VANCOUVER – Vancouver coach John Tortorella is hoping some fresh air will help his struggling team produce more goals when they host the Ottawa Senators in Sunday’s NHL Heritage Classic.
The Canucks (28-24-10) have struggled to score while losing eight of their past nine games.
“Sometimes when you get into an outdoor situation, you feel like it’s back when you were playing pond hockey,” said Tortorella after his team skated on the makeshift ice rink at B.C. Place Stadium for the first time in a practice Saturday.
“I think some of our guys need to, offensively, just allow themselves to play some shinny hockey. Maybe this’ll help us, I don’t know, because you can’t help but enjoy it when you’re in a situation like this.”
But he doesn’t want them to have too much fun against the Ottawa Senators as both teams continue difficult quests for playoff berths. The Canucks are locked in a battle for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Senators (26-23-11), who worked out at the stadium later Saturday, are battling for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with Detroit—and looking to make amends after getting crushed by the Red Wings 6-1 on Thursday.
“You have two teams that are in the same situation, trying to fight to get in,” said Tortorella. “Hopefully, we’ll be all business then.”
Tortorella still wants his players to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Although he has tried to help the team relax as it resumed workouts following the Olympic break, he believes the stadium venue could help “loosen them up” more as they try to score more often.
“I was fortunate enough to play in one in Philly, and it’s a neat process,” said Tortorella, who coached the New York Rangers against the Philadelphia Flyers in January 2012 and drew a $30,000 fine for criticizing the officials. “It’s a neat process. It’s fun for the guys. I think it’s great for the game. I hope there are some good stories that come out of it.”
The Canucks got into the spirit of the Heritage Classic on Saturday as they donned vintage maroon red and beige duds for the practice which was attended by numerous media, fans and event organizers.
First, the Canucks wore the replica Vancouver Millionaires jerseys as they posed for a team picture. Then they switched into practice jerseys with goalies and forwards in maroon red and defencemen in grey.
“I didn’t even realize the roof was open at first, because it kind of blends in (with the sky) a little bit,” said Tortorella. “I just thought they kept the building really cold.”
Goalies Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack had the best-looking stuff. Luongo wore a maroon mask adorned with a beige “V” and the word Vancouver on it. He also sported faux-leather brown pads and gloves. Meanwhile, Lack wore a similar mask with maroon and beige pads and gloves.
Lack said the ice conditions were excellent.
“It’s little bit slippery, too,” he said. “You slide a little bit side to side. I felt like I had a great edge out there, too. It kind of feels like an away game. It’s not gonna be too different.”
Lack does not expect lighting to be an issue either, if he gets the call from Tortorella, who declined to name his chosen starter. He found it easier to track the puck at B.C. Place than in traditional arenas.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect me at all,” he said. “I had these (eye) black things, but that was more for, like, fashion or something.”
Environment Canada has issued a snowfall warning for coastal B.C. on Sunday with five to 10 centimetres expected inland and at higher elevations in Metro Vancouver. But in case the weather forecast is wrong, the field has already been covered with fake snow.
“We usually had two practices outdoors a week back in Sweden,” said Lack. “It really helped, so I’m used to playing outdoors. But it’s definitely a little bit warmer here than I’m used to. We had an outdoor practice in Winnipeg (with Vancouver’s former Manitoba Moose farm team.) That’s a little bit different than this—for sure.”
Vancouver winger Zack Kassian, who has attended some B.C. Lions games under the retractable dome, said the stadium felt much different than usual.
“The ice felt a little hollow,” said Kassian. “When you got big guys like Tommy (Sestito) skating by, you could hear the thumps.”
The Windsor, Ont., native has fond memories of playing shinny on Lake Erie as a youngster.
“We used to build rinks (out of snow), but this has a whole different element to it,” he said.
Vancouver defenceman Jason Garrison said he and his teammates are “really excited to play on a change of venue,” and the workout “brought out a lot of energy.”
Garrison, who grew up in the suburban Vancouver community of White Rock, and never expected to get a chance to play an NHL game outdoors, did not have as many opportunities as his teammates to play outdoors due to British Columbia’s mild weather.
“We tried a couple times, freezing the lawn a couple times, or building a semi-rink,” he said. “(Snow) didn’t come very often.”
Tortorella plans to keep warm in an old-style hockey “varsity jacket.” But he ruled out donning a hat like those sported by coaches of yesteryear.
“I will not be wearing a fedora,” he said with a grimace.
Notes: Canucks centre Brad Richardson missed practice due to a family matter, but will play.…Vancouver returned centre Kellan Lain to Utica of the AHL earlier Saturday.…With no usual morning skate scheduled for the afternoon game, Tortorella said Saturday’s practice was designed just to get players on the ice “and move the blood a little bit.”