The Vancouver Canucks skated Saturday at their old stomping grounds at Burnaby 8 Rinks, a day before they faced the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena.
The multi-rink facility just off the Trans-Canada Highway was the Canucks’ practice base from 1995 to 2001. They’ve used the main rink there on occasion since, but generally go to the University of B.C. when they aren’t able to practise at Rogers Arena.
There was a smattering of fans in attendance.
Bo Horvat, for instance, had never skated at 8 Rinks before. The Canucks are scheduled to practise there again on Jan. 19.
Sunday is the first time the Canucks will face the Panthers since “the incident” that saw Florida defenceman Mike Matheson knock Elias Pettersson from the lineup with a concussion.
“Our focus is on winning tomorrow,” Canucks coach Travis Green said flatly when asked about what his team was thinking about ahead of the game.
The other question, of course, is will this be the final time the Vancouver faithful get to see the greatest goalie in Canucks’ history in action?
It’s been a tough season for Roberto Luongo. He’ll turn 40 in April. His save percentage is .891 at the moment, well below his career standard. He does hours of stretching and physio work, day-in and day-out, to keep himself in game shape.
As long as he’s performing well, you assume he’ll keep playing.
Just two Canucks remain from his tenure in Vancouver: Chris Tanev and Alex Edler.
Tanev, who first played for the Canucks in 2010-11, called Luongo an awesome teammate.
“There’s always memories of being able to play with him, and obviously Hank and Danny (Sedin), they were such great leaders. It was huge to be able to play with those guys early in my career,” he said.
Luongo was always supportive of Tanev, even as a raw rookie playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It was awesome,” he said of having Luongo behind him. “No matter how big a mistake you made, you knew he was always there, he was going to do everything he could to keep the puck out of the net. And even if it went in, he wouldn’t come and yell at you or blame you for anything. He’d always take responsibility.
“First and foremost he wanted to win. He always competed and he competed hard. Every single guy in the locker-room loved him. His personality off the ice was awesome, he liked to have fun but as soon as he got to the rink you knew he wanted to win and he was leading the charge.”
Green didn’t coach Luongo, but as a someone who played until he was 38, he was in awe of the veteran goalie’s ability to remain competitive as he approached 40.
“We’re talking about a special athlete,” he said. “He’s had an amazing career. Guys that are that elite and play that long are pretty exceptional.”
Josh Leivo skated on a line with Nikolay Goldobin and Markus Granlund at practice. He called his status “day to day” but was optimistic about his status for Sunday’s game.
“It was a scare. Thought it was a lot worse than it actually was,” he said of the back spasms that started early in a game 10 days ago in Ottawa. He missed the next three games, including a chance to make a hometown return in Toronto.
“First couple days were real tough, but each day has gotten a lot better. Just happy I’m able to stand up straight,” he said.
If Leivo is activated from the injured reserve list, the Canucks will have to make a roster move, either returning Adam Gaudette to Utica or placing another player on waivers.
Pettersson took a twirl on the ice after his teammates practised, going through a set of one-on-one drills that looked designed to test his sprained knee’s strength and agility.
He took a short skate Friday as well and might skate again on his own Sunday. He won’t play against the Panthers but if all goes well, a return to action Wednesday against the Oilers doesn’t seem out of the question.
Markstrom takes extra shots
The Canucks’ ice time came on the heels of a kids’ practice. Jacob Markstrom got out on the ice to start his warm-up and then stood in the net for a few minutes for the delighted and surprised youngsters to shoot on.
“I remember when I was that age, playing hockey, that would have been pretty cool,” Markstrom said after. “They were super happy, smiling and laughing. … That’s the reward in coming (to 8 Rinks).”
Florida Panthers at Vancouver Canucks
4 p.m., Rogers Arena, SNETP, SNET 650 AM
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