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Canucks Report - Tempers flare

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

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It should come as no surprise that frustrations ran high at Thursday morning’s practice out at UBC.

Fresh off a 5-3 loss to the hapless Predators Wednesday night that saw the Canucks fumble a 3-1 lead by giving up three straight power-play goals, the team was in no mood for fun.

“It’s good, we’re 20+ guys that really care about each other and the team and what’s going on here," said Ryan Johnson.

"It’s never a bad thing to have emotion like we did today in practice and we need more of that. It doesn’t hurt. We are all frustrated and care about each other and the process we’re going through right now. Together, again as 20+ guys we’re going to get ourselves out of this.”

Tempers boiled over after Willie Mitchell and Mason Raymond clashed in the corner in a simple puck retrieval drill.

Raymond took exception to Mitchell’s hit and shoved the veteran rearguard, which led to a gloved punch and a cross-check.

Shane O’Brien quickly intervened in Raymond’s defence, but several players and coaches doused the fire before anything escalated. O’Brien and Mitchell sit next to one another in the locker room.

Following practice both Mitchell and Raymond played down the shoving match as tempers flaring and the team's frustration showing. At the end of the day they're all on the same team working to find a way out of their slump.

“You’re out there, you’re working hard and you’re battling, obviously it’s frustrating," said Raymond. "We’re not doing well as a group and personally for myself, tempers just flare a bit I guess.

"You’re hitting each other, you have an argument and away you go. You’re out there, but like I said we’re working hard and sticking together as a group. It’s not easy when times aren’t going well as a group.”

The team has struggled to play with focus and drive for a full 60 minutes and may benefit from emotionally charged practices.

“We need to be practicing the way we want to compete in a game," said Mitchell. "If you do those things in practice and prepare the right way in practice you’ll have the right carry over for the game. I think that’s what you’re seeing out there.

“Right now we’re doing some good things, but there are still some things we need to work on. We need to find a way to get going and as individuals I think you’ve got to worry about what you’re doing. We all take care of our own house, if that means preparing the right way in practice, competing and doing all those things to hopefully get that to carry over to the next game.

“We just need to find a way to scratch and claw through this tough bit and soon.”

While O'Brien was on the fence about whether a higher level of physical play at practice would help them in games, the team has to find ways to win games as a group.

“I don’t think practices need to be more physical, I think games need to be more physical," said O'Brien. "We can do what we want in practice, pretend to be tough, pretend to hit guys, but it doesn’t matter then, it matters when we’re playing against other teams.

“Do we need to be more desperate and energetic? Yeah, maybe that comes from being feisty in practice, but we’ve just got to find a way to win hockey games that’s the bottom line.

"I guess [the frustration coming out at practice is] good and bad. We can hit each other all we want, but that’s not the answer. Do we have to be a better hockey team? Absolutely. Maybe that is the answer, maybe I’m wrong, maybe we need to be a little harder on each other, but I think we just need to find a way to get the frustration out and just win more games.”

Captain Roberto Luongo is a firm believer that you need to practice with game-like intensity and focus.

“It was actually nice to see a little bit of emotion in practice," said Luongo. "Guys care, they want to win, everyone in this locker room wants to win. Sometimes you’ve got to play with fire, a little fire in your stomach and go out there and lay it all on the line.

“I think it’s important. I’m a big preacher of practice like you play. I know that when I practice I really go 100% and it carries over to the game. It’s an important thing for me to make sure that when I’m at practice I’m really focused and giving it my all. That’s how you improve yourself. We’ve got to make sure that when we come to practice we’re here to play and not just go through the motions."

Head coach Alain Vigneault skated Pavol Demitra with Jannik Hansen and Steve Bernier at practice.

He deployed centre Mats Sundin between Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.  Centre Kyle Wellwood is likely to be the odd man out on Saturday with Demitra's return. O'Brien is expected to sit out while Rob Davison slots into the lineup for this weekend's game against Minnesota. Lawrence Nycholat was placed on IR with a groin ailment.

The Canucks are 22-20-7. They have won eight times in 27 games since Luongo injured his groin in November, and are winless since January 7th.

CANUCKS SUPERSKILLS: Canucks skills are put on display Sunday, February 1st at the annual Superskills event. Can't make it to GM Place? No worries, watch the whole thing live on beginning at 1:00pm. Tickets are still available to the event.
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