VANCOUVER – The first time he played an NHL playoff game, Chris Tanev was a little-known 21-year-old minor league call-up who was two years removed from the Markham Waxers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Tanev was ninth on the Vancouver Canucks’ defence depth chart, still a rookie in the American Hockey League, when the 2011 Stanley Cup tournament began. But the defenceman from Toronto logged nearly 21 NHL minutes the night Kevin Bieksa’s overtime slap shot (on an assist from a stanchion) won the Western Conference title and sent the Canucks to their first Stanley Cup Final in 17 years.
Tanev then played the final three games of the Canucks’ seven-game series loss against the Boston Bruins.
No one at the start of that spring foresaw this undrafted, skinny-but-smart late bloomer playing for the chance to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Still, Tanev was ready.
And five years since he last played a playoff game, Tanev will be ready again this summer no matter how little time teams have to prepare for an extraordinary Stanley Cup summer tournament in the year of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mentally, it’s the same; you’re getting ready to go,” Tanev told reporters in a conference call Tuesday when asked about preparing for an NHL training camp in July and playoffs in August.
“Whenever the day is that it starts, I think everyone will be ready and mentally prepared. Depending on where everyone was in the world (during the NHL’s four-month shutdown), they were allowed to do different things. I feel strong. I’ve worked out. I’ve been skating for quite a while now. I feel ready to go whenever that date is.”
Earlier, the 30-year-old said: “I was fortunate enough my first few years in the league to be able to play in the playoffs, and we haven’t been able to do it in recent years. Our young guys are our best players, and they’ll be ready to go.
“I think we have just as good a shot as anyone to win this thing, so I think we’re going to be ready to go once the puck drops.”
There isn’t much time.
Ordinarily, players skate hard for at least a month before training camp, which is followed by a five- to eight-game pre-season ahead of October season-openers – the first step in an 82-game race to the playoffs that increases steadily in pace and intensity.
In the summer of COVID-19, the 24 teams still playing will have as little as three weeks – and perhaps only one or two exhibition games – to get ready for “playoff” hockey.
No one knows for sure what the hockey will look like, except there will be no spectators in the arenas of the hub cities, which are expected to be Edmonton and Toronto.
“I honestly have no idea,” Tanev said. “I don’t know if there’s an exhibition game or two games or what’s going on, but that play-in series is going to be, I think, a lot different for guys. You’re sort of jumping in to play playoffs (after) maybe only playing one game. It’s going to be very different. But I think as that series gets passed, and you start to get into the second and third rounds, the hockey will get quite good as guys get playing more.”
The Canucks have a five-game preliminary-round series against the Minnesota Wild.
Tanev was one of only three Canucks – Troy Stecher and Alex Edler were the others – who remained in Vancouver during the shutdown. The benefit, besides the obvious health advantage of remaining in one of the safest major cities in the world, is that Canucks who didn’t require a flight to return to the West Coast now have relative freedom compared to group-quarantining teammates.
“I think a few guys aren’t as happy as us who have the freedom to walk around and do things outside of the hotel room, that’s for sure,” Tanev said.
Besides Tanev, Edler and Stecher, the Freedom Group includes Jake Virtanen and Tyler Myers, who spent most of the shutdown in the Okanagan, as well as Albertans Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle and Manitoban Micheal Ferland.
Virtanen marked his return to the city last week by visiting a nightclub. Video and photos of the winger mixing with friends caused Canucks Twitter to melt. The Virtanen party was subject to the club’s social-distancing guidelines, but it was an unnecessary risk for the 23-year-old, even if he will have no contact with the majority of his teammates until training camp opens Monday at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks are preparing for camp in small groups isolating from one other.
“I think he knows he made a little bit of a mistake,” Tanev said. “But he’s tested now, I believe, twice and he’s tested negative. It’s obviously a tough situation when you’re not technically in quarantine and you’re allowed to go out and do whatever you want. But you’ve got to keep everyone in mind that we’re trying to create a safe environment for everyone. I think he knows that that was obviously the wrong decision, but I mean, I think him and guys seeing that now going forward will be smarter.”
Coaches call that a teachable moment.
We’ve had a lot of those in the world since February.