Vancouver – With self-improvement, as with many things, it is easier to pledge something than to give it. How many New Year’s resolutions failed to stay in January? Or New Year’s Eve?
But as for Patrick Alvin, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks this season, to get players to raise the bar by working every day to put the team ahead, sacrificing whatever is needed to win, Elias Peterson and Quinn Hughes say they are well prepared.
“Absolutely,” said Peterson, the 23-year-old center. “I mean, that’s all about it. It doesn’t matter if I play my best, if we don’t win, I’ll still be angry. That’s what it’s all about. He’s trying to create a winning culture and it’s good to be a part of it.”
Hughes, the 22-year-old defensive man, said, “I think that’s something that’s important to me. I don’t have to be anyone but myself, but I want to win and all I have to do to make it happen, I’m going to try to do it.”
Speaking to reporters at the annual Jake Milford Charity Event in the Canucks at Northview Golf Club in Surrey, Hughes said he believes players are embracing the challenge to change the culture, which Alvin issued directly at exit meetings last spring after Vancouver missed the Stanley Cup playoffs due for the time. Sixth in seven seasons.
“I think he’s already heard,” he said. “I think the guys got into camp in good shape. Everyone has already done their bike test and they just asked the guys about the numbers, and they said it was pretty good. I think everyone has been really called in this year.”
The Canucks undergo medical and other tests on Wednesday before the opening of Thursday’s snowboard training camp in Whistler.
The culture around the Canucks will be discussed this season as if it were the fromagerie hockey team or the National Film Board.
But again, discussion is easier than change.
Veteran Canuck captains such as JT Miller, Luke Sheen and Tyler Myers have spoken of learning to win and the mentality and sacrifice it takes, but nothing improves without universal acceptance, especially among the team’s younger stars.
Drafted a year later, one Calder Trophy winner and the other runner-up, Pettersson and Hughes are huge influences.
After a dismal start last season (four goals in 28 games) that reversed the team’s start and contributed to the sacking of coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning on December 5, Peterson exploded in the second half, scoring 26 goals and 51 points. In his last 44 matches under new coach Bruce Boudreaux.
He was also hit with the wing on occasion and moved up and down the first three lines by Boudreau, but he was productive wherever he was and with whom he played.
Hughes, who missed the first half of training camp like Peterson while awaiting a new contract, took his overall game to a higher level. The dynamic skater improved his defensive play while still contributing 60 assists and 68 points, breaking long-standing franchise records for a defensive man, while averaging 25:15 of ice time.
During the slack, Hughes told Boudreaux he could move to the right of defense from his natural left side if needed, and told Sportsnet on Friday that Canucks would try Hughes there through training camp. Boudreau Hughes is expected to partner with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which could give the Canucks a true No. 1 pair capable of taking big minutes in all situations.
Hughes said Monday that he spent his vacation getting ready to work on the right side. Training partners at his development coach’s Elite Camp in Michigan have included Coen brothers, Jack and Luke, Dylan Larkin, Zach Ferensky, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield and Mattie Beners, among other NHLers.
“I’ve started in the summer on a few different packages and I think there are more things I can do offensively at the Blue Line on the right side,” Hughes explained. “Sometimes I find myself fixed to the left.”
Hughes said he played right-hand defense while growing up, but moved to the left side for two seasons at the University of Michigan.
He said of playing on the right: “It’s probably more difficult in the neutral zone where I collect a pass (from the backhand) and can’t go up the wall.” “But I’m thinking about other aspects, seeing everything on my front hand, being in the O-zone and (I can) take a step to take a shot, and walk in. I don’t think anyone has seen me on the right side, so they don’t know what to expect. I think I I could catch some people off guard, but we’ll see. I’d definitely like to try it on some show games.”
The Canucks’ pre-season kicks off Sunday with split matches, both on home and away, against the Calgary Flames.
“I like to think I learned a lot from last season,” Peterson said. “So I’m just trying to think of the positivity and hopefully it’s a better start this year.”
Peterson provided a one-word answer to the stark difference between his first and second halves: “confidence.”
What does he like most about his team?
“I love our creativity,” Peterson said. “There are a lot of people with an attack mentality, so I think we can create chances to score in all four lines. The right answer, I don’t know. But I think the second part (of the season) shows that when we play as a team we can compete with the best teams in the league , which is the main goal – to make the playoffs.”
This success or failure is how all Canucks will be judged.