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Photo Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Updates on Klimovich, Rathbone, Woo and DiPietro from an exclusive conversation with Abbotsford Canucks head coach Trent Cull

The Abbotsford Canucks are set to return to action on Thursday as they kick off a four-game set against the Bakersfield Condors. The Abbotsford Centre will host four games of hockey in five nights as they begin the series on Thursday night and complete the fourth game on Monday — the only night off will be Saturday.

The first update we need to hear about is the COVID situation. The Abbotsford Canucks were hammered with COVID over the Christmas holiday and have been getting better over the past few days with more and more players returning to the rink.

The team is still not 100% COVID-free, they are expecting a few players to join the team off their COVID protocol on Thursday for the morning skate ahead of their first game against the Condors on this four-game set. They will still be without players for this weekend due to COVID.

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Head coach Trent Cull is excited to get back to action but does have his worries about four games in five nights after multiple players have gone through COVID and not played a game in weeks.

“As a coach, you’re worried about it,” said Cull when asked about the heavy schedule. “I’m not necessarily concerned about wins and losses, I just want to make sure our guys are healthy and I don’t want to put guys in situations where they won’t be successful. We just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing. On top of that, we have to get going and play games — we have to get guys up and running for Vancouver.”

Speaking of getting guys up and running for Vancouver, the organization has moved forward Sheldon Rempal to the taxi squad with the chance of making his Vancouver Canucks debut if the team is in need of a forward in a pinch.

“Remps has been great down here,” said Cull. “He’s a guy who’s played some games in the NHL. He came here and he’s done a really good job of finding his game and he’s been a great driver of our offence. I’ve been rewarding him lately with opportunities on the penalty kill as well as power play and honestly, he’s playing all situations for us as of late and I’m happy for him getting a chance with the taxi squad.”

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When it comes to injuries, the Canucks had four major ones heading into the Christmas break. Jett Woo, Jack Rathbone, Chase Wouters, and Karel Plasek were the four players hampered with injuries. Here’s the update.

Jett Woo is healthy. He is skating with the team and will be good to go for the next four games.

Karel Plasek is out of his walking boot and back on the ice and Cull says he is getting closer.

“Plasek was on the ice today but not for full practice,” said Cull. “He’s been skating and doing a little bit before and after practice, so we’re happy with his progress. I don’t have a prognosis or a timeline on him just yet. But he is making progress.”

Chase Wouters has recovered from the injury that kept him out before the Christmas break. He is physically healthy but due to other circumstances, he cannot return to the team just yet.

Jack Rathbone is back with the team, he is skating and practicing but will not be available for the first two games of the weekend. He will be a game-time decision for Sunday and Monday’s games against Bakersfield.

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“Jack is back on the ice but he’s not available to me for these next two games for sure,” said Cull. “We’ll see on the possible third and fourth game against Bakersfield but he’s been on the ice. He’s been working himself back and he’s getting closer, that’s for sure. He’s not in a COVID situation — he’s still recovering from the injury.”

From one top prospect to another, Danila Klimovich was just beginning to heat up as the Abbotsford Canucks went on their Christmas break. Klimovich finished the 2021 calendar year with four points in his final five games and coach Cull was liking what he was seeing from the 18-year-old.

“We’ve been working on consistency and just being a little more simple,” said Cull. “When you’re playing the game the right way, better opportunities come to you and that’s one thing we just talked about. It’s been a positive challenge for us to work together. For him, as an 18-year-old acclimating himself to the American Hockey League — and for me, trying to not pigeonhole him in certain situations and trying to still let them foster. It’s a huge challenge that we’ve been dealing with and I think he’s doing a really good job with it. I’m happy to see him find success. He’s out there and he’s grinding away, and sometimes it’s not coming to him. He’s not giving up though, he’s a damn hard-worker. I’m happy to see him evolve into becoming part of our offence and being part of those scoring opportunities now.”

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Cull went on to say that in a similar way to Bruce Boudreau with Brock Boeser, he wants Klimovich to shoot the puck even more. Klimovich is currently fourth on the team with 44 shots in 19 games but Cull still wants more shots from the 18-year-old whose greatest strength is his powerful shot. Cull also gave some love to Klimovich’s English continuing to improve. Cull said that Klimovich is watching a lot of movies in English and that we should expect to hear more movie quotes around the rink from the young Belarusian.

“He’s doing a really good job at working on his English,” said Cull. “He’s watching movies in English, with Russian subtitles and we’ve talked about that. It’s surprising how quickly he’s picked it up. Now, we’re just talking in English. I think he’s probably sick of me saying this, but every time I say something to him, I always ask him, ‘do you understand?’ He always nods, and when I say ‘are you sure?’ He always says, ‘yes!'”

It’s good to hear that Klimovich has been improving with his English and I will definitely work on getting to know which movies he has been watching.

Now to the crease, where Spencer Martin has stolen the starter’s role and gone on a 5-0-0 streak. Martin has outplayed the likes of Arturs Silovs and Mikey DiPietro and this is not great news for the young promising goaltenders. I asked Cull if he was worried about the development of DiPietro and Silovs with them not playing so many games this season after a 2020-21 year where they barely played in any games at all.

“We prepared them all for this and Curtis Sanford has done a great job with these guys,” said Cull. “He and I talk to each one of these guys and walk them through how everything has been going. We’ve been very upfront with all three of them, and we’ve told them to be as patient as possible. But we also know that things could change very quickly. It’s not like I’m playing Martin back-to-back, maybe Arty is the one who has gotten the least lately but the idea being is that at any moment, especially right now, it’s such a liquid atmosphere. Things will change even more now with a taxi squad.”

Simply put, Martin has played well enough to earn the starts and though DiPietro and Silovs need game action to develop, they have not played well enough to earn it just yet. Martin going to the taxi squad will open the door for more starts for the 22 and 20-year-olds but for now, they need to play better in their opportunities to earn starts.

DiPietro has been a letdown this season. He’s posting a 3.13 goals-against average with a save percentage of .901. We were expecting him to take a big step towards becoming an NHL-calibre goalie for next year but that may need to be pushed back a year and could very possibly be due to the loss of game action in the 2020-21 season.

Finally, the coach is a bit worried about playing four games in five nights but just wants to see improvements from his team as they match up against a Bakersfield team that has been playing games while Abbotsford has been going through a Christmas break that was extended due to COVID concerns.

“I don’t have expectations for the weekend,” said Cull. “We’re playing a team that’s already played three games since Christmas. We had a tough start to our year with training camp, with not having enough bodies to get much done. Then we went on a road trip and got ourselves going so all I’m hoping for is an improvement from night to night. It is a tall task when you talk about four games in five nights. Four in five is tough when you’re healthy and your team is up and running in great shape. Just being honest here, we’re not where we want to be right now. That being said, there’s a lot of teams that are in these situations right now and we’re going to do our best.”

The team has apparently brought in some extra bodies to help boost their roster and an announcement is expected to come from the team in the next 24 hours.

The Abbotsford Canucks are going to do their best over the next five days but through everything that they have had to deal with over the past two weeks, Cull nailed it by calling it a “tall task”.

We will see what they can muster up at the Abbotsford Centre over the next five days.

Thursday’s puck drop is scheduled for 7 pm.
Friday’s game is 7 pm.
Sunday’s game is 4 pm.
Monday’s game is 7 pm.

All games can be viewed on AHLtv.