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No grind, no glory

Monday, 07.03.2011 / 7:37 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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No grind, no glory

Hockey and theatre seemingly have little in common. Or so I thought.

Last Friday was date night and ladybird and I took in Legally Blonde: the musical at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre; this wasn’t my first experience with musicals, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy them.

Weird thing is that while Elle Woods was fighting her way through Harvard Law School to win back the heart of her ex-boyfriend Warner (a thrilling plot to say the least), I gained a deeper appreciation for the Vancouver Canucks, and specifically Jannik Hansen.

In the second scene, Warner breaks up with Elle because she isn’t serious enough for him. The action is set in a restaurant with the two main characters at centre stage and naturally that’s where 99 per cent of the attention from those in attendance was. My interest, however, wandered to the tables in the back where two couples were having the most real/fake conversations I’ve ever seen, arm gestures and cutlery to the mouth without any food and all.

That got me thinking: if these background actors were careless and less attentive to detail, it wouldn’t have made for such a tightly run production – one that, I’m told, was good.

This applies to hockey how? Well, while the average fan is watching Daniel and Henrik Sedin tear down the ice en route to an astonishing goal, there’s a lot more that goes into that play than just the end result.

Sometimes it’s a hit to set up a pass, sometimes it’s the crisp tape-to-tape pass, sometimes it’s subtler than that, but like those dining actors engaged in "conversation", it makes a world of difference and it’s the reason the Canucks are in the driver’s seat down the stretch.

Jannik Hansen receives few accolades for his role on Vancouver’s checking line, yet he has become the backbone of a team on the cusp of its best season in franchise history.

It wasn’t so long ago that Hansen was the 287th selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, or should I say the fifth-last pick in the draft. While other teams were playing eeny, meeny, miny, moe for a needle in the haystack, the Canucks had done their research on the Denmark product and nabbing the nearly overlooked forward is truly paying dividends.

Hansen is the lowest player ever drafted by the Canucks and he’s already tied with Mike Sillinger for 111th in franchise scoring with 24 goals and 36 assists. Of the 2004 draft class, only 24 players outside the top 30 chosen have played more NHL games than Hansen and a mere 16 first round picks have trumped the Canuck, led by Alex Ovechkin’s 462 games played.

Just so we’re clear: 242 players drafted ahead of Hansen have failed to match what he’s done thus far in his young career.

Now in his third season with the Canucks, and first injury free campaign in which he’s been one of only seven Vancouver players to appear in every game, the 24-year-old leads the team in hits with 133, he’s fifth in takeaways with 35, his 24 blocked shots ranks 11th, while his average ice time of 14:46 is a personal-high.

All this and Hansen has a career-high 24 points thanks to a rush of three points (1-2-3) in his last two games. The Great Dane needs one more goal and one more assist to pass personal bests of nine and 15. What’s unique about Hansen’s numbers is that he’s produced more (5-9-14) with less (32 games) on the road, compared to 10 points (4-6-10) in 35 home games.

Hansen has become the soul of a line made up of himself, Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres and the trio is currently in the forefront for the Canucks because of their offensive prowess in back-to-back games over the weekend.

It’s easy to lose track of the threesome when it isn’t scoring, but they’ve been producing nonetheless. Aside from Hansen, Malhotra is nearing career-marks in goals, assists and points and is second in league faceoff percentage at 62 per cent and second amongst NHL centremen in blocked shots with 70, while Torres is two assists from 100 and five from matching his best of 19, third in team hits at 116 and has 10 (5-5-10) of his 27 points against Northwest Division rivals.

Right now the offence is there from Hansen, Torres and Malhotra and no one is saying the well will run dry over the last 15 games before playoffs, but if it does, take comfort in their ability to get the job done everywhere else on the ice.

The goals get the glory and the grind gets overlooked and that’s just fine with Hansen and company.

After all, there’s always someone watching.