VANCOUVER – Besides trying to keep his parents safe, Brock Boeser has been focusing on a couple of important things while spending the National Hockey League shutdown at his lake house in Minnesota.
The Vancouver Canucks winger has been working on his kitchen game, and his shooting game – both at the house he shares with two high-school friends a short drive from the Boeser family home in Burnsville, just south of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“I feel like I’ve cooked more the last month than I did all of last summer,” Boeser told Sportsnet.ca in a telephone interview this week. “One of my buddies is the grill-master. I like to make the breakfasts and the sides and salads. I’m perfecting my salad game. Lately, I’ve been doing spinach with some peppers and a little grated cheese, sometimes some onions just to mix it up.”
Boeser turned 23 in February. His cooking skills are still improving. So, too, he hopes is his shooting.
The 2018 Calder Trophy runner-up had only one game back from his latest injury when hockey closed due to the novel coronavirus on March 12. In that game, a 5-4 shootout win against the New York Islanders two nights earlier that moved the Canucks into a playoff spot based on winning percentage, Boeser had three shots on net but went pointless.
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The season halted with the right winger on a five-game pointless streak and 12-game goal drought, each the longest since he soared into the NHL straight out of the University of North Dakota and scored four times in nine games at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Boeser last scored on Jan. 11 and faces the prospect of finishing his third NHL season with just 16 goals in 57 games. Even with easily the worst slump of his short career, Boeser still posted a solid 45 points and a shots-for percentage of 52.4. That was surely helped by playing alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller on one of the top lines in the NHL, although it should be noted that both Pettersson and Miller had better possession numbers with Boeser than without him.
This is also the third straight season in which the 2015 first-round pick has missed significant time due to injury: 12 games with a rib-cartilage fracture Boeser suffered Feb. 10.
“I could say some of the injuries are unlucky, but that’s part of life,” Boeser said. “I was really focussed on coming back and making a huge difference in the playoff push. I just wanted to get my game back and really contribute in that last little bit, so it obviously sucked that I got one game and then everything shut down.
“I think it’s a confidence thing. If you’re going well and then you get injured, it’s kind of like starting from scratch. It definitely can play some mind games with you, especially this last injury. I was having a tough stretch of games before I got injured. I just took that time off and thought deeply about how I can be better and how I can improve and get out of that little slump I was in.”
He’s still thinking about it. As soon as Boeser returned home from Vancouver, he set up the shooting tarp he keeps in Minnesota. Like all NHL players in North America, Boeser can’t skate during the shutdown, but he has shot a couple of thousand pucks in his driveway.
His shooting percentage of 9.5 on the ice this season was down a third from the 14.3 per cent scoring rate Boeser established during his first two-plus seasons.
“The first 45 games I was almost a point-per-game, then after that, personally I felt I lost some confidence within myself,” he said. “I didn’t trust my abilities. I thought Petey, Millsy and me were playing really well together and having a great year. All three of us can score goals. I felt that maybe I wasn’t scoring but did a pretty good job of playing that full game that we talk about, offensively and defensively. But obviously I’m a goal-scorer and I want to get back to scoring more goals. On that side of things, I’m definitely not too happy with myself.
“Statistically, this was one of my best years and then I had a little slide there. I know I can be a lot better in this league. I personally feel I can be a consistent scorer of 30, 35-plus every year and be that guy they can go to during the season.”
With the time he has had to heal and work on his shot, Boeser vowed he’ll “be ready to go” if the NHL season is salvaged. Understandably, he wants to make sure it’s safe before hockey resumes.
His dad, Duke, 58, has endured a daunting series of medical challenges, including a massive heart attack last summer, Parkinson’s disease and ongoing cancer that began in his lungs. Not long after he heard of COVID-19, before hockey halted, Brock asked his mom, Laurie, to leave her administrative job in order to better shield Duke from the virus.
“We didn’t want my mom getting it and bringing it home to my dad,” he said. “My mom has been really cautious and safe about everything. It is scary knowing that if my dad somehow got it, it could lead down a bad road, so it’s really important for us to stay on top of being safe.”
Brock has been doing the weekly grocery shopping for his parents. He wears gloves and keeps hand sanitizer in his pocket. He said his mom organizes her shopping list geographically, so Brock can make one fluid pass through the store.
“We might miss a few things,” Boeser said. “I don’t mind (grocery shopping) too much. The family is doing well. My parents, I see them, but I’ve been keeping my distance. We’ve been having good weather, so they’ve been coming over and just kind of hanging out at my house. But they’ve been keeping their distance, just to stay safe for my dad. I haven’t even given a hug to my mom or dad since I’ve been back. That obviously sucks.”