Vancouver Canucks fans crowded around the player entrance to the ice at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and around the team bus behind the arena to catch a glimpse of their heroes and opened their wallets at the team souvenir booths.
Canucks training camp opened Thursday in the capital and the following the team has in the province wasn’t lost on the team captain.
“It’s my third time here,” said Quinn Hughes, who has become a sort of Blanshard Buddy.
Hughes’ United States team was based at the Memorial Centre for group play in the 2019 world junior championship and the Canucks also held training camp in the Victoria facility that fall.
“I love [Victoria]. It’s a great city. I was really happy that we were coming here again. It’s great for the guys to spend a lot of quality time together. We were eager to get up here and to get to camp. It was enjoyable to get back out there with the guys” said Hughes.
“Vancouver is a hockey city but it goes throughout the province. We were in Kelowna last week and saw how passionate they are about hockey and also in Penticton and also here. People don’t get to see us play a lot [in person]. So for them to come out today, it’s pretty cool.”
Hughes this month became the 15th captain of the Canucks, replacing the traded Bo Horvat, and only the third blue-liner to hold the role. But he’s still just Quinn Hughes, that kid from Orlando who just loved the game.
“I’m going to always be who I am,” said Hughes, 23.
“The reason they decided to go with me is that they know I’m not going to try to be someone I’m not. I just want to come out authentic. For me, nothing’s changed, to be honest. With a ‘C’ or not, I’ll still try to push guys up the mountain here and make sure everyone’s dialed in.”
Asked if the other players viewed him differently, Hughes replied: “That’s a question for them.”
His teammates are happy with the choice, even the two who were considered the biggest challengers to the captainship. Elias Pettersson expressed satisfaction with the choice of Hughes, saying: “Fantastic. He’s been taking steps every year. I think he’s more than ready.”
Asked if he sensed anything different about Hughes since being named captain, forward J.T. Miller replied: “No, he’s awesome.”
Hughes is growing into the role of leader, with fellow American Miller and Swede Pettersson as his assistant captains.
“The mood is good,” Hughes said, after the first day of camp.
“We have lots of guys that can fill in and are fighting for spots. We need competition and that’s something we’re seeing more and more now. That’s when you know you are going to be a good team.”
There was a buoyant attitude on the first day of camp.
“The boys are ready. I think we’re itching,” said Miller.
“We had a lot of time to sit on our butts in our hometowns and enjoy it. We had four and a half months. And now it’s ‘let’s go.’ It’s awesome to see that everybody seems to be buyin in right now and that’s making everything more competitive. If we start better than the last couple of years, who knows what’s going to happen.”
Miller will be crucial in trying to turn the fortunes of a team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs the last three seasons.
“I’m trying to push myself to get better and better,” said the 30-year-old from East Palestine, Ohio. “I’m confident in my abilities and what I need to do.”
ICE CHIPS: The Canucks practice sessions at the Memorial Centre continue Friday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and noon. The scrimmage game is Saturday at 10:30 a.m. 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.