In The Scrum: Thoughts & Observations From the Opening of Main Camp

Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

Editor’s note: It’s a rare day indeed when CanucksArmy is able to publish a piece with actual access. Today is that rare day. These observations from the opening of Canucks Main Camp were written by friend of the blog Justin Morissette, who is a broadcast journalism student at BCIT in Vancouver. He occasionally blogs about moviesmoonlights as a stand-up comedian and once sang the national anthems at a Canucks game. Follow him on Twitter: @JustinMoris.

Through an equal dose of luck and opportunity, I recently found myself covering the opening day of Canucks’ main camp for a local television station. As the older, more seasoned beat reporters waited around the narrow hallway impatiently as players were led out to face the press one by one, my enthusiasm could not be deterred. “Just wait,” said one veteran. “You’ll come to hate this in time.” As someone who would have otherwise been sitting bored in a classroom had I not been there, standing bored in a hallway waiting to interview hockey players seemed like a pretty great place to be.

The Canucks’ have gone with a different set-up so far in this training camp, in terms of media availability, leading players out by request instead of opening up the room to reporters. While it gives the team more control over what “the message” is, it sadly cuts down on the chance to get an exclusive. I would have liked to have broken off from the pack and struck up a conversation with one of the lesser names in the dressing room to see if I could get something worthwhile, but alas, the opportunities just weren’t there this year. Not yet anyway… Here then, are my impressions from inside the belly of the beast:

Christian Ehrhoff was expendable.

No one was willing to come right out and say this, but the implication was made several times throughout the day, most clearly by Henrik Sedin. Asked of the team’s chances to make it all the way back to the Stanley Cup Final, Henrik quipped “We didn’t lose anything.” When pressed on how the loss of a 50+ point defenseman could be seen as insignificant, Henrik alluded to the situations in which Ehrhoff was able to play that got him those points. Those minutes will go to someone else now, be it Ballard or Tanev or whomever, and there is a real belief amongst the team that whoever gets those minutes will fare just as well.

Cody Hodgson is glib.

One of the most eagerly awaited interviews of the day was the former CHL player of the year, with the weight of the world riding on his shoulders. The wait was all for naught, as Hodgson went into "Tiger Woods mode." He gave impersonal, cookie-cutter answers that filled time but didn’t require him to ever really say anything of substance.

This is his demeanour with the media, and while in the past it has earned him the label of an entitled child with a potential attitude, I can’t say I blame him for the approach. Once burned by a Vancouver media eager to foment controversy between Cody and team management, Hodgson has taken to saying nothing as a way of avoiding trouble. While it doesn’t make for colourful soundbytes, the media has largely made their own bed on this one.

Cody Hodgson is built like a truck.

While his short, choppy skating stride was still a contentious issue once the team took the ice on Saturday, there should be no worries about Hodgson’s size. Intense summer workouts with Gary Roberts and company have Hodgson looking nearly twice as muscular as he did during the playoffs last season. He no longer looks like a kid, and while foot-speed will always be a concern for Cody, strength on the puck has a way of compensating for it (see: The Sedins).

Keith Ballard is the team’s best interview.

Say what you will about Ballard’s struggles as a player this past season, there is no questioning his integrity as a person. Ballard was in the first handful of players to be led out to be interviewed on Friday, and he knew exactly why he was being brought out early – to face the music. He is open and honest in a way that so few pro athletes are, willingly talking about last season’s difficulties while still addressing how rewarding it was to play on such a successful team. He never says anything that will get him into trouble, but the pain in his eyes when he talks about last year is clear as day. It is refreshing to hear this man speak, and I wish nothing but the best for him in the coming season.

Mikael Samuelsson is poised for a huge year.

The one question Samuelsson refused to answer was "when exactly did you start to feel worse for wear last season?"

His eyes tightened. He took his time before answering simply: “No comment.” While he didn’t want to use health as an excuse, it’s likely that Samuelsson was bothered by injuries for most, if not all of last season. To take him at his word he feels better than ever coming into this years training camp, which, is good news. The Canucks will need him to be a cornerstone on a makeshift second line to start the regular season, so the opportunity is there for him to deliver.

While last season was viewed as an "off-year" for the shoot-from-anywhere winger, he did finish only three points back of his totals from the year previous. This was thanks in large part to his 19 power-play points, 14 of which were assists. If Ehrhoff is as replaceable as the team would have us believe, Samuelsson will have the opportunity to improve those totals, playing the point on the first-unit – a role he was relatively successful in last season.

Finally: Ryan Kesler should never be captain.

Let it be known that I am a huge fan of Kesler as a player. He is my favourite Canuck, and has been for quite some time. But whenever questions of leadership begin to arise around the team, a common sentiment continually rears its head: that Ryan Kesler should be the captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Now, I understand this sentiment to a point, but it’s the exact qualities that make him so likeable as a personality that make him an awful choice to wear the C.

Interacting with the media, Kesler carries himself like he’s the smartest guy in the room – and maybe he is. When TSN’s Farhan Lalji opened questioning by asking Ryan how his summer was, Kesler became aww-shucks-y, as if the media really cared. While Hodgson keeps his answers terse to avoid trouble, Kesler seems to actively seek it out. He’s not out to enlighten, he’s there to entertain himself. Credit where it’s due, he is entertaining. But let him continue to be goofy, let him photobomb interviews and dodge honesty with irony. Just leave the leadership to those willing to answer the tough questions in tough moments.