Ten years, six teams, three tryouts, seven contracts and 600 games. Alex Chiasson’s mile-marker on Monday with the Vancouver Canucks came after a long and difficult journey on a road less travelled.
“Pretty special night for me tonight — 600 games,” the 31-year-old said after the Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 at the United Center. “I’ve moved around quite a bit and found a way to just kind of stick with it throughout my career. There’s something to be said about that.”
There’s a lot to be said about that. If you think making the NHL is hard, trying staying in it as a depth forward at the bottom of the roster, annually fending off younger, flashier entry-level players and prospects.
Chiasson made the Canucks in October on his third Professional Tryout in four years, and on Monday scored his fifth goal of the season to start Vancouver on its bounce-back win after the Canucks were fairly dismal in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames.
The winger from Montreal said back in October, having previously succeeded on PTOs in Washington and Edmonton, that the tryout process gets more difficult with age, not easier.
But he’s still here, still working, still finding ways to contribute and keep his job in the best league in the world.
“I think today I had a moment just to realize a lot that I’ve been through,” Chiasson told reporters on Zoom. “I’ve had a lot of people supporting me throughout the process; this isn’t just about me and I’m thankful for them. This is the greatest game to play. I’ve had the opportunity to win in Washington, and I think that kind of keeps you open-minded on things. I’ve had the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the game. This game has given me so much. I just feel really grateful for all these opportunities, and now being part of this group (with) what we’ve been able to do here in the last six or seven weeks.”
Since starting a five-game road trip in January with losses against the top three teams in the NHL, the Canucks are 4-1-3 in their last eight games, taking points in all but one despite emerging from a COVID crisis that kept key players out of the lineup and some stuck on the wrong side of the Canada-U.S. border.
The team is 12-4-4 since Bruce Boudreau became coach on Dec. 5, building that successful 20-game segment despite playing only seven times at home.
Chiasson came to the Canucks after spending the last three seasons in Edmonton. Before that, there were stops in Washington, Calgary, Ottawa and Dallas, where the Stars selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
“I just believed in my game,” he said. “I believed in what I can bring to a team. After maybe my two years in Ottawa, I had to build my game back up. I think Washington (in 2017-18) was huge for me. A lot of the guys there took time to help me with my game and understand, you know, how to get better and what I can do, how I can play, to be successful for a team. I think mentally, you’re just trying to stay with it (and) believe in yourself. It goes by fast; I can tell you that.”
Chiasson scored from the slot at 12:21 of the first period on a pass from Justin Dowling after Nils Hoglander, the third member of the Canucks’ fourth line, generated a turnover by Chicago defenceman Jake McCabe.
Brock Boeser made it 2-0 at 4:28 of the second period on a short-side redirection from Quinn Hughes’ outstanding pass. Luke Schenn shot 170 feet into an empty net to give the Canucks five of six points on their current road trip.
It ends Tuesday night in Nashville against the Predators.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves for the Canucks in his first game since Dec. 30. The veteran backup tested positive for Omicron shortly before a scheduled start in Carolina on Jan. 15, then spent five days in quarantine and a total of 11 days away from the team due to federal government border restrictions.
Monday’s game was just the second time in eight starts that Halak received three goals of run support from teammates, albeit with an empty-netter.
“If you don’t play a couple weeks or a month, it is hard,” Halak said. “Especially being out for 10 days (due to COVID), meeting the group, trying to get in the groove right away, it’s never easy. The guys played pretty good in front of me tonight; we didn’t give them a lot, especially in the third. Really great effort.”
Boudreau has been able to say that about his goaltender – no matter who it is.
The Canucks have used three goalies the last three games, and Halak, Thatcher Demko and minor-league callup Spencer Martin surrendered only one goal each.
SPEAKING OF DEFENCE
With defenceman Tucker Poolman missing his second straight game – and eight straight periods – due to an undisclosed non-COVID illness, Schenn is making the most of his blueline reunification with Hughes.
Schenn logged over 21 minutes for the second time in as many games, after reaching that mark only once in his first 27 games, scored the empty-net goal, registered 12 hits and a Corsi-for of 67.6 per cent.
“Well, he’s the first defenceman that has scored a goal since I’ve been here, so to me he’s Bobby Orr,” Boudreau said. “Whether he plays great or mediocre or what have you, the one thing you know about Luke Schenn is he gives you everything he’s got every night. Again tonight, I think he had nine hits after the second period, being physical and being a leader back there. And that’s what you need, especially when you’re playing with Hughesie. He’s a real good complement to him and that’s why it’s working.”
Rookie Vasily Podkolzin was a healthy scratch for the first time since October. The 20-year-old winger has played nearer the bottom of the lineup under Boudreau than he did under Travis Green, and was under 11 minutes of ice time in five of his last nine games. The Russian has just a single assist in his last 10 games.
“Sometimes it’s just better to take a step back and watch a game and see it,” Boudreau explained. “We’ve been working with him. I said: ‘This isn’t a punishment. This isn’t anything that you did wrong, really. We just want you to take a step back and then get ready for tomorrow night.’ And maybe he’ll see some things that he’s been missing in his game recently. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey and I think he’s just trying to do too much when he gets out there. But. . . he’ll be ready again tomorrow night.”