Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s Game Against The Bruins Presents The Perfect Opportunity For A Statement On Team Culture

Seven games into the season, the Vancouver Canucks are off to a 4-3-0 start—nothing to write home about, but better than most were expecting. Still, over the past week ,the fanbase is aflame with controversy about the team’s culture—its heart, its soul, its guts—or lack thereof. Few Canuck rosters in history have had their character called into question with the intensity of the 2018/19 edition, and it’s no real mystery why that is: his name is Michael Matheson.

Travis Green and his squad have given their reasons for failing to respond when Matheson tombstoned the illustrious Elias Pettersson into the ice, and they’re all fairly legitimate. They also do nothing to change the fact that the Canucks are returning from their road trip to a city that doesn’t believe that they’re willing to stick up for one another—or the franchise as a whole, for that matter. Fortunately, a Saturday matchup with the Boston Bruins offers the perfect opportunity for a serious statement about team culture, and it’s one the Canucks can’t afford not to take.

Boston Has A History Of Bringing Out The Worst In Vancouver

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Though the conflict between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks has admittedly simmered in recent seasons, at its peak it reached a level of hatred that few other NHL rivalries have attained. It’s also one that hasn’t been particularly kind to the Canuck fanbase. There’s a lot of emotion in a little bit of history when it comes to the Bruins, and it’s hard to argue that Boston doesn’t have a history of bringing out the worst in Vancouver—and we’re not just talking about the riot.

After all the Sedin punches, the Sami Salo lowbridges, and the invisible Stanley Cup rings, the Canucks franchise has never really responded to the ills done against them by the Bruins, and that’s just Brad Marchand. There have been a few cathartic moments over the years—recall Cody Hodgson’s bardown blast in “Game 8”—but even when Vancouver beats Boston on the scoreboard, the Bruins pummel them physically.

In fact, the abuse rained down upon the 2011 Canucks by Boston might just be the only thing in franchise history that has made the fanbase question the team’s character more than the Matheson incident, but no roster since then has really been equipped to even the score with the Big Bad Bruins. The times, however, are a-changin’.

The Big Bad Bruins Aren’t What They Used To Be 

The Boston Bruins have been the bullies of the league for the last decade, thanks in large part to the fact that their captain is a seven-foot-tall radioactive monster. Zdeno Chara has been accompanied over the years by names like Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, Nathan Horton, and a litany of other meat-and-potato types—to say nothing of the aforementioned Marchand—and the results haven’t been pretty when the Canucks have tried to engage them in a battle of physical wills. Just ask Dan Hamhuis. Simply put, the Canucks couldn’t beat the Bruins when the going got tough, and when it came to the Bruins, the going always got tough.

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These days, however, the situation looks markedly different. Old Man Chara is the lone gunslinger left wearing the spoked “B,” with all his partners-in-penalties lost to either retirement or—even worse—Edmonton. Meanwhile, Jim Benning’s acquisition of grit has been much-maligned, but it’s still happened, and the Canucks are sporting hardcases like Antoine Roussel, Erik Gudbranson, and former Bruin Tim Schaller, along with physically-punishing presences like Jake Virtanen, Michael del Zotto, and Alex Edler. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Vancouver Canucks might just be tougher than the Boston Bruins—and proving it on Saturday would go a long way toward repairing their reputation as a team with no heart.

Cheapshots Don’t Help Anybody, But Playing The Bruins Hard Will Do Wonders For Team Culture—And A Traumatized Fanbase

Nobody in the Vancouver Canucks fanbase should be advocating for cheapshots or otherwise dirty play against the Boston Bruins—or any NHL franchise. As has been pointed out by this writer and others, Vancouverites have witnessed numerous examples of the gruesome potential of retaliatory vigilantism in hockey. The game has changed since 2011—even if Brad Marchand hasn’t—and nobody should be hoping for head injuries on either side. However, there are plenty of ways to make a physical statement that fall well within the bounds of the hockey code—and the NHL rulebook, of course.

In essence, the Canucks should look at Saturday’s matchup like it were a playoff game. The stakes, after all, are currently high in Vancouver. In yet another season that is sure to be filled with losing streaks and scoring slumps, the team needs the fanbase on their side more than ever. Many of those fans lost their faith in the team—and their reason to tune in—when Elias Pettersson’s assault went unrevenged. The team, the coaching staff, and the front office should be eager for a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of their supporters, and what better opponent for a statement game than the Bruins?

The Canucks don’t need to hit anyone from behind, but they should be finishing every check with zeal. Play hard between the whistles, but don’t be afraid to do a little pushing and shoving after them, either. No suckerpunches necessary, facewashes welcome. You know—playoff hockey. Brad Marchand doesn’t need to be speared in the groin, but he does need to be crunched into the boards whenever possible. If fights occur because of the physical play—and they probably will—the ruffians on the Canucks are more than capable of handling whatever the Bruins have to offer.

In other words, it doesn’t really matter if the Canucks beat the Bruins on the scoreboard on Saturday, just like it didn’t really matter that they won the game against the Panthers after Pettersson was injured—at least, not in the eyes of the fanbase. A much more important victory can be gleaned from “beating ‘em in the alley,” as Conn Smythe used to say. In the long run—and the Canucks really should be looking at things in the long run—a win for team culture would be much more valuable than two points in a non-playoff season.

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  • Kanuckhotep

    It must be pointed out that before you discuss the historic culture of the Canucks let’s address the culture of league authority. In the ‘11 SC Finals Rome slams some Bruin and gets tossed for the rest of the series. Some? cripples Mason Raymond and knocks him out of the finals and I don’t think they even called a penalty on the play. No way the Old Six old boys club were going to let some west coast Canadian ubermensche be given a level playing field against a “beloved old franchise.” After the Habs won it in ‘93 under ?Bettman since Canadian teams have only gone to the finals 5 times in 24 seasons played and of course did not win it. As for the Bruins match up I’d be glad if someone puts warfarin in ?Marchand’s water bottle. Never liked the Bruins ever.

  • TheRealPB

    The premise of this piece seems to be that the Canucks team and players are somehow fragile and that their ‘failure to respond’ has somehow damaged either team morale or the faith of fans in them. I haven’t seen any evidence of that with the team in the games since the injury. The reasons for a lack of response have all been enumerated and I think they are indeed valid. More to the point, the Canucks have played professional and played tough since that game, as they have most of this trip. This notion that they have something to prove is wrong, at least when it comes to vengeance — which would be completely pointless. It WOULD make sense to hit the Bruins hard and to forecheck fast and maybe not to leave their best goalscorer unchecked for two consecutive across the ice one-timers on a PP. But the Canucks have for the most part been playing that way. And this Boston-hate history has very little bearing on the current Canucks since only Edler is left from the SCF team (Tanev too but he was a relatively bit player until later on). Just play hard against the B’s, all of the rest is nonsense.

  • Defenceman Factory

    There are a lot of articles on CA I don’t agree with but they usually provide a perspective worth considering. Not this one. This article is truly just dumb. It is a made up narrative advocating for an absolutely ridiculous approach to Saturday’s game. If Green brings any of this messaging to the Canucks tomorrow or ever he should be fired.

    The Canucks better be thinking about how to control the Bruins top line. I guarantee skating around trying to hit Marchand is the worst approach. That’s why Marchand always acts like such a kay nob. Teams get distracted then get scored on. If you don’t match that line’s speed you get turnstiled all night and you better stay out of the penalty box.

    I expect the Sutter line to get a hard match-up against the Bergeron line. I’ll cheer as loud as anyone if Virtanen or Roussel get a good hit on that rat Marchand but if they can’t be getting out of position to do it.

    Do you actually believe the Canucks think they need to prove to their fans they will stick up for each other? If Chara hits someone is it then mandatory someone step up and get their face broken?

    The culture of this team is developing just fine without this stupid narrative. They work hard, play fast and try to win hockey games. If you actually believe that if a Canuck had been anywhere near that Pettersson hit they wouldn’t have reacted you have probably never known a hockey player. “Sticking up for each other” is about the lowest bar possible to set for a team’s culture.

    • KGR

      I think the character of the “Fan Base” is being test by the media. Always has to be something wrong. A 4 and 3 start. Two weeks ago, it was they would be lucky to get one win. Now, well they didn’t start 7 and 0. The character of the team is fine and still evolving. Agree, this article (and many others like it) is just dumb. Tempest in a tea pot.

    • I’m not sure Stephan Roget has contributed a single piece of value since he started writing here.

      I have tonnes of respect for most CanucksArmy writers who put a lot of thought and effort into their work, even if I don’t agree with their conclusions, or if they’re sometimes not the best-written. But Roget’s contributions stink of laziness – there’s no serious thought, no research, no effort, just easy, lazy opinion pieces that add nothing to the conversation.

  • wojohowitz

    Team culture? Everyone feels good about the road trip but the Canucks have a lousy home record over the last couple of years and team culture says you ain`t going nowhere without winning at home.

    As noted; It`s not about the Bruins. It`s all about Marchand. Carry that guy off on a stretcher and everyone goes home happy.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    Green and the team proved very recently that 2 pts mean a lot more to them than revenge. If so, then who cares about Brad Marchand. Play Pastrnak, Bergeron & MacAvoy hard all night….let the rat get pissed off and let the refs (hopefully) call him for penalties and make them pay on the scoresheet.

    I only hope the team doesn’t come out flatter than a pancake as they historically have first game back after a long road trip. The B’s will be angry and playing hard anyways after having lost to Oil in OT last night. I would love to see a hard fought victory for the boys tomorrow!

  • apr

    At some point, the Bruins will be just like the Rangers and Islanders. But f the Bruins, f Bettman for suspending Rome , f Bruce Jacobs for controlling the refs, f the refs for their non-calls, f Marchand. As far as I’m concerned, the fall 2012 matinee game was game 8 and we’re all tied. Still amazes me that game spent both teams and ruined the season….

  • Holly Wood

    Forgive me for using the Oilers as an example but, Hopefully some folks noticed the scrum that occurred when a frustrated McDavid shoved Nordstrom on the way to the bench last night, all 10 players on the ice got involved right away. Did the rest of the Oilers see Nordstrom do anything, unlikely. Did the On ice Bruins see what was going on, unlikely. But the Oilers went to bat right away, no questions asked because their star was involved. Did the scrum prove anything, nope not at all. That is why the Canucks character will be questionable until they begin to show some pack mentality.

    • DogBreath

      Geez, they miss one altercation and their manhood gets questioned. Let’s get upset if it’s a trend. I wonder if everyone will stay silent in a 2-2 game, someone takes a run at a player, gets a penalty and the other team scores a pp goal to win the game.

      I’m sure Matheson will get his due at the right time in the next game.

      • Fortitude00

        One Scrum? Keith -Duncan was a pretty big miss also. Still lingers in the culture here. Skate away with your heads down that is what the Sedin leadership taught these young players. We know what the Sedins won while they were here, regular season awards.

        • DogBreath

          While I hated that hit too, that was 6 and a half years ago. 500 games have been played since then.

          The Sedins taught us a lot. I’m thrilled that my son got to grow up watching greatness on and off the ice. One team out of 31 wins the cup each year. 2011 still sucks. But don’t diminish their legacy because didn’t bring the cup home.

          • truthseeker

            Hockey, especially as a spectator sport, is what you want it to be. If the only thing you choose to value is the cup then you’ll most likely be in for a lot of depression as a fan.

            Personally I decided that the cup was over rated a long time ago. Of course I want the canucks to win it, but I no longer view it as something to stress about. If they win it, then great, but if not, I do take pride in the presidents trophies and the Sedin’s achievements etc. And I don’t look at 11 as a failure. I think the were the best team in the NHL that year and losing to Boston in the finals doesn’t change that for me. They were simply more durable.

            And I don’t really care if other fans don’t think the same way or if even the players only care about the cup and nothing else. It doesn’t matter. There is no “rule book” to being a fan that says I have to only care only about the team wining the cup and think that everything else is a failure…lol. It isn’t. That final Sedin home game was as satisfying to me as a sports fan as watching the Jays win their WS. And I’m every bit as big a Jays fan as I am a Canuck fan. So I know I can say with all honesty that the Canucks winning a cup won’t be any more of a thrill than watching that final Sedin game was.

            It’s all about perspective. It is what you make it to be.

    • DJ_44

      Did the rest of the Oilers see Nordstrom do anything, unlikely. Did the On ice Bruins see what was going on, unlikely.

      Both teams saw what happened, and the refs also knew what happened: McDavid cheap_shotted Nordstrom to provoke a retaliatory penalty (hence the flop on the retaliation). He was trying to abuse the “ref protecting stars” for an opportunity to get a power play .—— to what end? Obviously to win the game.

      All teams will step up when they see something happens. If a play is obscured and after the fact; that is where it is more difficult.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    “They also do nothing to change the fact that the Canucks are returning from their road trip to a city that doesn’t believe that they’re willing to stick up for one another”. Total bs. Why don’t you ask Peterson what he thinks about his teammates?

  • Rodeobill

    I actually think the EP incident aside, the team culture HAS been developing nicely. They have been exciting to watch, and players like Rousell and Beagle have been that in-your-face spark plug players that get the team to be engaged as a team.

    We were never planning for them to contend, but so far, most nights they have. The bottom 2 “grit” lines have been some of the most fun to watch so far. I have been a fan of Brock since we drafted him, but because his shot is so good I tend to forgive him of a lot of bad plays. He really needs to work on the other parts of his game. Hutton and Pouliot have looked good so far this year too. Aside from Edler’s rough night against the Jets (and most nights against the jets are) I think our D has looked better than I expected this year so far, which is to say not great, but better than last year. Most games (with help of some decent goal tending) we look involved and unrelenting, even against superior teams (right up until the 3rd period vs. the Jets). All in all I have enjoyed watching them play this year, and that has exceeded my expectations. Hope I didn’t jinx it by saying all this stuff.

    • Rodeobill

      That team culture that I saw developing was why it was so disappointing to see no reaction to the EP, by the way. But after Green broke it down that they didn’t understand what had happened I get it. Patience, it looks to be coming along.

  • Bud Poile

    “…a win for team culture would be much more valuable than two points in a non-playoff season.”
    The coach and team missed that opportunity,already.
    Come to think of it,if Travis was concerned with protecting Elias than winning games there wouldn’t be talk of culture and Elias’ brain injury.

    • Fortitude00

      Yup this ridiculous notion by some of the fan base that two points was more important than sticking up for your team mate says no team sport player ever. Fans are blinded by the 4-2 start thinking this team will be a playoff team. Protect your stars at all costs in the regular seasons so it resonates with other teams when you are a playoff team.

  • DJ_44

    n other words, it doesn’t really matter if the Canucks beat the Bruins on the scoreboard on Saturday, just like it didn’t really matter that they won the game against the Panthers after Pettersson was injured—at least, not in the eyes of the fanbase. A much more important victory can be gleaned from “beating ‘em in the alley,” as Conn Smythe used to say. In the long run—and the Canucks really should be looking at things in the long run—a win for team culture would be much more valuable than two points in a non-playoff season.

    How stupid is this concluding paragraph, or the article overall. The fanbase overall, at least those that understand hockey, were not up in arms after Florida. You actually have to see the play. I am far more happy for the win. I highly doubt coaches or players (including Pettersson) are concerned at all about their response, and nor should they be.

    Play fast, used team speed. Winning is what matters. Ask a simple question: would team be more prone to take cheap shots on stars if they know you are going to get an undisciplined reaction from the team, probably putting you on lengthy powerplay, or if they play against a tough, disciplined team. Exactly.

  • NastyNate

    I tend to agree with some of the points from this article. Saturday night home game, the world will be watching and yes, since the Matheson incident the Canucks have been called out by the fanbase as well as the local and national media for not responding.

    For the better part of a decade Marchand has run around injuring Canuck players with impunity because he could hide behind all of the “meat and potato” players that Boston had had. Intimidation has always been the Bruins and Marchands game plan, win or loose and he’s still at it (see recent Eller incident).
    I would love to see the Canucks make life miserable for the Bruins tonight but to be honest I want to see Marchand get pushed around all night and bullied, a taste of his own medicine.
    So no the author is not speaking for the whole fanbase but neither are any of you. I am a fan and I want to see the Canucks begin to mend their image of themselves and public opinion.


    Can Jake ever prove why he was such a high draft pick ? When you look at the guys who were drafted behind him you realize it was a brutal pick. Can Eriksson ever score again or is it time to go to Utica ? Kids look so good, just a real shame that Pettersson got hurt. Go Canucks Go,