VANCOUVER – Peter Schaefer improved his chances of earning a contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night as he literally faced up to the challenge.
Schaefer, a former Canuck who is back on a tryout, was sent to the dressing room to repair a cut eye late in the first period after going face-first into the boards.
The 34-year-old still recorded an assist and played an important part on another goal as the Canucks beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 in NHL pre-season action at Rogers Arena.
It was just the kind of performance he needed after sitting out all of last season while other NHL teams showed little interest in signing him.
“As long as you can see, there’s not much that’s going to stop a hockey player from going out there and trying to prove himself,” said Schaefer. “It doesn’t matter if you’re under contract or not, every guy is the same. They want to play the game.”
Schaefer’s desire to play was strengthened as he worked out in his West Vancouver home in 2009-10. He is in Canucks camp on a professional tryout offer with no guarantee of a deal. The Yellow Grass, Sask., native is trying to regain a berth with the Canucks a decade after an acrimonious departure.
“It was definitely a test of mental strength being by yourself and trying the whole season and no real goal at the end of the road, but I plugged away,” he said. “I thought I did a pretty good with the people that I worked with (training in) North Vancouver.
“I was fortunate enough to get a chance back here with the Canucks.”
His welcome was unexpected. He stopped playing for the Canucks following a contract dispute that sent him to Finland for the 2001-02 season and he was traded to Ottawa for defenceman Sami Salo before the 2002-03 campaign.
But his opportunity to present his skills Saturday was threatened when Dan Sexton planted him into the boards at 14:22 of the first period. But he came back in the second after going to the dressing room for repairs.
“Our right winger (rookie Jordan Schroeder) was over on the left side, so I just went over to fill the spot and (Sexton) pinched down and I bit the dasher,” said Schaefer, sporting stitches over his right eye. “It’s just unfortunate that I missed the last (five and a half minutes) of the first period.”
While Schaefer was in the dressing room, Henrik Sedin gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead on the power play as he put in Daniel’s rebound. It was the first goal of the pre-season for Henrik Sedin, who won the NHL scoring title last season as well as the Hart Trophy as most valuable player.
After Schaefer came back to the ice in the second period, he assisted on what proved to be the winning goal. Guillame Desbiens easily put in Alex Bolduc’s rebound after he redirected Schaefer’s shot from the blue-line onto Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller, giving the Canucks a 2-0 lead.
It was a rare time on the night that Schaefer played without usual linemates Brendan Morrison, a former Canucks teammate who is also back with the club on a contract after two seasons away with Anaheim, Dallas and Washington, and highly touted rookie Schroeder.
Schaefer was unlucky not to get an assist as he and Morrison set up Schroeder on a power play, giving the Canucks a 4-0 advantage. Morrison earned an assist as he passed across the slot to Schroeder for his first goal at the NHL level—after Schaefer dug the puck out from along the boards.
“That’s for debate,” said Schaefer on whether he deserved an assist. “As long as we’re out there scoring, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it.”
He and Morrison clicked in their first game together. While Morrison has felt comfortable in familiar surroundings, Schaefer is still trying to get acclimatized after being away for so long.
“It’s definitely different coming back,” said Schaefer. “There’s not too many familiar faces that I played with, besides the trainers and the (Sedin) twins (and) Morrison.
“There’s not too much familiarity for me . . . I’m just trying to come out and do my best and showcase myself.”
Assistant coach Rick Bowness, who ran the bench while head coach Alain Vigneault was away on a family matter, was impressed with Schaefer’s speed and skating ability while also praising Morrison for a strong outing.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin accounted for Vancouver’s other goals as they both scored and set each other up as the Canucks (1-3) posted their first victory in four exhibition games.
Josh Green replied for the Ducks as they dropped to 2-2 in pre-season.
The Ducks outshot the Canucks 29-25 on the basis of a strong third period. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo made 28 saves as he played the full 60 minutes.
The Canucks converted two of four power-play chances while the Ducks were blanked on five.
NOTES: Top Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson, recovering from back troubles that forced him to miss most of his final junior season, has not yet been cleared for game duty. . . The Canucks assigned defenceman Taylor Ellington to Manitoba of the AHL earlier Saturday. . . Anaheim star Teemu Selanne made his first pre-season appearance but went pointless.