WHISTLER, B.C. – Two of the stalwart Vancouver Canucks blueliners on a team steeped in solid goaltending and defence used the opening day of a two-day training camp to emphasize one thing: players must look after their own game.
“As a player who’s been around a long time, you don’t worry too much about what’s going on off the ice,” said veteran defenceman Mattias Ohlund after the Canucks went through an uptempo workout at Meadow Park Sports Centre in the resort community of Whistler.
“Last year was a tough year and it’s going to be a big challenge to get back on track this year,” said the 32-year-old Swede who started with the Canucks in the 1997-98 season.
Control of the players now rests with GM Mike Gillis, who was hired after the firing of Dave Nonis.
That was far from the only change.
Long-time captain Markus Naslund departed for the New York Rangers and veteran centre Brendan Morrison signed with Anaheim.
Trevor Linden retired and promising defenceman Luc Bourdon was killed shortly after last season ended in a motorcycle accident in New Brunswick.
Ohlund says those players will be missed but pro sports means constant change.
“It’s tough losing friends but that’s part of the game. At the same time I do feel a lot of excitement, a lot of younger guys who you feel are ready to take the next step in the dressing room and on the ice.”
Willie Mitchell, another key defenceman on a team that boasts one of the top defensive corps in the NHL, echoed Ohlund’s feelings about players having to look after their own game and not worry about personnel.
“You know, it’s not our job to worry about – I know, you probably want a better answer than that – but it’s not our job to worry about who’s here and who’s not,” said the 31-year-old native of Port McNeill, B.C., who is starting his third season in Vancouver.
Naslund and Morrison’s skills will be missed, but new players add a different chemistry, he said.
“I don’t think you ever replace those players outright. But the freshness helps energize people. They’ll be missed. They’re good people and good players.
“I’ve been a new face on teams and we have new faces this year.”
The main concern for the Canucks this year is whether they can score enough goals to win enough games to make the playoffs.
Their goaltending with Roberto Luongo is top notch and they have a solid defence that was crippled with injuries last season.
“Last year we weren’t healthy and we felt we had one of the better back ends in the league, including the goaltender, obviously,” said Mitchell. “I think we had only two guys play over 70 games all year. It’s starts with Roberto in net and if you can spend less time in your zone you’re going to score more goals.”
The Canucks biggest off-season acquisitions were Pavol Demitra from Minnesota and Steve Bernier from Buffalo.
The Canucks signed the 33-year-old Slovakian to a two-year, US$8-million NHL contract.
Bernier was signed to a US$2.5-million, one-year contract.
The new-look Canucks also signed defenceman Rob Davison to a one-year, US$560,000 deal. The six-foot-three, 220-pound St. Catharines, Ont., native split last season between San Jose and the New York Islanders.
Also added were forwards Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson and Kyle Wellwood.