This season, the 34 year-old native of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden – the inconspicuous town of 30,000 which has become an anomaly in its own right for the pedigree of NHL superstars it produces (Thomas Gradin, Daniel and Henrik Sedin
and Peter Forsberg to name a few) – reached his 1,000th career NHL game on January 17th.
“It’s definitely a milestone,” Naslund said while relaxing post-practice. “I didn’t envision myself playing this long when I first broke into the league. I’m proud that I’ve been able to play in this great League for that long.”
Unlike most players, whose time in the NHL often necessitates stints in numerous cities, Naslund’s skills have allowed him to play the majority of his career here in Vancouver, making the milestone even more momentous.
“Playing here for so long makes it special for sure,” the Captain affirms. “I did play in Pittsburgh for almost three years, but what I’ll remember from my career when I look back will be pretty much all from Vancouver.” A SECOND HOME
For Naslund, who was originally selected by the Penguins in the first round (16th Overall) of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, coming to Vancouver in the spring of ‘96 was a bolt from the blue.
“I had been here once before when I was with Pittsburgh,” Naslund reveals. “But it was a total shock for me when I heard I was going to Vancouver. I had heard rumours about other cities but not Vancouver.”
Over a decade later, Naslund has become a beacon of hope to a city that adores him. And for Markus and his family the feeling is wholeheartedly mutual.
“This city is our home,” a genuine Naslund imparts. “I’m always going to be Swedish, but Vancouver is definitely a big part of our lives and it always will be. Our kids were born here, and we’ve been here pretty much throughout our whole adult lives. So it’s been a wonderful place to live, and this team has been a wonderful organization to be a part of.” THE MARK OF HONOUR
Four years after arriving in Vancouver, in a press conference held at the Canucks’ training camp in Stockholm, Sweden on September 15, 2000, Naslund was appointed team Captain.
“Well, there was obviously a big void after Mess [Mark Messier] left the team, and management had talks with a lot of the players, and they said to me before training camp that the group wanted me as the Captain,” Naslund recounts. “And I think that’s a great honour when you have teammates that believe in you and see you as someone that can lead the team, and do so successfully.”
This past season, Naslund has tied fellow Canucks legend Stan Smyl for longest reign as team Captain, and for Naslund, just like all NHL leaders, the Captaincy has been something to be proud of, while concurrently a continuous source of pressure.
“Yeah, there are times when it’s been tough, but I think that’s part of what comes with wearing the ‘C.’,” the winger divulges. “It’s just such an honour and privilege to be a Captain of an NHL team, and I feel very lucky to have been a captain for so long, and with the guys I’ve played with.”
Three years after donning the “C,” Naslund took on another honour: the recipient of the 2003 Lester B. Pearson Award. Granted to the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, the award capped off a banner year for Naslund, where the sensational Swede scored 48 goals and 56 assists for a total of 104 points.
“That’s probably been the biggest honour for me throughout my career: winning something that was voted by my peers,” Naslund said of the Pearson award. “That year, I was up for both the Hart and the Pearson, and I remember being asked which one I would have wanted to win, and I said the Pearson. Because to me it means more when the players vote for it.” THE HARD TIMES
With over ten years of his life spent wearing a Canucks uniform, Naslund has traversed the ups and downs that undoubtedly occur when playing in the NHL. When asked about those very ups and downs, the Canucks’ leader lets out an introspective sigh, taking his time to answer thoughtfully.
“The lockout was difficult, definitely,” a candidly sincere Naslund responds after a long pause. “I think we all wanted to get back to playing so badly, but we just couldn’t control it. So it was a really tough time.”
“There was also a stretch when I first came here when we as a team played really poorly, and had 11,000 or 12,000 people at each game. I thought that was a difficult time to play here, because the interest in hockey was so low, and the team was struggling for a number of reasons. But it’s really turned around, and it was actually a good thing to go through, because I appreciate everything so much more now. It means so much more now when I see the team approaching 200 sell-outs in a row, or seeing the passion for the team today.” THE GOOD TIMES
While discussing his favourite moments with the team, Naslund’s demeanour continues to change from gentle contemplation to enduring optimism:
“I think there have been a lot of different moments which have meant something to me for different reasons,” Naslund recounts with a nostalgic smile. “Playing with Brendan [Morrison] and Todd [Bertuzzi] as a line was great, and any time we made a run in the playoffs was exciting.”
Throughout those highs and lows, Naslund has emerged into one of the Canucks greatest players all-time, setting franchise records in countless categories.
This season, Naslund has experienced a Renaissance of sorts; as he appears to feel comfortable with the new defensive-system Coach Vigneault champions, while simultaneously igniting his scoring touch. Such a resurgence, as well as his perennial fan-favourite appeal, has left the Canucks faithful chomping at the bit to learn of the Captain’s plans for the future.
We still wait for the much anticipated decision, which won’t likely come until at least July 1st but until then, we can all enjoy a little retrospective on a player who will always be a Canuck at heart – no matter what.