After an off-season of change both on and off the ice, the Vancouver Canucks finally began their 2008/09 season over the weekend with a skating session at Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler. Unlike previous years, there were no scrimmages as two groups of players spent the mornings going through drills.
The two-day get-together prior to the first pre-season game tonight was more of a fan showcase than a judging clinic. Players' regular season fate will most likely be decided by their exhibition play, not by this weekend.
Several of the activities the coaches put the players through Saturday included stickhandling sessions, fighting for the puck in the corners, one-on-one and two-on-two battles, and even some five-on-one plays. Sunday was much of the same, except for a larger focus on set plays, such as breaking out of the zone and behind the net scenarios. Ice time lasted an hour an a half for each group with a 45-minute off ice cool down following the skate.
After four months of no hockey, fans finally got their fix by packing the Whistler arena both days to catch a glimpse of the new-look Canucks. The biggest applause of the weekend? Easily the loud "Louuu" for Luongo.
With the first two exhibitions being a home-and-away series with the Edmonton Oilers, rookie centre Cory Schneider will be in net for the whole 60 minutes tonight (6 p.m. on Sportsnet) while Luongo and Curtis Sanford will split goaltending duties Tuesday at GM Place.
Of the 45 players who took to the ice, 28-year-old Rob Davison was the most noticeable, especially when he made his presence felt early with a crushing hit on Kyle Wellwood during the first contact drill of the day. The 220-lb defenceman was unmovable during one-on-one battles while out-muscling forwards to the puck.
With line combinations not yet set for the regular season, group B showcased a possible productive tandem. A calm Cody Hodgson found himself feeding to newcomers Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier during both days of camp. This line will be tested against the Oilers tonight as the prospect's play-making abilities will hopefully complement the skill and speed of Demitra and the size and grit of Bernier.
The cannon is ready for action. Sami Salo blasted a rocketing point shot past Luongo during one of the drills, to the crowd's delight.