RYPIEN SKATES, VAANANEN MAKES DEBUT
Rick Rypien overshadowed the debut of Ossi Vaananen at Saturday morning's practice making his first appearance since a sports hernia injury sidelined him back in late October forcing him to miss 53 straight games.
The scrappy forward skated with assistant coach Darryl Williams prior to practice and issued the following statement to the media:"I would like to thank the Canucks organization and my teammates for their tremendous support during this challenging time. Everyone has been so supportive and I can't thank them enough for everything. I would also like to thank the media and the Canucks fans for their respect they have shown me during my time away. I am happy to be back practicing with my teammates and would ask that thus matter remain private at this time. I will speak to the media at an appropriate time in the future. Thank you."
Coach Alain Vigneault said there's no timetable for Rypien's return to the line-up, but that the 24-year-old is physically cleared to play.
"He will skate on his own here for the next four or five days I’m thinking and then hopefully he’ll be good to go with the team," said Vigneault.
"We’re very happy to have him back and we hope that he’ll be able to help our team here in the near future."
Vaananen, who was picked up off waiver from the Philadelphia Flyers Friday morning, arrived in Vancouver late last night.
He skated with his new teammates for the first time and was paired primarily with Rob Davison. Saturday's practice wasn't too strenuous, but it was just what Vaananen, who was sporting #5, needed to get settled in.
"It feels like there are great guys here and the atmosphere is good and they really welcomed me to the team nicely," said Vaananen, who had one goal and nine helpers in 46 games with Philly this season.
"I’ve only heard great things about the whole organization and I played against these guys a lot and it’s a very tough team to play against and I’m very glad to be on the same side."
There were a few familiar faces in the locker room for Vaananen as he played under assistant coach Rick Bowness and with Darcy Hordichuk as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes and has also skated alongside fellow countryman Sami Salo on the Finnish national team.
At this point in the season there isn't much time for reunions though, the media is hungry to find out what Vaananen can bring to the table.
"I’m defensive minded and I’d say more stay at home," he said. "I try to make some hits every once and while and play a solid, sound defensive game.
"I’m not a guy who puts up big numbers offensive or that kind of deal, it’s nice to get a goal once and while, but I’d say the defensive game is more my thing."
With Wednesday's trade deadline approaching fast and the Canucks now carrying an abundance of bodies on the blueline, the rumour mill is churning as to how Vaananen fits into Vancouver's equation.
"Obviously we’ve got nine defence here and we’re not going to keep nine defence so we’re going to take this a day at a time," said Vigneault. "We all know that there are some big days ahead of us and we’ll make the best decisions for our team."
The Canucks now get ready to do battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, the team on Vancouver's heels in the Western Conference standings. The Jackets are only two points back of the Canucks for fifth overall; Columbus is 3-0-0 against Vancouver this season.
"I think just really keeping it simple, having a north/south game and throwing pucks on net," Ryan Kesler noted as the keys to beating the Blue Jackets. "Obviously it’s going to help to have Lou playing the way he is and if we can just play a little better in front of him, we’re going to be good.
"We played probably one of the worst teams in the league last night and we played down to their level, so we’ve just got to focus on our game and play the way we can and not worry about the other team."
Forward Pavol Demitra, who suffered a broken finger in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, was noticeably absent for Saturday’s practice despite picking up two assist in 18:29 of ice time against the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night.