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New Canucks on the block

by Jen Rollins / Vancouver Canucks
It's hard to draw comparisons between rookie General Manager Mike Gillis and boy band creator, Maurice Starr.

Starr, best known for his role in producing the New Kids on the Block, has zero years of professional experience in the NHL.

Gillis brings to the Vancouver Canucks 273 games of NHL experience as a player and over 17 years as a player agent. While Gillis' hockey prowess is head and shoulders above that of Starr's, the two do share an aptitude for stringing together sure hit makers.

As the reunion of Starr's creation in NKOTB lands in Vancouver, comparisons between the hit-making quintet and five of Vancouver's newest Canucks come fast and furious.

Canucks centre man, Ryan Johnson, like NKOTB's Danny Wood, might be the oldest in this young group but he's no slouch.

Boasting a resume as the League's leading shot-blocking forward in 2007-08, Johnson has picked up right where he left off.

The 6'1" Thunder Bay native leads all NHL forwards this season with 32 blocked shots to date. His shot-blocking and defensive abilities have also led to increased time on the penalty kill.

Only three forwards in the League have logged more time on the PK. For Johnson, his game is all about delivering as advertised.

"I know why [the Canucks] brought me here," said Johnson. "A lot of times with free agency you sign somewhere and you're not sure of the expectations...but through conversations with Mike [Gillis] and Alain [Vigneault] it was kind of clear they just wanted me to come here and continue to do what I've done over my career and play that game, not trying to do too much or too little."

The same can be said for most of the new Canucks. When Gillis signed winger Darcy Hordichuk, he immediately upped team toughness. Finishing top 25 in major penalties for the 2007-08 season, Hordichuk brings an added grit to the line-up game in and game out.

"I'm just letting the fights come to me and trying to make sure that all the guys on the ice are protected and if anybody takes any liberties I'm kind of there for that," said Hordichuk.

The fights have been coming but with a lower frequency than Hordichuk would probably like. A lot of that has to do with Hordichuk's reputation.

After spending time training with UFC Champion, Chuck Liddell, squaring off with Hordichuk is about as appealing as meeting NKOTB/actor Donnie Wahlberg in the Saw series.

"It's been a little tougher to get some fights lately because some of the guys on the other team don't want to fight," Hordichuk said.

Hordichuk's teammate and Canucks D-man Shane O'Brien has had his own opportunities to tango this season. He leads the team in PIM, including three majors from timely bouts. The tough D-man admits his game is about more than playing enforcer though.

"I'd say my role on the team is just to play solid every night—make good passes, don't get scored on, play physical and if someone takes some liberties on my teammates, get in there and stick up for them," said O'Brien.

Canucks fans have had a chance to see much of the poised and hard-hitting bruiser.

Like his NKOTB counterpart Jordan Knight, O'Brien helps gel a tight-knit unit. His play on and off the puck has helped tie together a Canucks back end that has at times been affected by injury and illness.

Those few incidents of injury and illness haven't been all bad news for the Canucks this year thanks in large part to the play of 7th D-man, Rob Davison.

Similar to NKOTB counterpart, Jonathan Knight, he might not be at the forefront but Davison's role is no less critical to the success of the group.

"I know what my role is on this team. Basically it's just staying ready and waiting for an opportunity to play and when I have it just go out there and play hard," said Davison.

The 6'3" blueliner has more than delivered when the bell rings. Through his three fights in five NHL contests, he's shown he won't back down.

The group wouldn't be complete without a solidified hit-maker. For the NKOTB, Joey McIntyre arguably wears the crown.

For the Canucks, winger Steve Bernier has more than earned the title as the team's hit-maker—literally. Bernier's 41 hits through 20 games has him atop the Canucks leader board. For the burly forward it's all about making a hit for a purpose.

"My main goal is to score goals, I know that if I create space for my teammates, I create space for myself at the same time. With the really good players we have on this team, it's easy to receive the puck and have good scoring chances," Bernier said.

So far, that philosophy has translated into five goals for the young forward. If this group has any say in the matter, the goals and hits will keep coming.

Ryan Johnson's Media Blitz
King of the Rink - Darcy Hordichuk
King of the Rink - Shane O'Brien 
Offside with Rob Davison 
Offside with Steve Bernier

One on one with Johnson
O'Brien finding a fit
One on one with Hordichuk
One on one with Davison
Bernier in Vancouver

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