“How was your summer? What’d you do?”
No one was asking new head coach Willie Desjardins what he did all summer, the players all knew first hand.
As if auditioning for The Amazing Race, Desjardins flew around the world visiting various Vancouver Canucks; the goal was to get to know a veteran core that includes Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis.
Desjardins traveled to Sweden, Montreal, Que., Grimsby, Ont. and Smithers, BC., and reached out to nearly every Canucks player over the phone.
Apparently the 'nice-guy' rap Desjardins has is spot on.
“It’s important to me because the players are such a main part of what’s going to happen and you have to find out where they’re at and where they’re coming from,” said Desjardins. “So I really wanted their feedback on where they saw the team and what they believe can happen.”
Desjardins said getting to see the players in a personal setting was nice and that the thing he enjoyed most from the meetings was seeing how passionate the players are.
At the Hamhuis household in Smithers, BC, the entire family shares that passion.
“It was a bit chaotic,” laughed Hamhuis, about coach’s visit. “The girls were touring him around the house, showing him their bedroom, the whole thing, it was a good visit.”
“They were so funny,” added Desjardins, “they had an ice rink and they have a paved way for me to walk up to the rink, I think it was in red. It was pretty amazing; they’re a real great family.”
Fun and games aside, the players got as much out of these visits as Dejardins did.
“We had a chance to sit down and go over his philosophy as a coach and what he believes and what he sees for our team this year and that’s a great way to start,” said Hamhuis, adding that the visits were a real classy move.
“He wants to win, he’s one of us.”
The only downside to Desjardins’ visits and phone calls, according to Chris Higgins, was that they occurred in the summer. No one counted down the days to September and the start of this season like the new Canucks bench boss.
Those who have played under Desjardins, like newcomers Derek Dorsett and Linden Vey, (who were coached by Willie as members of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers) understand his relentless drive and personal approach.
“Willie’s a guy that understands each individual and he respects every guy, it doesn’t matter if you’re the top guy or where you stand,” said Dorsett, who comes to Vancouver after spending two years with the Rangers in New York. “If things aren’t going well he’ll talk to you in a good manner, I think guys play really hard for him because of that respect he has.
"Coming to a new team and to be familiar with the coach is obviously a good thing. Me and Willie did some good things in Medicine Hat and hopefully we can here.”
If Desjardins’ off-season efforts are any indication of how the team will perform this season, get ready for Canucks hockey as you’ve never seen it.