting the chance to host a game.

“It’s all people have been talking about the last few days, especially with the Canucks playing some of their best young players,” said Mark, a Canucks fan from Sacramento. "Most people are here to see the Sharks' big guns, but not me."

As for the game itself, the Canucks were thoroughly outplayed losing 5-2. The Sharks scored three 2nd period goals and coasted from there; standout Canucks were Jakob Markstrom (he kept Vancouver in the game while being outshot 13-2 early), Nick Bonino (scored mid-3rd period) and Nicklas Jensen (scored late 3rd period).

Game summary in a sentence: the Canucks could have used some help from Jax, Chibs, Tig, Happy, Munson and the boys on a night when the Sharks’ best players played like it.

Maybe next time.

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