Few NHLers get to play for their home-province team and fewer yet return to their hometowns for training camp.
“It’s unique and awesome all at the same time,” said Vancouver Canucks defenceman Matt Irwin.
Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, where the Vancouver Canucks hold training camp today through Sunday, is however one of the few rinks on the Island with which Irwin didn’t have a connection before this.
His skates made grooves at Pearkes Arena where he played for the Saanich Braves (now Predators) of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and at Frank Crane Arena where he played for the Nanaimo Clippers of the B.C. Hockey League as the two-time Coastal Conference defenceman of the year in 2006-07 and 2007-08. It all began at the Panorama Recreation Centre rink, where Irwin’s career began in the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association.
“This training camp, because it’s on the Island, is special and different,” said Irwin, who was raised in Brentwood Bay.
“From Peninsula to Saanich to Nanaimo, it’s come full circle.”
Like any blue-blooded B.C. kid, Irwin grew up following the Canucks.
“I grew up watching the Canucks, and remember vividly the 1994 run to the Stanley Cup final, and know how passionate the fan base is in the province and how much they want the team to succeed,” said Irwin.
So when the offer came over the summer, Irwin jumped at it, and signed a one-season, two-way contract with the Canucks on July 1.
“My agent called me right away. Where I am in my career, it was a no-brainer. I’m no spring chicken [Irwin turns 36 in November], but with my years in the league, I believe I can bring something of value,” he said.
That value includes 461 NHL regular-season games with 25 goals and 93 points from the blue line. Irwin’s 47 NHL playoff games include a 2013 series win with the San Jose Sharks over the Canucks and a 22-game run to the 2017 Stanley Cup final with the Nashville Predators that ended in Game 6 against the champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
That’s not bad for guy who wasn’t drafted. Irwin has also played for the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals, most recently with 61 games last season with the Caps.
“I try to be a good teammate and good person and work hard. I’ve switched roles and adapted with every team I’ve played for, based on the situation,” said Irwin. “You can never have enough experience.”
That’s clearly what the Canucks believe, too, in bringing Irwin into the fold.
“Whatever they want me to do, I will do,” he said.
The six-foot-one, 208-pound Islander is looking forward to the reception the Canucks are expected to receive during training camp at the Memorial Centre today through Sunday.
“Growing up here, I know what a hockey-driven community it is and how the kids especially look up to their heroes,” said Irwin, the father of five-year-old son Beckem and 18-month-old daughter Lennon.
“I look back to myself as a six-to-11 year-old looking up to the Canucks players on TV and locally the Salsa [now Grizzlies of the BCHL] players.”
ICE CHIPS: The Canucks practice sessions at the Memorial Centre today, Friday and Sunday are at 10 a.m. and noon. The scrimmage game is Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:40 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.