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THE MOJ: Success of gruelling road trip more evidence Canucks are for real

You don’t have to wait to see them play the big boys, this is a legitimately good hockey team
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet addresses the media after his team lost 4-3 the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night. Vancouver Canucks photo

It’s been an interesting season for the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks have surprised a lot of people this year with their performance which sees them currently sitting with a league-best 62 points as of Tuesday morning.

Yet all year long, they’ve struggled to make believers out of some.

When they got off to a 6-2-1 start in October, fans and media alike held back on their assessment of the team until American Thanksgiving.

After Vancouver beat Seattle 5-1 on Nov. 24 - a day after that holiday - they hit the quarter pole with a record of 14-6-1.

It still wasn’t enough to convince those who saw their play as a bit of a mirage with the point being made that the hockey club hadn’t played some of the so-called heavyweights in the Western Conference.

Heading into the Christmas break, Vancouver had taken on Dallas twice while playing Vegas and Colorado only once each with their record being 1-2-1 against those foes. As for Winnipeg and Los Angeles, they wouldn’t appear on the Canucks schedule until Feb. 17 when the Jets pay a visit to Rogers Arena.

Then, of course, there would be another barometer.

“Let’s wait and see what happens on the big Eastern swing in January.”

The monstrous seven-game trip ended Monday night in Columbus with the Blue Jackets beating a tired Canucks team 4-3 in a shootout. It marked the first time this season in 27 games that the Canucks didn’t come away with two points after leading through two periods.

Given the travel arrangements out of Buffalo that would have made Del Griffith proud, the team competed against Columbus and almost found a way to pull out a win despite not having any energy.

“We were a tired group. It was a tough game for some guys but we hung in there. We had the lead there in the third but you got to give them credit. Columbus worked hard,” head coach Rick Tocchet said after the shootout loss.

Despite the loss in “Circus Time” – as the great Dan Russell would call it – the Canucks finished the trip with 11 out of a possible 14 points.

When asked about the trip as a whole, Tocchet obviously liked what he saw from his team.

“It’s been a hell of a trip. There’s been a lot thrown at the guys and you could tell they were mentally fatigued (tonight). Like I said, to grind out a point at this stage – the seventh game (of the trip) – it’s nice to just get on that plane and get home,” added Tocchet.

Despite answering every challenge in front of them this season, judging by social media and post-game radio shows on Sportsnet 650, there is still an element of Canuck Nation that isn’t buying in.

Perhaps you become jaded about your team when they’ve only made the playoffs one time in the past eight seasons.

For some maybe that pessimism is rooted on a much larger scale if you have been cheering for this team since its inception in 1970.

News bulletin: this team is for real.

First off, Tocchet, his staff and the players couldn’t care less about what’s happened here the last 5, 10 or 50 years. Their concern is now – as in today.

Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not two weeks or two months from now. This team is in the moment.

One of Tocchet’s catch phrases is ‘earning the day’ and it’s evident by this team’s solid performances and their ability to bounce back after a poor one.

You don’t have to wait to see them play against Vegas or Boston or Colorado.

This is a Canucks team that can compete, and more importantly as assistant coach Adam Foote told Canucks rinkside reporter Kate Pettersen the other day, their confidence as a group is growing.

“We’ve noticed on the plane the last couple of trips, they’re starting to believe. When I hear them laugh at the back of the bus, it feels good because they’re having fun. You can still have fun and hold each other accountable and even if we have a couple of bad days, we can be held accountable to do our work and do it hard. But still, we don’t have to be thinking the world’s caving in either,” explained the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

During their seven-game junket, the Canucks won all types of hockey games. Whether the game was high-scoring, tight-checking or intense, they found a way to come out on top.

It’s a great sign moving forward.

And yes, you better start believing.


* The Canucks kick off a five-game homestand with Arizona on Thursday night. After that, Toronto, Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus all visit Rogers Arena prior to the All-Star break.

* With Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, Thatcher Demko and Tocchet all heading to Toronto for the NHL All-Star game on Feb. 3, it will be the largest Canuck contingent to ever represent the team at the event. The previous high-water marks were in 2003 (Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Jovanovski and Marc Crawford) and in 2011 (Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alain Vigneault).

* When the team returns to action after the break, they will have another Eastern trip with Carolina, Boston, Detroit, Washington and Chicago on the docket.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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