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Canucks thrill Hockeyville

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

It was sloppy, it was unorganized and it was riddled with mistakes.

Considering it was the first pre-season action for both the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders, none of that mattered. It was expected.

Effort and intensity were what coaches and fans from both sides were looking for and Vancouver and New York more than delivered in 2-1 Canucks win in front of 1,200 fans packed to the rafters at the Terrace Sportsplex in Terrace, BC as part of Kraft Hockeyville 2009.

Terrace, a coastal community 1,376 km north of Vancouver with a population of just over 12,000, won the right to host the NHL’s first exhibition game of the season through a bidding process and finally via fan votes.

Terrace edged out more than 7,100 entries for the right to experience the NHL first hand and although both line-ups were a jumble of rookies and veterans -  many who have never skated together in game action before - this contest provided a lot of excitement and a few surprises.

Vancouver prospect Sergei Shirokov, the 23-year-old Russian who has been garnering more attention than Kanye West of late, opened the scoring less than two minutes into the game on the power play.

For those superstitious that whoever scores the first Vancouver goal of the season is bound to have a great season, Shirokov scoring was a great sign.

After Andy Sutton took a holding penalty on Rick Rypien, the Canucks set up in the Islanders zone and worked the puck around to forward Eric Walsky. He then unleashed a furious shot on netminder Scott Munroe.

The initial save was made but the rebound bounced right to Shirokov who was waiting for the gift to the left of the goal. His quick shot evaded Munroe to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead.

The Islanders evened the score at 1-1 midway through the second period when John Sim snuck a shot past Andrew Raycroft before he made way for Cory Schneider, but the theme of the middle frame was fighting.

The fisticuffs started with a scrap between Vancouver’s Ronald Petrovicky and Jeremy Reich. The Canucks forward landed the first pop but couldn’t maintain control with Reich using just that to get the best of Petrovicky.

Round two featured Guillame Desbiens and Tim Jackman and before Desbiens knew what had hit him, Jackman had the Canucks sweater over his head as he delivered some wild lefts.

With the Canucks now down 2-0 on the fight card, Rypien, the feistiest forward in Vancouver’s line-up, went toe-to-toe with Reich.

Islanders fans held their breath for Reich thinking he was in too deep, but the New York forward more than held his own against the Ripper with 17 seconds left the period.

Both players left the ice bloodied and helmetless. Rypien didn’t win and he didn’t lose. This was just a good old-fashioned draw.

Rypien dropped the gloves once more before the end of the game as he rumbled with Sutton in the third, but it was Shirokov who stole the show scoring his second goal of the game, the eventual game-winner, with just over nine minutes left remaining.

Shirokov put the Canucks ahead for good on a play that closely resembled his opening goal. Standing his ground to the left of the Islanders netminder, Shirokov corralled the puck off a rebound and backhanded it into the empty cage.

This kid’s got game.

“I’ve been playing with him in practice and he’s got a great set of hands,” said Kyle Wellwood, who skated on Vancouver’s top line with Michael Grabner and Desbiens.

“I find he’s a really good passer and has great hands around the net like you saw tonight and he was definitely our best player.”

Shirokov was named first star with Canucks defenceman Brad Lukowich picking up the third star.

For the Cranbrook, BC product, coming to Terrace to play his first game in a Canucks jersey was an absolute thrill.

“This is incredible,” said Lukowich. “This rink so tight and small, it’s like when you were growing up. It’s a great experience and it’s great for the fans, it’s great for us. It’s a little reminder of where we came from so it’s a lot of fun for everyone.”

OF NOTE: Nolan Baumgartner, Lukowich’s defence partner on this night, left the game early in the third period and did not return.

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