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Discussion Starter #1

By Jeff Vinnick
January 12, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day one:

Early morning at YVR. Feels like acrtic tundra out here. The wind off the ocean is making my blood all slushy.

Yes, I know, you always hear athletes moaning about their travel schedule and think, ‘I’d sell a kidney for a job where I get paid to fly around North America sleeping in swanky hotels,’ but there’s definitely an ugly underbelly to it. Not saying the travel can’t be great, but less than 12 hours after stepping off the ice at GM Place, we’re trudging across a wind-whipped tarmac to board charter for the next five hours.

The four members of Air Canada crew are tremendous. Treat us like kings. I can’t say enough about how good these people are at their jobs.

When we booked this trip I never would have thought it would be a relief to escape the West Coast weather, but it’s +6 in Toronto and there’s more snow in downtown Vancouver than all of southern Ontario. I’m not peeling off the layers just yet, but it’s almost warm stepping off the plane – comparatively speaking. This is January after all.

Guys pile out of the plane and into the hotel. Quick turnaround for a quiet dinner and an early night. Pretty much everyone’s hitting their rooms early – they all want to be rested for the Hockey Day In Canada scrimmage against the dreaded Leafs.

 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)

By Jeff Vinnick
January 13, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Two:

Well, I've officially entered the Hockey Zoo; the air tastes funny, colours are wierd, and apparently the grip of insanity is much tighter.

The crazies are everywhere. Leaf hockey freaks are wiggling up out of the cracks in the sidewalk. It's game day in Toronto and these people relish showing off their colours. It even snows blue and white in this place.

There was this lanky guy in Marlies jersey sitting next to me at breakfast. I'm pretty sure he was saying 'Norris' buzz is building for Kaberle. It's sad when you really think about it.

Admittedly I indulged in a few refreshments with friends Friday evening after a long day of travel, and I managed to get some well needed sleep in a fabulous room at the swanky Westin. I followed the team to the Air Canada Centre today - they’re running through morning skate. Everyone’s in great spirits and the jokes and jabs are flying through the dressing room.

Winning seven of the eight and climbing all the way to the top off the Northwest pile will do that – though nobody's taking tonight's game lightly. Coach Vigneault has shed his jovial veneer and adopted a more serious post-practice tone.

We're in the Leafdome and a win against this team is mandatory. Bragging rights are necessary when you're spoon-fed Leaf propanganda every Saturday of hockey season. Dishing a little come-uppance is like an invisible blanket that keeps you warm through the cold months.

As with all game days, the routine is relatively quiet and the players keep to themselves... though the infamous Cabbie drops by the room for a chat with Nazzy. Didn’t hear the interview, though I did get a chance to catch the captain talking to a friend outside the room.

Please, a win boys - for everyone back home.

 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)

By Jeff Vinnick
January 15, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Three:

Fast forward to post game in the Canuck dressing room at the Air Canada Centre.

One can't help but notice the feeling of contentment that lingers in the air and the sense of satisfaction that a 6-1 victory brings. But you can't but realize that the celebration from this victory will be short lived as it's just a small war that's been won and it's only the 'big' victory that really matters. The players quickly undress and enjoy their hard fought victory as they chat about moments from the game.

Those who played exceptionally well are surrounded by the media throngs and from this game it's mostly Markus and Roberto. Many of the players have quick chats with family and friends outside the dressing room but conversations are short and hugs are a plenty as there is a 10:10 bus to the airport.

Montreal is on the horizon and the second of four games is what many are thinking about already as the plane lands on the tarmac.

Jan and Alain return to Montreal and reminisces about the days of poutine and the city of hockey, as they like to claim. Even before arriving in Montreal, French is being spoken all around me by Alex, Roberto, Dany, and Marc, who all return to their home province.

There's not a lot of down time but they'll definitely be the tour guides here, even most of the guys have probably visited quite a few times and don't really need one. There's nothing like going around the city with some hometown boys.

 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)

By Jeff Vinnick
January 16, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Four:

Well it seems that the ‘Winter Wonderland’ we’ve been enjoying in BC followed us east. We just missed the skies unloading on Toronto, but it caught up to us here in Montreal.

I’m staying literally two blocks from the Bell Centre, so it’s difficult to complain, but I’ll do it anyway. Walking to the rink reminds me of the stories my grandfather used to tell about trudging 20 miles to school through 10 foot snowbanks in rural Saskatchewan. The man burrowed most of the way there, warmed himself for a few hours, and by the time he was ready to head home the tunnels had collapsed and he did it all over again.

Haven’t dug any tunnels yet, but it’s plenty cold enough for me.

It was Vigneult's first day back in his old haunt. He took a few moments to himself and ventured out from the dressing room to walk the halls. I'm no Kreskin, but I’m sure he wants nothing more than to duplicate Saturday’s win in Toronto.

Coach ‘V’ skated the guys pretty hard this morning. Every now and again I’d catch a player leaning back on the dasher between rushes looking up into the rafters where Stanley Cup banners hang aplenty. You would think they were giving them away with every purchase of a foot-long and large fountain drink at the theatre across the street.

Finished yesterday’s practice with a good shot of adrenalin. Roberto Luongo took a shot to the head and collapsed immediately. The trainers rushed out and helped him to his knees. Got a puck in the throat. The media buzzed about that till TC Carling opened the dressing room doors after practice. Turns out he’s fine. Just a scare.

Finished up the day watching the Red Wings down the Habs 2-0 on TSN. Hope they wore ‘em out

 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)

By Jeff Vinnick
January 17, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Five:

Aaahhh…it’s like a barcalounger, warm grilled cheese, and bowl of tomato soup - the satisfaction of a 4-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens just warms the soul. Yes, it feels that good. Old Man Winter could galcierize Greater Vancouver till March and I’d still be grining in my ice-induced coma.

The Nucks have just handily defeated the two most disliked teams in Canada – outscoring them by a combined 10-1 - and I can't help but bask in the glow of victory that’s hanging around the team right now.

I’d have rather pierced by own ear with a knitting needle than watch the Canucks start 0-2 on this road trip. I think the only one’s out there who wanted those four points more than I did were the players themselves. They desperately wanted last night’s game for Vigneault and they came through like the Pats in the playoffs.

Guy Carbonneau had his team whipped into a vinegary lather before the puck drop and it took the Canucks less than five minutes to grind that resolve right back out of ‘em. Think that was their most complete game of the season.

Sure, they’re all professionals and it shouldn’t really matter, but it does. They wanted it for coach ‘V’, for Roberto, Burrows, Chouinard, and Bulis… did I leave anyone out? And Vigneault’s post game grin spoke volumes. The guy was outright beaming after a sound drubbing of the team that gave him his first NHL coaching gig.

Chemistry’s a funny thing. It’s kind of like style – it’s hard to put a finger on it, but you know it when you see it. I’m no expert, but hanging around these guys the past few days, I’d say they’ve got it.

One of the first things you notice while watching a game in the 'new and improved' Forum is how incredibly big that thing is. I think it holds over 20,000 people and there’s plenty of red and white in those seats. You have to be brave to wear a visitor’s jersey. I saw a few hundred fans in Canucks colours scattered throughout the building last night. I kind of wonder how loud it gets in there when the Canadiens score - but then I missed out on that. Maybe next year….maybe.

It's a two hour bus ride to Gatineau where the guys practiced this morning. Vigneault played in the Robert-Guertin Centre back in his junior days. It’s been a bit of a coming-home tour for coach ‘V’. Just hope those warm Velveeta feelings continue tomorrow in Ottawa.

 

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Discussion Starter #6

By Jeff Vinnick
January 17, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Six:

Gatinueau’s not Montreal. And it’s certainly not Mexico either. Kind of reminds me of the prairies actually.

We bussed here immediately following the win over the Habitants. It’s right across the Ottawa River from the nation’s capital. I think the population’s maybe 200,000. Kind of feels smaller.

It’s got the big blue skies you miss in Vancouver because of the mountains, and the air is cold and crisp just like a sunny winter day on the prairies I remember growing up.

Guys practiced in Gatineua yesterday. Great old rink. Lots of wood and that small-town arena feel. The kind of place where renovations consist of a few new sheets of plywood and a seventh coat of high gloss paint. Guys love it.

Hotel’s a different story. Not exactly the Westin Grand, but you can’t pick and choose when you’re doing the whole rustic thing. Still, it’s nice and the people are as warm and accommodating as anywhere.

Think I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that Vigneault played his junior hockey here. Lots of old friends. It’s a real reunion tour for coach.

Only a handful of players are out for the game-day skate. Mostly stretching and some light rushing drills. The guys are resting up for the big showdown against the Sens tonight. Both clubs are streaking right now so the game holds more promises Toronto and Montreal had to offer – which wasn’t much.

Do not quote me on this, but the guys back home asked me for some insider info: think Willie’s likely still out with a groin injury, Luongo’s fine, and Pyatt’s most likely playing with a splint tonight.

 

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Discussion Starter #7

By Jeff Vinnick
January 17, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Seven:

Well, tonight I have to say I'm totally jacked!!! We’re 3-0 on the road and I'm having a ball.

The pix are great and smiles are abundant - just what the doctor ordered. I'm sure the team would’ve been thrilled with a .500 record on this trip, and now they are looking at a sweep. Who woulda thought? Especially back in December when the media was forming a hanging posse. Is someone back there mapping out ‘the route’ yet?

The game in Ottawa was fantastic. Hate to say this for fear of drawing Vancouverites’ ire, but the Canucks fan pics were better in Ottawa than they've ever been in Vancouver. I think it’s the starving dog syndrome. Ever seen a mutt attack his bowl after it’s been empty for a day? Think the same principles apply. The pro-Canuck signs were popping up all over the bowl, and the 'bend it like bieksa' plackard was a gem. I’m still grinning about that one.

But the best 30 seconds of this trip came 13:00 minutes into the second perios when Mr. All-Star himself, Rory Fitzpatrick, fluttered the game winning goal 60 feet through Emery’s glove.

My two boys go to school with his kids Hanna and Brady, so he's a personal favorite. And that shot’s one of my best of the trip. Rory's looks like a six-year-old eating ice cream on a roller coaster.

Coach ‘V’ is giving the guys the day off tomorrow - a well deserved reward for tonight’s effort. The plane ride to buffalo is short. Seemed like we spent half it climbing, then the rest descending. Might’ve cabbed it quicker.

Some of the guys settle into their seats and just kick back, though almost everyone takes a turn riding Rory. Calling him top shelf. You have to love that.

Guys probably won’t get to bed till 2:30 am, so everybody’s winding down. Kess is playing chess on his MacBook (white one). Nazzy and Trev have their heads buried into books. Trev is reading Flags Of Our Fathers, and I don't know Swedish so I have no clue what Nazzy’s reading about. Game hero Rory Fitz and his Buffalo bud Taylor Pyatt are stuffed in the back laughing themselves blue over Seinfeld reruns. The usual suspects are fighting it out over the card table, but for the most part it's relatively quiet.

Land in Buffalo at 2 am, and take a short bus ride to the hotel. One more game. I know the guys are excited. It’s been a great trip for them, and one more win would be the icing on the cake.

 

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Discussion Starter #8

By Jeff Vinnick
January 20, 2007

Canucks photographer Jeff Vinnick joined the team for their four-game eastern road swing through Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Buffalo. He’s kindly agreed to share a few thoughts, and hopefully and slew of pictures over the next eight days as he captures action behind the scenes.

Day Eight:

It's wheels down and we're finally home. It’s been a fantastic road trip and last night's game in Buffalo was an old-school barnburner. Too bad we didn't come out on top as Danny played a magical game in the crease proving to everyone he truly deserves his spot in the NHL.

In knew had had some good shots of Drury’s last second goal, but when I dumped it all on my laptop I found a few gems. You can just how close Sabourin was to getting the win in regulation.

It’s bizarre just how close this game can be. I mean that puck deflected three times through a wall of legs and sticks before just fluttering over Dany’s glove and down over the line. What are the chances?

Would have hated to be a Sabres fan with seats in section 107 last night. More than 50 riotous Canucks fans took the lower bowl over - drowned out the entire building. Almost as entertaining as the game.

Once again the cult of Kevin Bieksa gets stronger legs. At least 15 guys painted their bare chests for the game and 11 of ‘em in one row teamed up to write ‘bieksallent’. The other guys painted on the dreaded yellow ‘flying V’ jersey. Is that thing making a comeback? Kind of a cool thing when you think about it. We have one of the most recognizable hockey shirts in the sport’s history – albeit for being a yellow-orange mess.

Rory Fitzpatrick played what was likely his best game of the season in his former rink. In fact, Pyatt was a force out there too. Thanks again Darcy.

Buffalo’s a great squad and they were fired up Friday night. They got a bit lucky though, catching the Canucks in the second of back-to-back games at the end of a long road trip with a sizeable time change. Most nights the home team wins that easy. That it took a David Copperfield special in the final minute, then a shootout to solve, is a testament to this Canucks team.

Get ready for a great run to finish the season people, this is a special team.

 
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