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THE MOJ: Canucks climbed the mountain this year by earning the day

Vancouver’s Pacific Division title and 3rd 50-win season were not what fans expected a year ago
“You have the whole team come in and buy in getting the summer over a month earlier than normal. You put the work in and really come together. It’s certainly part of the process. We played a lot of good hockey this year and we should be proud,” J.T. Miller on the Canucks 50-win season. Vancouver Canucks photo

“If you want to climb a mountain, don’t look at the peak. Look at your next step,” – Unknown.

It’s been quite the turnaround for the Vancouver Canucks.

Last year at this time, Canuck Nation was fuming because of the team’s strong finish which took them out of the Connor Bedard sweepstakes

One year later and it’s an entirely different story.

With Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena, the Canucks clinched the Pacific Division title and became only the third Canuck team to have won 50 games or more joining the 2010-11 and 2011-12 entries.

“I think if someone told us where we would be this time last year or in the summer, we’d take it. We knew we had some good pieces in here and we have a great staff. Management did a really good job of putting pieces together. It hasn’t been easy but we did everything we were supposed to do,” Quinn Hughes explained after the win Tuesday night.

So how did this 26-point turnaround happen?

It started with Tocchet’s arrival.

While many may have been upset with the Canucks late season spurt that quashed their chances of landing a generational talent like Bedard in the NHL Entry Draft, it gave Tocchet a head start on implementing his belief system on the team while at the same time allowing to evaluate what he had to work with.

Then during the summer, the management group of President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford and General Manager Patrik Allvin restructured the roster and continued to do so once the season began.

Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, Casey DeSmith, Pius Suter, Teddy Blueger, Sam Lafferty and in season acquisitions Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm improved the depth of the team.

Having Tocchet come in during the second-half of the season also allowed the players to know what was expected of them.

For J.T. Miller and the rest of the group, it meant another level of commitment.

“You have the whole team come in and buy in, getting the summer over a month earlier than normal. You put the work in and really come together. It’s certainly part of the process. We played a lot of good hockey this year and we should be proud,” explained Miller.

Bringing in talented players is one thing but getting them to believe they can do special things is another.

Tocchet and his staff coined the phrase ‘earn the day’ with the group.

Don’t think about yesterday, don’t look ahead to tomorrow – just focus on becoming better today.

“I think it helps us stay focused and takes the pressure off ourselves. It’s a long season and it’s not always perfect. I think we’ve done a really good job of not enjoying it too much when it was really good and not beating ourselves up when it wasn’t too good. I thought we were really even-keel this season. It showed when we weren’t playing our best - we were playing .500 hockey and it never really got worse than that,” Miller said.

As Canucks Army reporter Jeff Paterson pointed out in a post on ‘X’, this team has been remarkably consistent when looking at their point totals in 20 game segments. The Canucks have recorded 27, 28, 27 and 25 points in the four segments leading up to 80 games.

The other thing about this group is that they’ve bought into the team concept.

“We always talk about the emblem on the front and not (what’s on) the back. I think a lot of guys have bought into that and we try not to preach individualism around here…that’s what I’m most proud of the guys – buying into it this year,” said Tocchet.

The result of that is a team that has no passengers and cares about one another. Tocchet and other players talk about the ‘wolfpack mentality’ that is needed to win and there was no better example of that during a second period melee against the Flames when Vancouver’s Conor Garland peeled Calgary’s Adam Klapka out of a scrum and brought him to his knees.

Klapka is 6’8” while Garland is listed at 5’10” but in reality is closer to 5’8”.

“I just think the little things like that…guys sticking up for each other and having each other’s back and coming together as a team. It shows that we’ve come a long way. I keep saying we’re not ‘there’ but we’ve certainly made a lot of good strides as a team,” said Miller.

The Canucks, however, know come next week and the first round of the post-season that it’s a whole new ballgame.

The good thing is you know they won’t be satisfied with what they’ve accomplished.

After all, there’s another day to be earned.


* The Canucks announced their team award winners during the game on Tuesday. Hughes walked away with the Walter ‘Babe’ Pratt Award as the best defenseman as well as the Daniel and Henrik Sedin Award for Community Leadership. Miller also picked up a pair of accolades in winning the Pavel Bure Award as the Canucks’ most exciting player as well as the Cyclone Taylor Trophy as the club’s most valuable player. Elias Pettersson won the Three Stars Award while Dakota Joshua claimed the Fred J. Hume Award for the team’s unsung player.

* Goaltender Thatcher Demko returned to face the Flames after a five-week absence due to injury and looked sharp in stopping 39 of 40 shots. “Casey (DeSmith) has been great for us and the same with Arti (Silovs) but having Demmer back there - it’s a whole new thing,” said Hughes.

* Calgary’s lone goal was scored by Brayden Pachal. Longtime WHL fans might remember his cousin who played for the New Westminster Bruins in the 1970’s. Clayton Pachal was the Bruins captain when they won WHL titles in 1975 and 1976 and was subsequently drafted in the first round by the Boston Bruins. Clayton Pachal passed away in 2021.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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