It is easy to dismiss training camp — the Vancouver Canucks have held nine of them in Victoria since 1974 and also been to Colwood, Duncan, Parksville, Courtenay — but don’t tell Canucks forward Brock Boeser that camps or pre-seasons don’t matter.
Without them, NHL teams would be in danger of playing “pond hockey” early in the regular season, said the veteran, following the second day of the Canucks 2023 training camp Friday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“What we learn in the preseason is huge,” said Boeser.
“We’re working hard doing a lot of systems stuff, which is needed, to make sure everyone knows what we’re doing. It’s really import. And then applying what we learn in the preseason games, otherwise you’ll just be playing pond hockey [when the regular season begins].”
This week isn’t about strolling around the Inner Harbour or whale watching. The Canucks are here for work.
“We were all definitely a little sore after yesterday [opening day of camp Thursday],” said Boeser, following the second day Friday.
“We went pretty hard yesterday. There was a sneaky bagger [bag skate] yesterday. We had a good skate today, too. It’s been good so far. We need to keep it going.”
Boeser first came to the Island as a wide-eyed rookie in 2015 in the Canucks rookie camp at Shawnigan Lake School after being selected by the club in the first round of the NHL draft that year out of the University of North Dakota. He has since emerged as a leading face of the team. The line of Boeser, J.T. Miller and Vasili Podkolzin, the latter a first-round Vancouver draft pick four years after Boeser in 2019, will be instrumental if the Canucks are to make a run at ending a three-season playoff-less drought.
“We get in on the forecheck, create turnovers and that’s how we get our chances,” said Boeser, of the line.
About the Russian Podkolzin, Boeser said: “It’s pretty impressive. His English has gotten better. He’s a guy who comes to work every day and he works hard. That shows what kind of guy he is and what kind of player he wants to be. He’s a big part of our organization and to play with him right now is great.”
Podkolzin, Boeser and Miller continue both a recent and historical Canucks tradition of building with European and American players. Many of the club’s current players, from leading lights to depth players, are Americans (Boeser, Miller, captain Quinn Hughes, goaltender Thatcher Demko and forward Conor Garland) or Europeans (Podkolzin, Elias Pettersson, Filip Hronek, Andrei Kuzmenko, Aatu Räty, Pius Suter, Nils Höglander,).
That’s not a great advertisement for the major-junior Canadian Hockey League. But when it comes to major-league club teams, their fans don’t care where the players are from, as long as they win. Sidney Crosby in red was the sworn enemy of even Pittsburgh fans in the Canada-U.S. gold-medal final of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, but was once again their beloved legend when he returned to club play with the Penguins. The Stanley Cup and Olympic gold are two different things with two separate sets of emotions. Canucks fans could care less if Boeser takes the Stanley Cup back to Minnesota, Miller to Ohio, Pettersson to Sweden or Podkolzin to Moscow. They just hope these guys can get the club back in the Cup conversation.
“[Boeser and Miller] are great linemates and great players,” said Podkolzin.
“I will try to be a great [linemate] for those two. We’re ready to go into Game No. 1.”
Podkolzin split last season between the Canucks and AHL Abbotsford Canucks but his upside is considered intriguing and potentially huge. Asked what he learned from last season, he said: “Be confident in myself and easier on myself. Play the hockey and smile every day. Just play hockey and have fun.”
Similar words were also echoed to him by 30-year-old linemate Miller, who has been through plenty of career ups and downs: “He told me to be confident, keep working and keep smiling.”
All that stuff comes into perspective when you become a father, which Podkolzin became over the summer at age 22.
“It’s a little different. But it’s the greatest feeling I’ve felt and the best thing ever,” he said.
The Canucks training camp at the Memorial Centre continues today with the scrimmage game at 10:30 a.m. It concludes Sunday with practice sessions at 10 a.m. and noon. The entrance fee is $5 for each day with all proceeds going to the Moose Hide Campaign, a B.C.-founded and Indigenous-led movement with the goal of ending violence against women and children. Tickets are available at the door or through Select Your Tickets.
ICE CHIPS: A select number of players won’t participate in Sunday’s session as they travel to Calgary to play the preseason opener against the Flames.