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'94 Canucks see similarities in '11 version

by Dhiren Mahiban /
VANCOUVER -- If you take a quick scan of highlights from the Vancouver Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994, you'll notice three familiar faces -- defenseman Dave Babych, assistant coach Stan Smyl and equipment manager Pat O'Neil.

The three are the only remaining members of that '94 team still directly involved with the organization 17 years later. Babych is now with the development team as a defense consultant; Smyl is a senior advisor to GM Mike Gillis, while O'Neil maintains his spot on the Canucks bench as the team's equipment manager.

"It has been a while," admitted Babych, who went on to play with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings before calling it quits. "When things aren't happening or the team hasn't gotten to that point, it seems to have dragged out, but now that they're so close to the Stanley Cup again all those memories come back."

According to Babych, the biggest difference between this year's team, and the one he was a part of, is that the 1994 edition of the Canucks weren't picked by many experts to win it all.

"I think the expectations in '94 were a lot less than they are now," he said. "These guys were the No. 1 team in the League pretty much the whole season. We had a terrific team; you don't get there by just being lucky.

"We kind of underachieved that year, in our minds, we knew what kind of team we had because we had some great seasons before where we were 100-point teams."

Smyl, who captained the 1982 edition of the Canucks -- the first to make it all the way to the Finals -- sees many similarities in regards to how the playoff run has gone thus far.

In 1994, the Canucks also made a trade deadline deal acquiring depth for their run. After the St. Louis Blues signed disgruntled Canucks free-agent Petr Nedved, Craig Janney was sent to Vancouver as compensation. The Canucks then retuned Janney to St. Louis for defensemen Jeff Brown, Brett Hedican and forward Nathan LaFayette.

"That's a great example of guys coming in and contributing in a big way for us at that time," Smyl said. "It kind of gives you that little push over the hill for us."

At this year's deadline, GM Mike Gillis went out and acquired Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre to add depth to his forward core.

Smyl pointed to similarities in the first round of these playoffs as well with both going to Game 7 overtime and having their respective goaltenders make series-saving stops.

"I still see it there, coming back from the intermission. (Chicago) had fresh ice, they had the power play out there," said Smyl of Roberto Luongo's save off of Patrick Sharp early in the first overtime of Game 7. "It's amazing how you can remember all those little things, and it all pops back in your mind.

"Kirk McLean, when he made that stand-up, post-to-post save sliding save was similar -- and you need those things to win and we are getting those sorts of things."

Both first-round, clinching goals were identical as well, according to Smyl.

"Pavel Bure on the breakaway, and then with Alexandre Burrows … it's a very similar type of thing," he said. "It's two different players, but players that scored big goals for our franchise to move on."

The '94 edition of the Canucks disposed of the Dallas Stars in five games of the second round and earned themselves a berth in the Western Conference Final against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was Game 5, in double-overtime, when Greg Adams put the puck past Felix Potvin to punch the Canucks' ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. Babych was a big part of that goal.

"It was one of those things where, in overtime, if you ever get an opportunity you got to get it at the net – just look at (Kevin) Bieksa, you just don't know what could happen," said Babych. "I can't remember if it was a slap shot or a wrist shot, but I know I tried to get it away as quick as possible. I think it might've surprised Potvin because he was probably thinking that I was going back down the boards.

"When it got through and it hit him, it seemed that he couldn't corral that rebound properly and Greg Adams was right there and pounced on it."

Added Smyl: "Just the times were different. That's the only thing that was different. It's different, but it's kind of eerie to think of all that and have those similarities."

O'Neil, who has been the Canucks' equipment manager since 1988, says the mood inside the room is different than that of 1994.

"These guys are business everyday. They're quietly confident and it's like a business-like approach," he said. "Not that it wasn't in '94, but it was a different feeling. These guys, it's like going to work and it's about doing the best you can.

"I'm quite confident, myself, in these guys."

Babych, who spent seven seasons with the Canucks as a player, summed up the feeling of all three individuals when it comes to the 2011 edition of the club.

"It's certainly familiar, but I think the only difference is going to be these guys are going to finish the job," Babych said. "We certainly tried to, and I really truly believe these guys are going to finish it and win."
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