It's a New Game. So say the Vancouver Canucks of the 2014-2015 National Hockey League season and, while it may be too early to tell if the new team will bring good news come playoff time, the Canucks are off to a good start.
Fans of the Vancouver Canucks may have tuned in to this season with bated breath. After a dismal ending last year and promises of a turnaround this year, the Canucks have had much to prove. Trevor Linden and his team of off-ice authorities made some important moves in the off season and one move that is helping make true their promise is the addition of Czech-born Radim Vrbata.
DARPAN had the chance to speak to the first line right winger about his position beside the Sedin twins, his take on a new team and what he brings to the ice every time he laces up his skates.
A former 7th round draft pick by Colorado, Vrbata has made a name for himself in the NHL thanks to his tremendous hockey sense and ability to snipe the puck. A sharp shooter with a great set of hands and an eye for playmaking, the Canucks hope Vrbata will bring out the best in their earlier under-achieving, top line talent.
With a career spanning 6 teams in 13 years, he's put up more than 475 points, played in 36 playoff games and recently celebrated his 800th career NHL game in late October of this year.
Despite his long standing tenure, he can still recite the first of his over 800 NHL games like it was yesterday.
“It was my first year with Colorado,” he says, recalling how he got sent to the minors for the first 20 games before getting called up to the big leagues. “The first game was against New York Rangers. I was on a line with Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk. We were out for the opening face off against the [Eric] Lindros line back then, with [Mike] York and [Theo] Fleury. I remember when I looked around and saw all those all sta players at Madison Square Gardens. It was a dream come true and I was able to put up two assists in that game. The next day we played against Islanders, I scored a goal and two assists. Played back-to-back and had
He speaks of the past with a smile but can't help but let his softer side show when reminiscing about how fast the years have gone.
“Before my first son was born, I didn't realize how much time flies,” Vrabata tells us. “But now that we have two kids and my older one is 5 and a half, that's when you realize how fast
time goes by.” It's obvious his sons, the other just over 6 months old, are his pride and joy.
“I remember being the young guy on the team and now it seems like I'm the older one,” he jokes.
Being the 'old guy' on the team certainly hasn't slowed him down. Vrbata signed a two year contract with the Canucks in the off-season and has been putting up points since he first donned the blue, green and white.
“I was looking for the right fit and I felt that this is the right fit,” he says of his signing in Vancouver; so far it seems he's right. Vrbata has been playing on a line with twin superstars Daniel and Henrik Sedin and together they have averaged a point a game each in every game this season.
“Since day one, we've seemed to click on the ice and off the ice and it seems like we think the game the same way and try to play the same way. So it's been good,” he says of his line mates.
“Hopefully it's going to continue like that.”
While some critics and supporters alike have been surprised at the way Vribata has gelled so quickly with the Sedins, he is not. “When I was looking at my options in the summer, I felt like the way they play, it's similar to the way I play. Maybe that's why it clicked right away,” he says. “I feel like they don't try to beat players one-on-one, they don't try to overpower anybody. They try to use each other and get open for each other... and that's the way I like to play so maybe that's the reason.”
Questions about fitting in quickly aren't new to Vrbata; he's been a new guy on the team before.
Having moved several times over his NHL career, he's no stranger to a new dressing room, new team-mates and new fans. He admits, though, that coming
to Vancouver brought a different set of struggles.
“This time around was a little different,” he says, his family man mentality shining through again. “The last 5 years were in Phoenix but this year we had kids. It's different when you're moving just by yourself or with your wife [compared to] when you're moving with kids.”
“Obviously, it's a big change coming from Phoenix – weather wise, media wise. But so far, so good,” he assures us. “Everybody around the team helps us with everything. Coming to a new team, guys were great right off the bat so, so far, so good.”
With the right attitude, Vrbata can only hope that 'so far, so good' will be so good so far into the future, both here in Vancouver or wherever he is playing. As the pressure builds for this 'new' Vancouver team to be better than last year, it could easily have an effect on the way Vbrata approaches the game. But it doesn't.
“On whatever team you're on, you just want to play your best every night and help the team to be successful. [The pressure] doesn't change anything. Yes, there is lots of pressure from media, from fans, from everywhere but there's nobody who can put more pressure on myself than myself. So you always try to play your best, no matter what.”
He emphasizes that being the best he can be is always his goal, for each game and for each season. “And that's the way it needs to be,” he assures us. “Because the league is so good now. And pretty much every player in the league is good. So you need to be at your best – or as close to your best as possible – at all times.”
Canuck fans can only hope that if Vbrata is bringing his best to the ice every night, that the best is yet to come for the team and its turnaround.
PHOTO: The vancouver canucks/jeff vinnick