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Making It Big

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
When the Canucks signed Brad Isbister in the off-season, the move was seen as nothing more than a low-cost, low-risk gamble on a big body that’d bounced around the National Hockey League. If all went well at training camp, Isbister was expected to fill a fourth line role with the hockey club. And if he didn’t pan out, well, he’d be veteran depth down on the farm.

But just past the quarter-pole of the 2007-08 season, the Canucks are getting a decent return on their one-year investment. Like the team itself, the 30-year-old Edmonton native took a few weeks to find his way. But since being placed on right wing on a line with Ryan Kesler and Taylor Pyatt, Isbister has become far more than a spare part. He’s settling in on one of the most effective lines in the league these days and that trio is one of a number of reasons why the Canucks are 8-1-2 in their last 11 games.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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“Things lately have worked out well for me personally and the team. We’re playing really well and it’s fun to come to the rink when the team’s rolling a bit,” Isbister says. “I think we’re gaining confidence (as a team and a line), so it’s exciting.”

“Ever since we put him on a line with Kesler and Pyatt, he’s played really well,” says Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault of Isbister’s season so far. “That line has played against some of the best lines in the NHL. They’re big, they’re strong on the puck and he’s played well for us and hopefully he continues to improve and makes us a better team. Obviously at the beginning, consistency was not an individual thing it was a whole team thing, but the last 10 games or so, he’s played well.”

A healthy scratch in four of the Canucks’ first eight games of the season, Isbister has suited up for the team’s past 16 games. And it’s unlikely he’ll come out of the line-up again any time soon now that the club’s shutdown line is shutting down everything in sight.

“It’s a new challenge and it’s a good challenge. It’s a big challenge, too,” says Isbister, who skates well for a big man but could still use his 6’4” 225 pound frame a little more effectively. “Most nights lately we’ve been going against the other teams’ top lines and a lot of dangerous players. And it’s an exciting challenge and one I’m glad to be a part of for sure.”

 The beauty of the Isbister-Kesler-Pyatt line is that it’s not just excelling in its own end these days. Led by Kesler, that trio is scoring goals and generating chances and proving to be difficult for other teams to handle.

“We’re three pretty big bodies and when we can get the puck down low in their end, we make it hard for the other team to take it off us,” Isbister adds. “On the cycle, we support each other and take pucks to the net and crash the net. When you get three big bodies going to the net, you’re going to create scoring chances and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Isbister has two goals and five assists on the season and is fifth on the team – and behind only Kesler among forwards -- at +5. He’s also been in a couple of scraps including one Tuesday against Anaheim’s Brian Sutherby. The former third round choice of the Winnipeg Jets a dozen years ago has been a hockey nomad making previous stops in Phoenix, New York (with both the Islanders and Rangers), Edmonton and Boston struggling to find a hockey home.

It looks, at long last, like he may have found one here.

  “The organization is first class and the guys in the dressing room are unbelievable,” Isbister says of his first few months as a Canuck which included the milestone of playing his 500th NHL game on November 16th against Minnesota. “I think we’ve been consistent with our effort and everyone’s buying into the team system and is on the same page. The majority of games we’ve been playing well. Once you get it going and rolling, confidence and everything else comes with it and it makes the game a little easier.”

Life in the National Hockey League hasn’t always been easy for Brad Isbister. But for a guy who wasn’t expected to do much more than plug some holes in the Canucks line-up this season, he has quietly gone about exceeding expectations. Prior to the season there were many who wondered how Isbister would ever get into the Canucks line-up.

Right now it’s hard to imagine them without him.
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