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THE MOJ: Canucks looking forward to the test of a lengthy road trip

Seven games, many of them in tough rinks, should be a good measuring stick
“We are playing a lot of good teams on this road trip – a lot of teams that have been in the playoffs – so I think it’s going to show a lot about our team and how hard we worked in these practices (after Christmas) to prepare for this road trip,” Brock Boeser on the Canucks upcoming seven-game road trip. Vancouver Canucks photo

There are some people that believe that life on the road is taxing and not something to look forward to.

The Vancouver Canucks don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory.

Yes, I know.

Life on the road as a professional athlete is kind of sweet. You fly on a chartered aircraft that’s pimped up with all the bells and whistles. You have a bus waiting for you on the tarmac when you land that takes you to your 5-star hotel where the team’s travelling secretary hands you your room key and per diem. Your bags and equipment? Taken care of.

It’s tough to complain about travel when you are in the NHL.

But there are other reasons why some of the Canucks we talked to were actually looking forward to their longest road trip of the season which begins Thursday in St. Louis.

It’s a seven-game junket that starts with the game against the Blues and then has subsequent stops in New York, where the team will play the Devils on Saturday, the Rangers on Monday and then the Islanders on Tuesday. Then it’s off to Pittsburgh for a game against the Penguins on Thursday, Jan. 11. From there, it’s a Saturday game in Buffalo on Jan. 13 with the trip concluding in Columbus on Monday, Jan. 15.

“We are playing a lot of good teams on this road trip – a lot of teams that have been in the playoffs – so I think it’s going to show a lot about our team and how hard we worked in these practices (after Christmas) to prepare for this road trip,” said forward Brock Boeser.

The Rangers will probably provide the stiffest test. If the Oct. 28 game in Vancouver is an indicator, fans should be in for a treat. That was the game in which the Rangers won 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Arena in what was arguably the most entertaining game of the season from a Vancouver standpoint.

All the games will have compelling narratives.

Whether it’s the Hughes brothers going at it at the Prudential Center, the Canucks facing their former captain in Bo Horvat at UBS Arena or Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet visiting his old haunt in Pittsburgh and renewing acquaintances with Sidney Crosby and the Pens, it will make for an interesting trip.

Even the game against lowly Columbus will provide intrigue seeing how the Canucks have lost their last three games there.

“We are playing good teams in tough barns, so it’s going to be a challenge. It’s a lot of games in a short window but it’s always nice to go on a trip like this with a lot of games in a short window after one game in six days. We should have a lot of energy, especially early on in this road trip. Fatigue should not be an issue at all. It’s going to be a good challenge and it’s exciting to me to see how we step up to that challenge,” defenceman Ian Cole noted.

I’m actually curious to see how the Canucks perform on this trip.

There are going to be some tough nights and the hockey club’s mettle will be tested.

Do they stick to the ‘staples’ that Tocchet and his coaching staff emphasize or do they begin to freelance in an effort to ‘make things happen’ in a game?

“You’re going to go into some tough buildings and we have to have the resolve to play Canuck hockey – smart hockey but also play fast. It’s going to be a seven-game grind but a lot of teams got to go through it and we have to be excited about it and meet that challenge,” said Tocchet, who also added getting enough rest and minimal practice time as obvious issues.

One player who is excited about the trip is forward J.T. Miller.

“I think once you get older and get used to it, you kind of love these trips. I know I love it. You embrace the hardness, the camaraderie on the road and spending a lot of time with the guys. We’ve had a ton of time at home here the last two or three weeks to have our family time. Guys are ready to get back on the road and we’re looking forward to it. This is a really big part of our season and we know that,” said Miller.

When asked what he liked about his team heading into this Eastern swing, Tocchet didn’t need any time to think about his answer.

“The resiliency of the team. I think they’ve done a nice job of bouncing back after stuff. Obviously putting some wins together in the last month is good but what I do like is that they know we have to improve in some areas. If the other team puts pressure on us, we have to be able to handle the pressure and that means sticking with certain things. That’s what it really comes down to,” he explained.


* With the injury to forward Phil Di Giuseppe, the Canucks have recalled forward Linus Karlsson from their farm team in Abbotsford. The 6’ 1”, 178-pound Karlsson has scored six goals and added 17 assists for 23 points with 10 penalty minutes in 25 AHL games. He has also appeared in three games for the Canucks this season without recording a point.

* With the Ottawa Senators rolling through town earlier this week, there’s been plenty of speculation on who their head coach might be next season. D.J. Smith was fired on Dec. 18 with Jacques Martin returning behind the bench as an interim coach. Martin guided the Sens from 1995 to 2004 but the 71-year-old is clearly a stop gap measure.

* Senators’ legend Daniel Alfredsson moved from a developmental role within the organization to an assistant coaching position after Smith was let go. There is speculation that he is being groomed for the job but it’s also up to Alfredsson to determine whether or not coaching is something he wants to do on a full-time basis.

* With Steve Staois taking over as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager of the Senators, the decision-making process has been streamlined within the organization as the hockey club determines which players display the character that Staois and company feel comfortable moving forward with.

* Former TSN analyst Dave Poulin was also in Vancouver, having been hired by the Sens this past Sunday as Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations. A veteran of 13 NHL seasons with Philadelphia, Boston and Washington from 1982 to 1995, Poulin was Tocchet’s roommate on the road for six years during their time with the Flyers.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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