Yes, the NHL shutdown has been rough for all of us. What it has done is given us all time to delve back into Canucks history, and I’ve been reminded of forgotten Canucks players or “unsung heroes” if you will.
For this examination, we will be looking at recent Canucks history. What exactly, you ask, do you mean by “recent”. Well, to make things simple we’ll be looking at the franchise between two unprecedented events in NHL history. These events are the only time the NHL has cancelled an entire season due to a lockout in 2005, and the only time the NHL has suspended a season due to a global pandemic this 2019-20 season. So, the last 15 years, which happens to be the same time period I’ve followed the team closely.
So let’s get started.
Honorable Mention: Lee Sweatt
While he only played 3 games in a Canucks uniform, 5’9” defenceman Lee Sweatt did all he could to be remembered, and he succeeded. During the great 2010-11 season, Sweatt recorded two points in three games, and even scored on his first NHL shot off of a great Sedin setup to win a big game against the Preds. What more could you want out of an honorable mention.
Moving on, we’ll run this list in historical order. First from the 2005-06 season, we’ll get started with Anson Carter, possibly the best Sedin linemate until Alex Burrows came into the fray. Carter put up his most prolific goal scoring season alongside the twins, scoring 33 goals and 55 points. He also won the Canucks Most Exciting Player Award at the end of the disappointing season and was one of the only bright-spots that year. Take a look at some of these sweet Sedins-to-Carter setups:
The 2006-07 season was filled with forgotten cult heroes. Let’s start with Jan Bulis. The at-the-time 28-year old came over off of a career high 20 goal season with the Habs and was one of the biggest moves of the Luongo offseason. While he disappointed with only 12 goals and 23 points, he made up for his numbers with moments such as straight-up piggybacking Marty Turco in a February game against the Stars.
You truly didn’t see Bulis’s impact on the scoresheet. His legend might live best through the well-known sports blog, Pass it to Bulis. Just pure cult-style stuff.
This list would not be complete without Jeff Cowan. The rugged winger was put on waivers by the LA Kings at about the halfway point of the season. One of the best moves Dave Nonis made was picking Cowan up in late December. While he went his first 22 games as a Canuck without registering a point, he scored six goals in four games during an unforgettable early-March run.
The legend even had bras being thrown on the ice after scoring goals, leading to him being coined “The Bra-barian”. He even scored a double-OT winner for the Canucks only win of their 2nd round series that year against the Anaheim Ducks. Quite simply, Cowan is a Canucks folk hero.
Wrapping up the cult classics from ‘07 is Rory Fitzpatrick. The veteran, journeyman defenseman was brought in by Dave Nonis during the 2006 offseason to shore-up depth on the back-end.
Little did Nonis know, he was signing a near-All-Star defenceman. While only putting up one goal and six assists on the season, the “Vote-for-Rory” online campaign was started by Canucks fans to get an unlikely player into the 2007 All-Star game. It almost worked, too.
Rory finished 3rd in overall All-Star voting behind only Scott Niedermayer and Nick Lidstrom, both NHL legends. While Rory ultimately didn’t end up going to the All-Star Game, his campaign set the stage for journeyman tough guy John Scott to make the game nine years later in 2016. Rory was truly a trendsetter for the league and a player who should always be remembered in Canucks history.
Finally moving out of the wacky 2006-07 season, time to revisit the Canucks tenure of Darcy Hordichuk between 2008 and 2010. Hordichuk was a true enforcer needed at a time when the Sedins were just entering their prime and the team was becoming a true contender. He had an action-filled two years with the team, racking up 252 penalty minutes in 129 games. He fought, hit, and generally caused a ruckus out of his limited ice-time. He also finished off a beauty set-up from the late great Rick Rypien in the ‘09 playoffs against the Hawks. So, Hordichuk deserves a spot on this list.
Next, we’ll cover Andrew Ebbett, who donned the blue and green between 2011 and 2013. Ebbett is the quintessential story of a guy who never gave up on his NHL dreams with his drive eventually paying dividends.
Standing only 5’9” and weighing 172 pounds, scouts overlooked him due to his size in the early to mid-2000s, and he ended up undrafted. Ebbett played for three NHL teams before Mike Gillis picked him up in the offseason after the Cup Finals loss, and he turned out to be a valuable fourth line asset for two years.
Over the course of 46 games with the team, he recorded six goals and 12 points, the most memorable of which was an OT-winner in a huge mid-season match-up against the Sharks in December of 2011. He’s a great example of a hockey lifer who made his dream come true, and prime material for this list.
Moving into post-contending Canucks territory, comes arguably the lone-bright spot of the Torts experiment in Vancouver. B.C. boy Mike Santorelli was on pace for a career season before he got injured at the 49 game mark. In his tenure, he put up impressive totals of 10 goals and 18 assists, and scored some important goals in the first half of the season before everything hit the fan under John Tortorella in 2013-14.
So, Santorelli is out and everything falls apart. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence. Oh, what could’ve been if Mike was able to see things through that year. Instead all we have are memories of Torts bull-rushing the Flames locker room and the losses piling up there-after. Still, Santorelli is a solid forgotten Canuck.
Next, we have an unsung hero of the Willie Desjardins-era, Latvian legend Ronalds Kenins. The undrafted rookie made quite the impact on the fourth line during the stretch run of 2014-15, putting up four goals and 12 points in 30 games. He also scored a beauty one-timer goal from rookie Bo in Game Two of the first round series against the Flames.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, Kenins moved onto the Swiss league the year after in 2016. How though could we exclude a man named Ronalds from the list?
Last but not least, we need to recognize the fill-in duties of Alex “the Bulldog” Biega over bits and pieces of Canucks hockey between 2015 and 2019. Biega brought hard-nosed, pesky defensive play to the Canucks blueline during one of its darkest periods in team history. Willie D and Travis Green could always rely on the Bulldog to give the team his 110% when he would fill in on the third pairing.
There were many dark Canuck-nights over the past four years where seemingly the only bright spot on the team was the can-do attitude of Alex Biega. He is a guy I, and likely many other Canucks fans, hope is able to continue to play in the league in the coming years.