VANCOUVER – On the night of their lives, Henrik and Daniel Sedin began the ceremony to retire their numbers by sending their best wishes to Jay Bouwmeester and his family.
And if you knew nothing about the Sedins’ Hall of Fame careers with the Vancouver Canucks, those five seconds would largely explain why the identical twins from Sweden are so admired and beloved here, and why the retirement of their numbers, 22 and 33, on Wednesday was one of the great nights for a franchise that has had little to cheer about the last few years.
Bouwmeester, an old rival and admirer of the Sedins, collapsed Tuesday during a game for the St. Louis Blues, but was reported by the club to be doing “very well” after a cardiac incident.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 13, 2020
You can choreograph ceremony, but you can not manufacture emotion, let alone the love that poured down from the stands at Rogers Arena — which was full 100 minutes before the Canucks somehow beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 — and washed over Daniel, Henrik and guests, which included virtually all of their most famous and revered teammates.
Trevor Linden, muscled out as president two years ago, drew a deafening roar far bigger than the criticism he endured while helping lead the transformation of the Canucks into the young, dynamic, playoff-contending team that has emerged this season as surprise leaders of the National Hockey League’s Pacific Division.
But the most poignant moment was Ryan Kesler’s introduction and the huge cheer he received after spending the last six years – since he forced, then lied about, his trade from Vancouver to the Anaheim Ducks — despised in Canucks Nation.
“It was amazing,” Kesler said. “I was nervous before and to get that ovation … it gave me goosebumps. I almost started tearing up. To have the fans stand up and cheer like they used to was a pretty special feeling I’ll never forget.”
After all this emotion, the Canucks had to play a game.
They looked early on like a team that prepared to play by sitting at the bench for 45 minutes riding the waves of emotions generated by the Sedins’ jerseys retirement. The Blackhawks outshot them 13-0 before Quinn Hughes tumbled a muffin into Chicago goalie Corey Crawford at the 10-minute mark.
It seemed like the best Vancouver player might be Kevin Bieksa, the retired Canuck who owned the room when he brilliantly spoke with humour and obvious fondness – also without notes – about the Sedins and other former teammates during the pre-game ceremony.
“Every time I mentioned (Alex) Burrows, people just started laughing,” Bieksa said later.
Actually, he was only the second-best Canuck because Vancouver’s active goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, was better than anyone should be at the NHL level.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 13, 2020
He finished with 49 saves, breaking Kirk McLean’s 28-year-old franchise record for most saves without allowing a goal.
It was ridiculous how good Markstrom was as he upped his Vezina Trophy-calibre season yet another level.
Vancouver was outshot 49-20 and won by three.
The Canucks’ first two goals were deliciously Sedin-like: crisp, pretty passing plays that left Bo Horvat with an open shot from the low slot to make it 1-0 on a power play at 15:33 of the first period, and Adam Gaudette with a largely open net in the second after Vancouver defenceman Jordie Benn steamrolled Drake Caggiula from behind to create a turnover and sudden 3-on-2 in front of Crawford.
Brandon Sutter swept the puck into an empty net from 150 feet to make it 3-0 with 2:09 remaining.
But before he did, Markstrom made terrific saves against Dominik Kubalik, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews.
Toews and Patrick Kane combined for 13 shots and 44 minutes of ice time, and Markstrom gave them nothing.
It’s like the outcome was preordained in honour of the Sedins, who finished playing nearly two years ago, but avidly follow the Canucks from their homes in Vancouver while devoting themselves to their kids and families.
“You know why the Sedins have had such a smooth transition to civilian life?” Linden said. “They were husbands and fathers and friends, good people first, and hockey players second. A lot of guys identify as hockey players, and they find it difficult to transition when they aren’t hockey players anymore. Daniel and Henrik always had their priorities straight.”
In his retirement address to the twins, made on behalf of teammates, Bieksa noted that the Sedins’ impact on the Canucks organization will far outlive their playing careers, which lasted 18 years.
“There’s Sedin culture to this organization,” Bieksa said, noting the brothers’ values and standards have been passed on to team leaders, such as Markstrom, Horvat, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev.
“And I’ve already seen them pass it along to Petey (Elias Pettersson) and Quinn and Brock (Boeser). And they’ll pass it along to the next generation of players and in 20 years, there will still be a Sedin flavour to this organization and the Sedin culture in that dressing room. That will transcend any on-ice statistics that they have.”