In what could be a defining road trip for a struggling Vancouver hockey club, the saving grace may be the opportunity for excitement in playing in front of immediate family, relatives and childhood friends. Almost half the roster will have a homecoming of sorts over the next ten days before the Olympic break, and it comes at just the right time for a team needing a jolt of positivity.
When the Canucks play the Jets, the likes of Alex Burrows, Alex Edler, Jannik Hansen, Ryan Kesler, Eddie Lack, Jordan Schroeder and Chris Tanev will all be returning to the city in which they cut their minor league teeth with in Winnipeg. But it doesn’t stop there, as Dale Weise, Laurence Gilman and Glenn Carnegie all hail from “the Peg”, and are as excited as anyone to finally be a part of or play a game there involving the Canucks and Jets. In conversation with VP of Hockey Operations/Assistant GM Laurence Gilman, it becomes clear that this isn’t just any return visit to a city that previously hosted a team. His answers to my two questions can be read here.
After two days, it’s on to Detroit, where Ryan Kesler and David Booth will have the chance to watch Sunday’s SuperBowl with family and/or old friends if they so choose. With Motor City’s proximity to Windsor, Zack Kassian will also have a group that will support him against the Wings for Monday’s game. The next night, with the boost of John Tortorella behind the bench for his second game back from suspension, both he and Mike Sullivan can feel at home in the city they both grew up in.
Although it’s a quick turnaround from Detroit to Boston, with back to back games on the road, the schedule then calms as the French Canadian players will have a couple of days in La Belle Province. Roberto Luongo and Alex Burrows will have the possibility to visit their childhood homes, and Yannick Weber can reconnect with former teammates as Montreal was his first NHL stop from back in 2009
This all leads up to the big one though, the final game of the pre-Olympic schedule, with a highly anticipated match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs, on Hockey Night in Canada, on February 8th. Looking on from above will be Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis who hails from Sudbury, as Brad Richardson, Chris Tanev, and recently called-up Frankie Corrado,(the Ontario group), along with the rest of the squad, will try and spoil the party against a team they’ve had measurable success against over the last handful of years, with the rest of Canada tuning in.
Where the Canucks need to improve is to make that opening goal the starting point for more offence rather than allowing the opposition to gain whatever momentum is lost back again by equalizing the score soon afterwards, as was the case in Minnesota, and other games previous in the year.
In all, the Canucks can potentially point to a local following in each arena, as the spring-board to a corner-turning road trip that will lead them into the final 22 games of the season on a very high note. And if that’s the case, they will once again have friends and family to thank.
DT: What was the most memorable game you experienced in Winnipeg during your time there?
LG: Without question, by far, the most memorable game that I ever experienced in Winnipeg (whether as a fan or a hockey executive) was the final game played by Jets in April, 1996. Despite all the issues surrounding the franchise and it's impending relocation, the team somehow managed to make the playoffs. We played the Detroit Red Wings and were heavily overmatched. The Wings had a chance to end the series on home ice in Detroit. However, Nikolai Kahabibulin stunned both teams and made 52 saves, backstopping the Jets to victory. The ensuing game that occurred was an surreal mixture of excitement and sorrow that most Winnipeggers of my vintage will never forget. From the moment the team took to the ice for warmup and the crowd cheered so loudly that the rafters shook, to the final moments when everyone was on their feet, weeping uncontrollably, every person in that building stood together as one. This was OUR city. These were OUR Jets. And they were being rippped from our heart.
DT: How much earlier did you definitively know about Winnipeg’s return to the NHL and how hard was that to keep secret?
LG: True North, the current owner of the Winnipeg Jets, was the former owner of the Manitoba Moose. They were our farm team in Winnipeg. Canucks Sports & Entertainment and True North had an affiliation agreement that obligated True North to operate an AHL franchise for the 2011/12 AHL season. Consequently, the NHL kept us well informed of the events that occurred in Atlanta as they happened. While we knew that it was extremely likely that the Thrashers would relocate to Winnipeg, I received definitive notice that the deal would occur during our 1st round series against the Los Angeles Kings. As a Winnipegger, I was extremely excited for the city and all my friends back home. I knew that the elation would be dramatic. For obvious reasons we were sworn to secrecy. As news developed, I received countless calls from people in Winnipeg. They asked me if it were true. They begged me to give them satisfaction and put them out of their misery (in a good way). I kept telling them that I knew nothing about it. I would apologize and hang up. However, each time I hung up, I did so with a huge smile on my face.