The Vancouver Canucks took to the ice at BC Place Stadium – no, not Rogers Arena – on Saturday for their only skate on the temporary surface before Sunday’s Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
The rink is set up, and the surrounding field area of the revamped stadium has been dressed up to make it look like winter. Vancouver players came out of the tunnel at the west end of the building, clad in their Millionaires jerseys and then posed for a team photo at centre ice.
It was bright inside BC Place. The roof was open on a crisp, overcast afternoon. A decision on whether to keep the roof open or closed for tomorrow’s spectacle will be made Sunday morning, around 10 a.m. PT. Puck drop is scheduled for 1 p.m. PT.
“They did a great job, everyone is very happy, very pleased with the way they transferred the football field into a hockey rink,” said Canucks’ forward Zack Kassian, who is born in Windsor, Ont.
“The ice is unbelievable, good ice and it’s going to be pretty exciting tomorrow, especially when you get 50,000-plus (fans) in here, it’s going to be something that all of us are going to remember.”
Kassian has spent time in BC Place before – for Canadian Football League games. He said he grew up playing pond hockey on Lake Erie as a kid. Adjusting to the ice, and the brighter conditions took about 15 to 20 minutes, he said.
“We used to build rinks but this has a whole different element to it,” he said. “No boards. Try to get the snow real high, freeze the snow, maybe.”
A lot of pucks were lost in those outdoor games, said Kassian.
“Mom and dad were making a lot of trips to Sport Chek to get new pucks every week,” he said.
Canucks goalie Eddie Lack, who has started the last two Vancouver games, allowing only one goal, played outdoors as a kid growing up in Sweden.
“We used to have two practices a week outdoor and three inside. It’s a really cool event. I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
“I’ve never been in here before, so from the first time I walked in here this morning, I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be so cool.”
Head coach John Tortorella did not divulge his starting goalie for tomorrow. Dating back to his last start before the Olympic break, the rookie Lack, typically the back-up to Roberto Luongo, has only allowed a combined two goals.
It’s been reported that Lack will start for Vancouver. During Saturday’s practice, Luongo had been taking shots from members of the third and fourth lines, while Lack was working with the penalty kill and power play groups.
Lack also spoke highly of the ice conditions. Crews, led by NHL senior manager of facilities operations Mike Craig, had been working around the clock since Tuesday in preparing the rink, with the first spray of water in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“As a goalie, you like it when it’s a little bit slippery, you slide side to side,” said Lack. “I had great edge out there, too, so it was good.”
The match-up itself has drawn criticism, considering the Canucks and Senators don’t have any kind of a rivalry. The NHL has marketed this as a rematch of the 1915 Stanley Cup Final series between the Senators and Millionaires.
Today, the Canucks and Senators are both fighting their playoff lives in their respective conferences.
The Canucks, with three points in their last two games, are tied in points with the Dallas Stars, holders of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. However, the Canucks are still on the outside of the playoff window.
The Senators are 12th in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot.
Scoring has been an issue for the Canucks for most of this season. Their top players, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, are mired in a collective slump. Daniel Sedin hasn’t scored in his last 21 games. Burrows has gone 30 games without a goal. Henrik Sedin hasn’t scored in his last 19 games.
“They feel the responsibility. They know how important they are to the team, so we’re going to stick with them,” said Tortorella. I think that is our best avenue right now.”
The coach is hoping that the feel of an outdoor game – or a potential outdoor – will help perhaps loosen up his players offensively.
“You know, with this team, at least the coach of this team is in a little bit different situation where we’re dying on the vine here,” said Tortorella.
“We need to get these points too. So you can’t have too much fun with it. You have to keep your concentration.
“When you talk about a team that’s struggling offensively, sometimes when you get into an outdoor situation you feel like it’s back when you were playing pond hockey.
“I think some of our guys need to offensively allow themselves to play some shinny hockey. Just let them play. Maybe this will help us.”
RICHARDSON MISSES PRACTICE
Canucks centre Brad Richardson missed Saturday’s practice at BC Place for family reasons, however, Tortorella said Richardson is expected to play Sunday.