It’s not often over a two week stretch in the regular season that a National Hockey League team plays one night and practices the next. That’s what the Canucks are going through right now as they attempt to shift their way up the Western
Conference standings. Smack dab in the middle of an eight-game home stand prior to a brief Christmas break, the Canucks are showing the results of having a steady diet of games and practices, without having to deal with the extra grind of travel.
“Right now we’re really happy to be homers”, says forward Alex Burrows. “It’s a good feeling around here right now. We’ve been winning games and we’re playing a little bit more like the way we want to play all the time.”
“It’s a little similar to playing playoff hockey, where you play every second night,” adds Burrows. “But we still know we’re out of the playoff picture at this point, so we’ve got to continue to keep going.”
The timing to get into a groove really couldn’t be better for the Canucks, who have been one of the best home ice teams in this league. As the middle of December comes and goes,
Vancouver is 2nd in the NHL lead for most wins at home (13). Only the Chicago Blackhawks have as more (14).
“Right now I like it,” commented alternate captain Ryan Kesler after their most recent win (3-1 over Los Angeles Dec. 14). “It’s really enjoyable coming to the rink".
“It’s a fun city to be in when you’re winning”. Hockey fans haven’t been so chipper though when the Canucks have been away from GM Place. With just six wins through 16 road games, the players know full well that taking advantage of this player-friendly schedule is key.
“Anytime you’re getting to play all the time, mixed in with steady practice time, you get to stay sharp,” says forward Darcy Hordichuk. “Hockey is a game of momentum and any time you start to win, it gets catchy with the guys in the locker room.”
And it’s not just the players who have enjoyed a winning atmosphere in this portion of the schedule. The coaching staff is equally thrilled to get into a routine where they know exactly what happens from the moment they walk into the office until they leave the rink.
“Once we get into the mode where we’re playing every night, it’s just about managing energy and managing the preparation of the team,” says Head Coach Alain Vigneault. “I think players like that and I know we as coaches like that.”
Vigneault, who recently collected his 150th victory as a Canucks bench boss, knows while every game is a challenge, having a balanced schedule is a bonus when trying to get the team on a roll.
“When you throw four games in six nights, or five-in-seven, or six-in-nine, or eight-in-thirteen, or even nine-in-fourteen (like we’ve played once this year), those can be a little bit more challenging.”
Remember, a schedule like this doesn’t just benefit the Canucks on the ice. It’s also great for players and staff to be around family, especially at this time of the year.
“Playing every other day is nice for sure, and winning makes it that much better of course” says defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “But I’m really enjoying this right now.” “I don’t know about everyone else,” adds Bieksa with a smile on his face, “but I’m really happy to be at home around Christmas time.”
The Canucks are hoping to continue to use this portion of the schedule to their benefit. And of course, they’ll look to do the same in January where they play and practice in similar fashion at home in separate four-game increments.
Because when the real Ground Hog Day arrives, the thought of doing anything over and over again on a regular basis in Vancouver will be a distant memory.