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Coach stays behind as Canucks open camp

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- For the newest members of the Vancouver Canucks, the first days of training camp should be their first chance to make a strong first impression on their new coach. The problem is that coach Willie Desjardins won't actually be at camp.

While the rest of the team packed for the 75-minute flight north to Prince George, British Columbia, after physical testing and meeting the media Thursday, the second-year coach was forced to stay behind in Vancouver after having hip replacement surgery on Sept. 8.

Desjardins felt good enough to talk to the media, using a cane with an arm support for his right side to make his way in and out of a makeshift media room at Rogers Arena. However, he wasn't able to convince the medical staff he was ready to fly to the three-day training camp.

"I wanted to go," the 58-year-old said. "The doctors wouldn't let me go."

Desjardins, who needed the surgery sooner than initially expected after his hip became extremely painful in a short period this summer, won't be behind the bench for the Canucks' first preseason game against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. But he sounded optimistic he would be back well before his second season in Vancouver starts for real against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 7.

"If it keeps progressing I would expect it would be for sure in the middle of the preseason, but we'll see," said Desjardins, who has had replacement surgery on his other hip previously. "It's only been eight days [since the surgery], but it's coming along good. I always want it quicker than it is going to be, but everything is on time and probably I am ahead of where they thought I would be at this time."

Players, coaches and management downplayed the absence of Desjardins this weekend, even though the live streaming technology that allowed him to follow the progress of Vancouver's prospects at the recent Young Stars Classic won't be available at training camp. Instead, Desjardins will rely on feedback from management, scouts and a coaching staff that already had an extra body compared to many other teams.

Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan, who coached of the Dallas Stars when Desjardins was an assistant, is expected to run the team. Perry Pearn and Doug Lidster will remain in their assistant roles behind the bench.

"It might be a little different," second-year center Bo Horvat said of not having Desjardins on hand at camp. "Obviously last year I had him watching me every step, and him not being there, I am sure he is going to get the inside scoop from everyone that is there so I think they've got to impress all the other guys that are going to be there anyway. It can't hinder their play too much; they still have to come to play."

Desjardins expects to be back behind the bench before the end of the month, but the timeline for his return to the ice for practice remains less certain. And even if he doesn't miss a beat evaluating new players, there is the risk of missing teaching moments with young players in practice.

"He pulled me in a couple times, told me what I had to keep working on, told me one time I had to jump on pucks a little quicker, get on guys in the defensive end a little quicker, stuff like that just really helped me out," Horvat said when asked about last year's training camp. "I went over video with [Gulutzan] a lot helping me in defensive zone. They really helped me out last year."

Desjardins trusts his coaches to handle those moments without him.

"It's not about one guy," Desjardins said. "You don't win with one player, you don't win with one coach. That's why we are a team. I've got a great staff and everything will go great."

At least Desjardins shouldn't have to worry about any substitute teacher effect; not with a veteran team that seems to know better than to slack off because the boss is away.

"Obviously it will be different but I don't think it can change the way we prepare for the season," said forward Derek Dorsett, who also played for Desjardins in junior hockey. "He likes high-tempo practices and likes pace, especially early on, and I think as older guys and veteran players, we have to make sure we push that. It will be different but we'll get through it."

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