Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com
Last year, the Canucks went through it all. Almost quite literally. The question is, what have they learned from last year which will change things this year?
They say sport is more mental than it is physical. Having spent ten years as a national calibre athlete, I can’t stress the truth of that statement and it’s the root of a fundamental difference between last year’s run and the journey the Canucks are about to embark on.
Last year, the Canucks were in the hunt for the Northwest Division crown, the Presidents Trophy, and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They were in the hunt for the Art Ross Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Selke Trophy, and of course, the Stanley Cup. There was a pressure instilled on them from day one with TSN and a host of others picking them as the favourites to take it all. That pressure comes with an unparalleled mental fatigue which drains you before you even get to the important part of the year, the second season.
This year, the Canucks almost chanced upon the Presidents Trophy when they came into contention of winning it in just the final games of the season. Home ice was locked up well in advance, and the Northwest Division crown was hardly a challenge.
Out of the running for the Art Ross this year, the Sedins have had less pressure on them and have allowed them to simply play hockey. With Ryan Kesler having a rebound year post-injury, Cody Hodgson and his Calder Trophy stress shipped off to Buffalo, Cory Schneider playing significant games, and in a way, taking Roberto Luongo out of the running for the Vezina, the Canucks enter the most mentally-gruelling part of the season significantly more mentally-rested and without the day-in-day-out drain of individual trophies and awards.
Nobody remembers that you won the Presidents Trophy; everyone remembers that you lost the Stanley Cup.
Having been to the dance before, this veteran group is armed mentally for the grind. That said, there is much to be said for the lack of other pressures leading into the post season, which have allowed the team to move forward and focus on the most important task at hand which is getting to 16 wins this post season. The post-season is emotional and we saw that toll – both physical and mental – on the team. While some have suggested an off-year for many players is a bad thing – and have compared the accolades of last year to the noticeable lack of them this year – it may actually quite possibly be the best thing that the Canucks finished again with the most points in the league – their second best season ever – having expended considerably less energy as they head into the toughest two months of the schedule. In this context, they’re better prepared for the grind than ever before.