Canucks on pivotal eastern road trip while still struggling with consistency
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“What I try to do is imagine in my mind that Rogers Arena is sold out, full capacity, the crowd is loud and cheering like crazy, and that helps me.”– Al Murdoch, PA announcer
In the 1990 movie, Godfather III, Al Pacino utters the famous line, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” And that is what it feels like watching the Vancouver Canucks. When you think they are out, they somehow pull you back in by showing some heart and perseverance—giving you hope instead of heartache.
The first week of March saw the Canucks sweep a two-game series against the first place Toronto Maple Leafs (winning by scores of 3 to 1 and 4 to 2). With how inconsistent the Canucks had been playing prior, many fans would not have predicted the Canucks to sweep a series against the Leafs—and especially doing so without star forward, Elias Pettersson, who is out with an upper body injury. But give the Canucks credit for showing some backbone. They could have easily quit, gone through the motions, and played out the rest of the season with indifference and apathy. The Canucks have shown they can be competitive when they play a full 60-minute game, but the only problem is that we have not seen that enough.
Canucks coach, Travis Green, was pleased with his team’s effort after beating the Leafs for the second straight game. “I think it’ll give us confidence,” Green said during his Zoom post-game press conference with reporters. “I do think our team has been feeling good about their game. They haven’t been getting the results and that’s been probably a mental fight with themselves. Even when you know you’re playing well and you haven’t won, it does get a little bit draining on you mentally. So, this should help, hopefully. But I think our group also believes that they’re a good team and they can play with anyone.”
In the Scotia NHL North Division, which comprises all seven Canadian NHL teams, the top four teams will advance to the playoffs. The Canucks were in fifth place and five points out of a playoff spot (when this article was submitted). So far, the month of March has seen the Canucks play much better. Their record in March is four wins and two losses. In the last 10 games, they are 4-5-1. Their home record is a fair 8-7-2, in contrast to their road record, which is 4-9-0. On March 8, the Canucks were impressive in a come-from-behind 2 to 1 shootout victory over the Montreal Canadiens. With the Canucks down by a score of 1 to 0 late in the third period, Adam Gaudette tied the game with 40.5 seconds left on a booming slapshot that clanked off the post and into the net. The sound of the puck hitting the post was loud enough to give the Nine O’Clock Gun at Stanley Park some competition.
And speaking of loud and booming, Canuck PA announcer Al Murdoch returned to his usual perch high above Rogers Arena in January. He is glad and thrilled to be back. “I am very grateful to be back behind the PA mic, I missed it a ton,” Murdoch said in an email interview with the Other Press. “To crack open the mic for that first home game back in January after being away for so long was exciting and I have carried that through to now.”
With no fans inside Rogers Arena, Murdoch admits it has posed some challenges. “We miss the fans more than words can say, they are the reason we do what we do. Without fan interaction and instant feedback, we had to adjust how we do things, but our game presentation team and the NHL has created some great elements for everyone watching from home and for the players too.” However, the absence of fans does not change his preparation before each game. “What I try to do is imagine in my mind that Rogers Arena is sold out, full capacity, the crowd is loud and cheering like crazy, and that helps me. I can’t wait for that to become a reality.”
Murdoch believes the Canucks are playing better in spite of the challenges the revised NHL schedule has had on the team. “The Canucks had an extremely tough schedule to start this season, so many games right off the hop, and with little to no practice time, no preseason, it was a challenge.” He highlights their stick-together attitude and that they “are showing the kind of hockey they can play when they can practice more often and get some momentum. String some wins together, confidence builds, and they can beat any team in this league.”
In addition, Murdoch was joined in the PA booth by Sportsnet 650’s Caroline Frolic who shared PA duties with Murdoch for International Women’s Day on March 8. “It was great having Caroline join me to share the PA duties and yes she did an amazing job,” Murdoch said. “She told me it was a dream come true, which I can relate to. I’m glad the Vancouver Canucks provided an opportunity for her to experience what very few get to do, and it was great meeting her, she’s a real talent!”
Unfortunately, the Canucks were unable to build on their momentum in their second game against the Habs on March 10—losing by a score of 5 to 1. The Canucks are on the road this week, playing double headers against the Ottawa Senators—and a rematch double header against the Montreal Canadiens. These games are important if the Canucks want to remain in the playoff race as Travis Green said in his media briefing after the Canucks’ morning skate on March 10: “We’re going into these games knowing / feeling like it’s a big game. We’re into the second half now. We didn’t get as many wins as we wanted in the first half, so every game is important.” That could not be anymore understated.
Other NHL news
Washington Capitals tough guy, Tom Wilson, was suspended for seven games for a hit to the head of Boston Bruins defenceman, Brandon Carlo during a game on March 5. Also, Chicago Blackhawks star, Patrick Kane, played in his 1,000th career game on March 9. And lastly, Walter Gretzky (father of Wayne) was laid to rest in Brantford, Ontario, on March 6. He passed away March 4 at age 82 as a result of Parkinson’s Disease, and other health issues. Wayne paid tribute to his father, delivering a heartfelt eulogy that was transcribed by CTVNews.ca: “He was a remarkable man who loved life, loved family. We’d be a way better world if there [were] so many more people like my dad. Very special. We’re all hurting, this is a tough time. I’m so proud of the fact that so many people have reached out and given him such great tributes because he deserves it. He has a heart of gold and just wonderful. Thank you.”