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19 Stories: #19 to the rafters

A tribute to one of the greatest players to ever wear a Canucks sweater

Friday, 19.11.2010 / 10:40 AM / Features - 40th Anniversary
By Derek Jory
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19 Stories: #19 to the rafters

Markus Naslund never got a proper send off from the Vancouver Canucks.

We’re making up for it in a big way.

Canucks.com will celebrate the former captain with 19 Stories of Naslund, a special 19-day initiative that will take an in-depth look at Naslund’s career, concluding on December 10th, just one day prior to Naslund’s sweater retirement ceremony at Rogers Arena.

Naslund will become the third Canucks player with his number retired following previous Canucks captains Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden.

The December 11th game versus the Tampa Bay Lightning will mark Naslund’s first return to the arena he called home for 12 seasons, eight as captain, and he’s anticipating the night will be one to remember as the Canucks and their fans pay tribute to one of the greatest players and people to ever wear a Canucks sweater.

“It’s going to be special and neat to have a chance to come back to the arena and I’m sure there will be a lot of memories going through my head and that I’ll be nervous too, but I’m really looking forward to it,” Naslund told Canucks.com from his home in Sweden.

“It’s definitely a great honour and I’m very humbled and thankful to Mike Gillis and the Aquilini family and the whole organization. It’s been a privilege spending such a large part of my and our family’s lives in Vancouver and having a chance to play for the Canucks for such a long time, it’s a special place for us and it always will be.”

When Naslund suited up to face the Calgary Flames on April 5, 2008, his future with the Canucks was in limbo, but certainly not over. It ended when he signed with the New York Rangers in the off-season, meaning the final game of the 2007-08 season was his last with the franchise he adored. There was no salute to Naslund as Trevor Linden had confirmed his retirement and that night was also his final outing with the Canucks. Fans gave Linden the rousing standing ovation he deserved and Naslund faded into the background.

His return to the spotlight will bring his time with the Canucks full circle and give him and his family some closure on his memorable time in Vancouver.

“For me with kids, what a special thing to have dad’s jersey up there. It’s tough to really grasp, but it’s definitely a huge thing and it’s tough to compare it to anything else.”

Welcome to the NHL

A spry 18-year-old Naslund was drafted 16th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, opting to return to Sweden and play for Modo the following two seasons. In 1993-94 he made his NHL debut with the Pens, but it wasn’t love at first sight for either side.

Naslund struggled to get into a groove playing in North America for the first time and it wasn’t until 1995-96 that he turned things around with 52 points in 66 games. That was too little, too late for Pittsburgh as they traded Naslund to the Canucks for Alek Stojanov in one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history.

“I had visited Vancouver once or twice with Pittsburgh and I knew that it was a beautiful city. I had no idea where I was going to get traded to and when I heard the news, I was happy, but that was a long travel day,” laughed Naslund, now 36.

“It was neat to have a chance to get to know the city and the country as well, to live in Canada and play for the Canucks, I didn’t know at the time what that would mean and looking back at it, I was lucky to have a chance to get there. It’s funny how small circumstances change your life.”

It’s also funny how a seemingly small trade can change a franchise.

Naslund was a breath of fresh air to the Canucks as one of the most devoted players and community leaders the franchise has ever had.

On the ice, Nazzy was a beauty. Captain Canuck. A teammate through and through, he personified skill, effort and hard work like few others in the league. He could score too. With 346 goals and 756 points (346-410-756) in 884 games, Naslund is Vancouver’s all-time club leader in goals and points, he also led the team in scoring for a record seven consecutive seasons, giving him three benchmarks that won’t soon be eclipsed.

Number 19 was the Cyclone Taylor Trophy recipient as Canucks team MVP five times, a Lester B. Pearson Award winner as the NHL’s most outstanding player in the regular season as voted by the players and a three-time First Team All-Star.

Fond memories

It felt like Naslund did it all in Vancouver and although he achieved more than most of us ever imagined, he fell short of his ultimate goal for the Canucks.

“There are things that I had hoped to accomplish that didn’t pan out, but overall I have very fond memories and definitely nice memories. You always remember the good times and it’s true, but the ones that stand out, unfortunately, are the missed opportunities. Like when we lost to Minnesota one year and we lost to Calgary the next, those two games are the ones that bug me, both game sevens. They are still tough to get over in some ways. I think it’ll be a while before I let those ones go.”

"That being said, the years that I played with Todd and Brendan, those stand out for me because I found that we complimented each other and we had that chemistry you need to have to be successful as an offensive player. That was a special time for all of us."

Naslund isn’t sure how he’ll be remembered in the big scheme of it all, but he knows how he wants to go down in the Canucks history books.

“I want to be remembered as someone that did my best to try to help the team and someone that was trying to be honest with the media and with the fans. I always tried to be myself.”

Listening to Naslund talk about his time with the Canucks will be the highlight of the December night in his honour and despite being jittery about giving the speech, he’s going to take his time in crafting a message to the organization and the fans that will send him off in style.

We wouldn’t expect anything less from this constant professional.

"I’m pretty sure I’ll tear up"

“It’s a good opportunity to let the people know how I truly feel and talk about things that went on in my career. I’m sure I’ll be very nervous, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been a part of jersey retirements before and I know that it usually ends up being an emotional night and I’m pretty sure I’ll tear up as well.”

He won’t be alone – he never truly was. Even in harsh times when the captain had to answer for the team, Canucks fans throughout British Columbia always had his back and he’ll forever have a place in his heart for Vancouver and BC because of it.

“It’s always going to feel home to us, whether my family and I are living there or not. We’re still very much connected to the city and the people that live there. We went back after the season was done in New York a little over a year ago and spent three days just to get some closure for the kids more than anything. It was different coming back but it still holds a special place for us.

“I always had great support from my family, friends and the fans and they’ll all be a part of this night too, that’s what makes it even more special for me.”

19 joins 12 and 16

What’s in a number? For Markus Naslund, number 19 didn’t hold any meaning at first, he was simply handed a jersey with a one and a nine on the back when he made the Modo team as a 17-year-old in Sweden.

“The equipment manager gave me 19 and I wore that in Modo and for the junior national team and the national team. Brian Trottier wore it in Pittsburgh when I first got there, so I wore 29.”

In the end Naslund ended up with number 19 in Vancouver as well, and Daniel Sedin is thankful of that.

“When I was traded to Vancouver I was given number 22 because Tim Hunter was wearing 19 for the Canucks, but he left after my first season there so I asked if I could wear number 19 again and I got it.”

And in the rafters it will stay forever.