VANCOUVER — After changing his stick about as often as Coke changes its recipe or Canada its anthem — each has happened once in our lifetime — Brock Boeser put away the blade he has been using since peewee hockey and on Tuesday tried Auston Matthews’ stick.
When the National Hockey League shut down in March, Boeser had gone 12 games without a goal for the Vancouver Canucks, easily the longest scoring slump of his three-year career. Matthews scored 47 goals in 70 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.
So, sure, change sticks. Worth a try.
“I never like to change my stuff, especially if I’ve had success,” Boeser said after Tuesday’s training-camp practice at Rogers Arena. “I’ve only really toyed with my flex once — never in my career, really. I just tried it out today: 85 flex with a little bigger curve. It felt pretty good, so I’m going to give it a couple of more days and see if it leads anywhere.
“I’ve had the same curve since peewees. I’m pretty sure it’s Auston Matthews’ curve, righty, P90.”
Since reporters are barely allowed in the arena and nowhere near the ice or stick room, we can’t verify whether Boeser’s blade is the same as Matthews’ twig. But the Canuck launched a bunch of rockets while practising one-timers.
Boeser has always been a scorer. He had 27 goals in 42 games while leading the University of North Dakota to a national championship in 2016, scored in his NHL debut with the Canucks one year later, and amassed 55 goals in 131 games during his first two full seasons in Vancouver.
But several significant injuries, which affected his off-season training, appeared to take some velocity off Boeser’s shot this season, when the 23-year-old from Minnesota scored just 16 times in 57 games.
He spent the four-month NHL shutdown working on his shot and cardio, and Boeser has been probably the best forward at summer camp in Vancouver as the Canucks prepare for their Stanley Cup qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild.
“I feel really good,” Boeser told reporters on a Zoom call. “I told you guys when we talked (during the spring) I was coming back on a mission. I really put in the work when I was home. I’m really noticing the difference right now. I feel better, I feel confident out there. Hopefully, I can continue that and bring it against the Wild.”
Boeser’s sharpness with the puck and improved quickness has stood out.
“I know he feels good about his body and his condition, which is so important when you come into a camp like this,” coach Travis Green said. “Brock, he looks better. That’s what you want to see. You want to see your young guys come back and be better hockey players.”
Like all players, Boeser had to alter his training routine while self-isolating at his lake house south of Minneapolis.
“I rode a lot of Peloton, a lot of roller-blade rides, just other workouts at home,” Boeser said. “I don’t know if it was the Peloton or what it was, but I feel quicker out there. I feel stronger. Like I said, it’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.”
Note to self: buy Peloton stock.
Green tweaked a couple of his forward lines during the first week of camp but on Tuesday re-invented them, breaking up his potent top-six to make the Canucks look more like a three-line team offensively.
First-line wingers J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli were shifted alongside sophomore centre Adam Gaudette, while first-line centre Elias Pettersson inherited second-line wingers Boeser and Tanner Pearson. That left two-way centre Bo Horvat skating with wingers Antoine Roussel and Zack MacEwen, who had been playing with Gaudette last weekend on the most impressive line. The fourth line was Jay Beagle between Tyler Motte and Micheal Ferland.
“Just wanted to make a change today (and) shake it up a little bit,” Green said. “It’s not very often that you have a training camp with three weeks of the same line combinations. I wanted to get a look at a couple of different things, and so that’s why we did that today.”
Miller-Pettersson, partnered by Boeser until Toffoli was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in February, was one of the NHL’s best combos this season, so don’t expect them to be apart for long. Green, however, could choose to play them with Boeser and drop Toffoli onto a line with Horvat and Pearson, the former King.
WHERE ART THOU, JAKE
As interesting as the changes among the top four lines was 18-goal-scorer Jake Virtanen skating again on the fifth line — and watching Roussel get power-play time ahead of him on the second unit.
After a poor evening scrimmage on Thursday, Virtanen was demoted by Green and, obviously, hasn’t much impressed the coach since then.
What makes things challenging for Virtanen, who has to earn a spot in the bottom six, is how good the Roussel-Gaudette-MacEwen line has looked, and the need for Green to stack the fourth line with guys who kill penalties, which Virtanen does not.
WATCH YOUR MOUTH
A couple of Canucks were asked Tuesday about watching what they say on the ice without fans in the building. The NHL has asked for a delay on broadcasts so potty language doesn’t make it across airwaves.
During Thursday’s scrimmage, for example, reporters heard — and, you know, reported — Horvat drop a couple of F-bombs while berating Virtanen for taking a run at a teammate.
“I think you should always watch what you say, personally, even if there’s fans in the crowd,” Boeser said. “I think that’s kind of on the player.”
CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN
With the suit-and-tie dress code scrapped by the NHL for the summer playoffs, Pettersson hopes Canucks players will be able to flash some individual style while walking from the hotel to the rink inside the Edmonton bubble.
“I hope it’s something like the NBA and I can show all my clothes,” Pettersson, renowned for sartorial style that includes gap control between his shoes and pant cuffs, said about clothing-optional. “I like to show my personality and show my style of clothing. But I think we’re looking to have a track suit of some kind.”
Track suits? How exciting.