Scott Rintoul: The Unusual Suspects
If headlines were hockey statistics, Cody Hodgson would be a frontrunner for the Calder trophy long before playing his first NHL game.
It’s understandable; Hodgson appears to be the most exciting offensive prospect in the Canucks’ organization since the early 90’s when the buzz about Pavel Bure had Vancouverites giddy with anticipation.
But while first-rounders like Hodgson, mysterious talents like Sergei Shirokov and late-bloomers like Evan Oberg have fans projecting line combinations and defensive pairings for the 2012 campaign, recent history suggests that a long shot or two may end up being relevant down the road.
Don’t buy it? Well, here are a few players from the past decade that were viewed as afterthoughts by most, yet found a way to author significant, although often fleeting moments in Canucks’ lore.
Though he was a second round draft pick in 1997, Druken was still struggling to find a steady job in the NHL four years later.
He called Kansas City home for a decent chunk of time early in the 2000-01 season before earning a regular shot with the big club a couple of months in.
On a team that featured the likes of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison, and Andrew Cassels, Druken wasn’t exactly billed as an offensive juggernaut. But with Naslund sidelined late in the season with a broken leg and the Canucks quickly falling out of the playoff picture, it was Druken who played hero.
On April 6th, the Newfoundland native snapped a 13 game goalless drought against the LA Kings to force overtime. Druken then fired the winner past former Canuck Felix Potvin in the extra session, earning Vancouver its first playoff berth in five years.
When Dan Cloutier injured his groin during the morning skate back on December 9th, 2003, Levesque was hitting the books hard at a UBC library in advance of his geography exam the next day.
Eight hours later, he was facing warmup shots from the likes of Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison prior to the Canucks’ contest with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Cloutier’s injury that morning meant that backup Johan Hedberg would get the start against the Pens, but with the Manitoba Moose three time zones away on the east coast, who would back up the backup? With no Moose goaltender able to get to Vancouver in time, the Canucks were forced to find an undrafted amateur goalie with no NHL experience.
Enter Levesque, the Thunderbirds’ third string keeper who was granted a one-time exemption from Canadian Interuniversity Sports.
Though his duty was simply to enjoy the view from the bench, his heart began to pound when Hedberg collided with Konstantin Koltsov in the first period. After a few tense moments, Hedberg arose and continued in goal, but the legend of Chris Levesque was born nonetheless.
He used his hands for punching much more than scoring during his days in Vancouver, but Cowan gave Canucks fans a four-game stretch to remember in early March of 2007.
The gritty journeyman was picked up on waivers from the Kings for the sole purpose of adding some much-needed toughness to the Canucks’ lineup. Any time the tough guy scores, fans add a few decibels to the celebration, but when Cowan buried the biscuit for the first time in 53 games on March 1st, no one could have predicted what was in store.
The winger notched a pair against the Wild in his very next outing – the first two-goal outburst of his 350 game career – and then followed that up by tallying twice against the Lightning two nights later. The two goals against Tampa Bay prompted one female fan to fling her bra onto the ice, and hence, “Cowan the Brabarian” was born.
Cowan scored for the sixth time in four games in Vancouver’s next contest, earning him a regular shift with the Sedins.
The streak promptly came to end and Cowan managed just three more goals in Canucks colours, but his scoring surge spawned one of the great nicknames in recent memory.
The feisty forward may be a household name now, but it wasn’t very long ago that Burrows was fighting for a spot on the Vancouver roster.
The undrafted winger was an ECHL regular for two years following his junior career, but earned himself a stall in Manitoba’s dressing room during the lockout year of 2004-05. Current Canucks’ regulars Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa were also members of that Moose squad, but the odds of the trio reuniting at the NHL level seemed remote.
As a result of injuries on the big club, Burrows managed to vault into Vancouver’s lineup 43 times the next season, and made enough of an impression to play all but one game in the NHL the following campaign.
That said, Alain Vigneault made it very clear at the outset of the 2007-08 season that Burrows was on the bubble in training camp. Burrows cracked the club and then teamed with Kesler to give the Canucks a very effective duo that could both stymie the opposition and provide the occasional goal. Those occasions became much more regular last season when Burrows surprised everyone by scoring 28 goals for the Canucks, a total surpassed only by Daniel Sedin.
The majority of his goals came in critical situations like the one that lifted Vancouver to a 4-3 victory over Carolina in early February, snapping an eight-game losing streak. He was rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $2 million per season – not bad for a guy who appeared destined for a career in the minors.