Rogers Arena opened its doors for several hundred Canucks fans eager to catch a glimpse of Vancouver's newest batch of prospects for a high-paced scrimmage.
Team Green, featuring first round picks Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk skating on a line together, took home the bragging rights following their 4-3 win, but seeing the young players in game action was more important than the final score.
The pair of first rounders were impressive, with Horvat showing off some slick puck work and the hard-nosed determination that lead to his high selection. The 9th overall pick left a defender swinging and missing on a great toe-drag, going from his forehand to backhand. Joacim Eriksson was up to the task however, blockering Horvat’s backhand before it could reach the top shelf.
“Bo’s a great player, he’s a good kid and we’ve been hanging out all camp.” said Hunter Shinkaruk, who lined up on Horvat’s wing. “So to have the opportunity to have him as my centreman, it really doesn’t get much better than that.”
The duo was dangerous for much of the game against their camp-mates despite being unable to find the back of the net. Horvat says that a strong showing against fellow prospects is much different than competing against current NHL players.
“I need to continue to keep getting faster and more explosive,” said Horvat, who was still noticeably quick on the ice, following the ice-time.
While much of the attention from the crowd was on Shinkaruk and Horvat, there were many other prospects deserving of mention here.
Jeremie Blain, who signed a contract with the Canucks last week, showed again why the team invested in him with a physical game. He was noticeable just about every time he was on the ice, whether it be with a solid hit along the boards or mixing it up in front. Of the all the players on the ice, the Longueuil, Quebec native was the orneriest.
Alexandre Mallet, a second rounder from last year’s draft, received a rousing ovation from the crowd with a primo penalty shot goal. Coming in with speed Mallet faked forehand, getting Joacim Eriksson to bite before cutting back hard on the backhand to roofing it. The guy with the silkiest of hair in camp showed that he has the hands to match.
Of the camp invitee’s Cody Sylvester, the Calary Hitmen sniper, showed off the wrist shot that helped him bury 41 times last season, beating Eriksson to the low blocker from deep in the slot.
Gaunce and Horvat competition
Brendan Gaunce centered the most dangerous line for Team Blue, lining up between Nicklas Jensen and Latvian camp invitee, Ronalds Kenins.
The Belleville Bulls captain picked up a goal in the garbage area around the crease but was mostly setting up his wingers with hard, tape-to-tape passes for most the scrimmage. He sent in Kennins on a breakaway just prior to scoring his goal.
It’s no secret the Canucks are looking for one of their young centre prospects, and they have many, to force themself into the Opening night roster.
“I think every single guy here is trying to get that same opportunity, “ said Gaunce, who’s been training with super trainer, Gary Roberts this off-season.
“Whether it’s Nick Jensen, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, or even my roommate Wes Myron, we are all going for the same job because in the end we all want to play for the Canucks.”
Gaunce does have the benefit of having one Prospect and Training Camp under his belt, which takes away the shock and awe factor.
“You’re just more comfortable. Being in this situation once and facing the media and scrutiny coming in and doing it for the second time is just a lot easier.”
Making the jump from the juniors to the professional ranks in just a single year is rarity nowadays but Horvat says playing under NHL veteran Dale Hunter in London provided him a solid foundation.
“They do a great job preparing you for the pro game. They show you the work ethic it takes to be a pro.”
From Castelgar to the Comets
Just before the Canucks scrimmage Travis Green was introduced as the new coach of the Utica Comets, the Canucks AHL farm club.
“It means a lot, personally being from BC it’s extra special,” said the Castelgar native. “Growing up watching the Canucks and being a big fan of them and professionally to get this opportunity I’m very excited about it.”
Green took over head coaching duties for the Portland Winterhawks last season midway through the season, guiding the club to a 52-12-1-2 record on the way to a Memorial Cup Final appearance.
Green, 42, played well over 900 games in his NHL career, beginning as a high scoring winger before making the change to a more rounded defensive minded player. Making that change, he feels, had a major impact on the way he approaches the game as a coach.
“Looking back, I think it’s really helped with communicating to some of the younger players and helping them understand what’s right and what’s wrong and bottom line – what it takes to be a pro.”
As the coach of the Canucks farm team, Green will be charged with the task of not only icing a winning club, but also molding highly talented players into well-rounded NHLer’s.
“I believe in my players and I want my players to do well. I’m a strong communicator but accountability is a big word.”
For the players making the jump from the Comets to the Canucks, being held accountable for their play on the ice will not differ.
“I expect a lot out of my players and they are going to get a lot out of me.”