A spirited and high-tempo scrimmage, with some hitting, entertained more than 5,000 fans Saturday morning at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Vancouver Canucks training camp.
Team White, trailing 3-1 in the latter stages, even pulled the goalie for an extra attacker to show that the Canucks wanted to replicate real-game situations.
“The pace was good,” said veteran NHL defenceman Matt Irwin of Brentwood Bay, who signed with his home-province club over the summer.
“These are hungry, hard-working, honest players who all want to win and represent the province of B.C.”
Forward Conor Garland, who scored the winning goal for Team Blue, said: “It was a good scrimmage. The players had pace. We [linemates Pius Suter and Arshdeep Bains] played pretty hard because we want to get our chemistry going. Today went pretty well for us. It’s a well-run camp with information coming each day that you build on and build on.”
Bains is a longshot to stick alongside Garland and Suter but appreciated the chance.
“It’s a good feeling when you get that opportunity. It’s pretty exciting … just being someone who can play at their pace,” Bains said, earlier in camp.
Bains came through the Memorial Centre during his Western Hockey League junior days with the Red Deer Rebels: “It’s been awhile but it’s a great city here.”
Recently-acquired goaltender Casey DeSmith stated his case to back up starter and fellow-American Thatcher Demko by recording a shutout for Team Blue during his stint in goal in the first half of the scrimmage.
DeSmith and Garland were teammates in the spring on the fourth-place United States team at the 2023 IAAF world championship tournament in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia.
“We were pretty close at worlds and hung out a lot,” said DeSmith.
“[Garland] might have been the first guy to text me after the deal was done [the recent trade that brought DeSmith to the Canucks from the Montreal Canadiens]. He was really excited, as was I.”
DeSmith still had on his Pittsburgh Penguins goalie pads from the team he has played for since 2017 before coming to the Canucks via a brief touch down in Montreal.
“Fingers crossed they get [Canucks-coloured pads] to me,” he quipped, during camp.
“The Pittsburgh pads are getting pretty old and soft. I am looking forward to getting in the new [Vancouver] colours. I probably look pretty silly out there. I look like a rainbow.”
How goes Demko, so might go the Canucks this seaon. But every starter needs a reliable back-up.
“It’s definitely important to have a good relationship [with Demko],” said DeSmith.
“He is an incredible goalie. I look forward to learning from him.”
DeSmith will wear No. 29 in Vancouver: “I grew up a big Habs and Ken Dryden fan and wore 29 in college [New Hampshire] but they gave me No. 1 in the pros. I can’t wear No. 1 here [because it was worn by Canucks legends Roberto Luongo and Kirk McLean] and I was happy to go back to 29.”
The Canucks, in their ninth training camp in Victoria and 18th on the Island, will conclude their four-day camp today with sessions at 10 a.m. and noon at the Memorial Centre. The team will split, with some of the players heading to Calgary for tonight’s preseason opener against the Flames. The Canucks had not announced by press time which players will play tonight in Cowtown but it is expected to be mostly a squad of young prospects and developmental players.
ICE CHIPS: Saturday’s crowd was not as large as the one that sold out the Memorial Centre last year for the Toronto Raptors scrimmage game held during their NBA training camp in Victoria or the Canucks scrimmage that sold out the 7,006-seat Memorial Centre during training camp in 2007. But those were marketed as stand-alone events. Saturday’s scrimmage, by comparison, was treated as just an add-on appendage to training camp.