For forward Sergei Shirokov, that day was one of the happiest days he’s experienced this spring.
On May 13, Shirokov was one of five players who were recalled by the Canucks from the Manitoba Moose following their exit from the American Hockey League playoffs. His performance on the ice, and maybe more importantly his dedication to improving away from the rink, are big reasons why he’s now a part of the Canucks run in the post season.
“I felt much more comfortable this year than last,” says the 25 year-old from Moscow, Russia. “It was a pretty good season for me. In the playoffs, I scored a few goals too and that was good.”
Shirokov equaled his goals total from his rookie season with the Moose, scoring 22 times. He improved in his ability to be a set up player as well, tabulating 36 assists. The hi-lite of his season came when he registered a 12-game point scoring streak from December 17 to January 15. In that stretch, he collected ten goals and five assists. It was no surprise at the time he was called up to the Canucks. One day after his recall, Shirokov scored his first ever goal in the NHL in what proved to be a 4-3 overtime loss in Denver to the Colorado Avalanche.
“At the start, I don’t think his defensive play was a big issue for him and I think it took a while for it to sink in that if he’s going to make the next step, he needed to work on that,” comments Canucks Assistant General Manager Lorne Henning who monitored Shirkov’s progress many nights watching the Moose. “He put his nose to the grindstone and he worked hard to become one of the best players on the team.”
Selected in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (163rd overall), Shirokov was penciled in to start the 2009/10 regular season with the Canucks. However it didn’t take long for Canucks coaches and management to see his conditioning levels were not up to day-to-day NHL standards. While they improved as his first full season in North America wore on, they are nowhere near the level he’s at now, which has allowed him to be a solid performer on any given night.
“I think the biggest difference from this season to last is off-ice work,” says Shirokov who still speaks in broken-English, although his grasp of a second language has improved immensely since his arrival in Vancouver two years ago. “I understand what I need to do, like work-out and biking stuff.”
“I feel in really good shape this year,” says Shirokov with a grin. “This year was much easier for me than last.”
“I think the biggest thing after Christmas was he got used to tracking and pace as he had always been used to being a guy who slowed the pace of a game down,” says Henning. “When he loses the puck now, he tracks people down and gets it back.”
“Instead of waiting for the play to come to him, he had to learn how to dictate things a little bit more,” adds Henning. “He’s got great hockey sense, he can play as a top six forward with high-end players, and he has the ability to finish.”
Shirokov proved to be one of the best finishers for the Moose in their most recent Calder Cup playoff run. In back-to-back playoff series, both of which went seven games, Shirokov led the team in goals (7) and was second in points (10). He couldn’t have started the post season any better as he started off with a seven-game point scoring streak.
“In the playoffs he was phenomenal and arguably our best player,” adds Henning. “His conditioning is much, much better. Who knows, we might see him down the road in a game or two.”
Shirokov knows he will have to continue to put in the time and energy as one of the “Black Aces” if he wants a shot at seeing anytime in a Canucks jersey the next month.
“Like the other guys called up, I want to work hard here,” adds Shirokov. “I’ll see what happens. Who knows if the coach calls me. I want to be ready to help the team.”