Canucks’ Green Has Team Ready For Opening Of NHL Season
One could argue that there is no team more prepared for Wednesday's NHL season opening games than the Vancouver Canucks. It certainly feels that way after talking to Canucks head coach Travis Green.
Leadership trickles down to the troops. Prepared and confident in what lies ahead, when those awaiting direction believe in, and buy into what is strategically offered, success has a sneaky way of introducing itself.
The Canucks roster has been given every reason to believe that their ship will be steered on course, be it choppy waters or calm seas, come this 104th NHL season.
Six days before the Canucks are scheduled to begin their season at Edmonton's Rogers Place for back-to-back meeting with the Oilers, Green has concluded afternoon meetings with his coaching staff. There are six coaches under Green's direct supervision.
Canucks' fans have to be riding high with optimism. They have good reason. Last season, Vancouver climbed to third place in the Pacific Division, trailing only Vegas and Edmonton, amassing 78 points. Finishing seventh in the Western Conference, and 17th overall in the league of 31 teams, progress is here and now in the Pacific Northwest.
Green is taking a break in the late afternoon. Just as hockey fans in the Mohawk Valley had come to realize during his running the Utica Comets' bench during the team's first four seasons before getting the call to Vancouver, he is steady when answering questions about the start of his fourth season as an NHL coach.
"I expect A - us (Canucks) to get better individually, and B - for us to develop as a group," said Green during a recent telephone conversation.
Although his voice doesn't change octaves when accessing where his team will be come spring, and the Stanley Cup picture, he has done everything to keep his team full speed ahead.
"I'm excited about every year. A lot of people didn't pick us to make the playoffs last year, or this season," Green tells.
When pressed for what his message to the room was at the start of training camp, Green doesn't hesitate when saying that he puts a lot of thought into his message. He tries to have his words well thought out, and concise.
By the time camp opened on January 3, Green estimates that he would have talked to the guys already.
"Depending where the team is at, it (addressing the players) could be 15 minutes. They guys know each other. They've established a culture."
That culture which Green alludes to includes positive steps taken by besting the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Qualifying Round last season(3-games-to-one), followed up with winning in six games over the St. Louis Blue in the Conference's First Round. Then, Second Round Conference play saw the Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights stretch their play to seven games in August. Vegas came away with Game 7, and moved on to the Conference finals.
The Canucks came within a game of going to the Conference finals. That is success. This is what quenched the competitive thirst of Green's roster leading up to training camp.
Green tells of team meetings with NHL officials about how COVID-19 could affect parts of the new season. He and his staff have been well informed on the do's and don'ts, to have everyone get through the season healthy.
Different this season from last, when the regular season was suspended on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams won't be playing in a "bubble", hub cities as Edmonton and Toronto were used to host Eastern and Western Conference rosters for postseason play.
This season's 56-game schedule has a North Division containing only the seven Canadian teams. These teams wouldn't have to cross the U.S.-Canada border, which remains closed to non-essential travel until at least January 21.
Part of Green's confidence comes from arming himself with a coaching staff he has selected, and who he is quite familiar with. The long arm of familiarity between Green and Vancouver reaches 4,700 miles west to Utica. The American Hockey League affiliate for the Canucks , now eight years running, has developed players for NHL competition.
Coaches ,too, have come west through the Comets' pipeline.
" He's (Jason King) is going to be our eye in the sky; watching up top," states Green of his latest coaching sign.
King came to Green's staff for the 2016-'17 AHL season, after gaining two seasons of experience working as an assistant with the St. John's IceCaps. Green offers further duties that King will be working on this season. Communicating with the other coaches, being on the radio, and talking between periods, and during games.
" (King) has a vital, important role," explains Green. He'll pre-scout teams, and then talk with our team before games. He'll handle face-offs. Jason has a lot on his plate. He's a sharp guy."
Chris Higgins, who played his final 22 professional games as a Utica Comet for Green during the 2015-'16 season , has also been added to Vancouver's coaching staff.
" He'll (Higgins) be a jack of all trades, " Green declares. "We'll have 29 players. " (Higgins) is not too far removed from the game. Like Manny (Manny Malhotra who exited Vancouver for a coaching position with the Toronto Maple Leafs), Chris is going to learn as he goes. He's a good guy, and he'll give us his thoughts on development."
Green's steady hand and can-do attitude is uncompromising. He promises to have his team's best game coming to the table everyday. There's no worrying about what he can't control. How to get the Canucks better has the coach's complete attention.
" I don't want to think down the road. Keeping focused is important. We hope to get through this (COVID-19).
As has been the case since arriving in Utica for the Comets' inaugural campaign of 2013-'14, Nolan Baumgartner will be at Green's side, when the puck drops on the new NHL campaign. Four seasons in Utica, now entering his fourth behind the Canucks' bench, Baumgartner and King have a connection that goes beyond the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Auditorium.
The two Vancouver assistants were teammates while with the then Canucks' AHL affiliate Manitoba Moose. They also were on Vancouver rosters multiple seasons. The mark of hockey success beginning in Utica is quite visible at Griffiths Way in Vancouver.
There are familiar names to Comet's fans on Green's current selections to be part of the Canucks' efforts this season - Zack MacEwan, Thatcher Demko, Jake Virtanen, and Bob Horvat, to name a sampling.
As Green winds down being peppered with questions on his staff, roster selections, and goals for the new season, it's clear he's still the same steady leader, that from the get-go eight seasons back gained a budding fan base's respect.
Once again, once the puck drops Wednesday night on the Canucks' season, Green will prove no other NHL coach can out work him.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.