VANCOUVER – You did not need the happy old St. Nicholas, if you were near Bruce Boudreau at Christmas.
The Vancouver Canucks’ new coach spent his NHL vacation in the mountains of Whistler – “I almost fell off one” – where the Santa-like man from the north (Toronto) recorded a bubbly Christmas message to fans promising to “kick some ass in 2022.”
The players have responded to their sociable, energetic coach 6-0 since Boudreau replaced Travis Green three weeks ago. But, as Boudreau said in his message on social media: “6-0 may be OK, but 10-0 is better.”
Boudreau’s optimism and positivity has been a panacea for the Canucks, who played themselves into a very dark spot by starting the season 6-14-2.
They won two of their last three games under Green, but Boudreau has been like rocket fuel for a team that was poorly underperforming and needed positivity, just as a fish needs water.
He had a lengthy meeting with players after Monday’s training session at Rogers Arena.
The traction that the Canucks finally created in December was halted by a program break that was extended for several days by the recent COVID-19 crisis, and despite its longest winning streak in two years, the team remains six points from a playoff game. space.
In addition to the schedule and positions, the shadow of Canucks’ COVID outburst last season still hangs menacingly over the team like the ghost of Christmas standing over Ebenezer Scrooge.
Players are dizzy over their recent success, gain new energy and suddenly love their job again. But aside from further postponements from the NHL, the Canucks are about to embark on a three-game U.S. road trip that begins Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks, where a positive COVID test for players could mean a multi-day quarantine in their hotel room.
All six players who were in the COVID protocol with the Canucks last week are back to practice.
“I’ve seen most (but) I’ve not been through COVID,” Boudreau, 66, told reporters on Monday’s Zoom call. “I have not worked for the last year and a half. You probably just learn to roll with the punches. I mean, we expect to go tomorrow. And until we are told not to go, I assume we are going. We are all eager to go.
“If there’s a team in the NHL, frankly, that’s too careful about the whole COVID situation, it would be the Vancouver Canucks for what they went through last year. So I think the players are doing a really good job of stay in their own little bubble and do what they have to. Right now we’re reasonably healthy. And hopefully Anaheim is reasonably healthy and we can go and play a game. “
Canucks winger Alex Chiasson, who was added to the COVID protocol on Sunday, could be approved to join the Canucks as soon as Tuesday with yet another negative test result, Boudreau said. The team must practice in Vancouver before flying to California – awaiting their daily coronavirus test results.
The Canucks, who have had five games postponed, are scheduled to visit the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and the Seattle Kraken on Saturday before returning home to play two games next week below a 50 percent seating limit at Rogers Arena.
All or none of these games can go as planned.
“I think you’re uncomfortable all the time right now,” veteran defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “You do not really know what’s going on and you’re not trying to think too much about it. It was nice of course that everyone was allowed to be around their families for Christmas. But that’s what it is. You take that day. for today and see what happens. I feel like you can not really do anything about it. “
Ekman-Larsson identified the real problem a few questions later: “It’s not really about hockey, it’s also about mental health. It tears you down a little, just thinking about it all the time. You’re supposed to play hockey and do it well on the ice and you have to deal with things around COVID. It’s a lot of things you think about, but you learn like living with it and try not to think too much about it. “
Like all teams, especially those that have crossed the international border, the Canucks will worry about COVID a little more when on the go due to the consequences of getting sick from home.
“It would be a lot easier to get everything running smoothly and you don’t have to worry about all that,” said winger Conor Garland. “But I just play hockey. I just look at my phone at nine o’clock at night to see what our schedule is for the next day. You could say it’s frustrating, especially to have canceled games where we really like would play. Like I said, you just take it day by day and do not look too far ahead. “
As for hockey, it’s probably not motivation that the Canucks need right now, but realism.
“The biggest thing for me is that with this break, the players do not become complacent and think: OK, everything is praise,” said Boudreau. “We’re still close to the bottom of the league. We’re still. hope with all these (extra) exercises that we have been able to have that we will get better as a team and we will get better and not be satisfied. “
Yes, 10-0 is better than 6-0. Even though it probably still would not bring the Canucks into a playoff position.