Canucks’ Stecher reflects on bumpy season, uncertain contract status

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VANCOUVER – The 7 p.m. cheer started as heartfelt acknowledgement for health care workers but quickly became something more.

That nightly ruckus of shouts and whistles, clanging pots and pans, became a cheer for everyone. It is about community. It’s about not only thanking medical professionals for putting their lives at risk to fight the novel coronavirus, but encouraging each other to keep going. We may be isolating, but we’re not alone.

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher has some perspective on the evening ritual, and not because he is in the middle of it, standing on his fifth-floor apartment balcony downtown. Stecher is one of only a couple of Canucks who is from here.

He grew up across the river in Richmond. He has seen the city at its best and worst, and right now it’s kind of both.

“I just think it’s pretty cool to see the city come together like that,” Stecher told Sportsnet this week. “It’s loud. Everybody is on their patio or their little balcony making noise. I’ve heard there’s a DJ now, but nobody like that in our area.

“Seven o’clock every night, I’m out on the patio making noise.”

His noisemaker?

“I whistle and clap,” he said. “Old-school basic.”

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That’s kind of how Stecher conducts himself as a professional, too. Old-school basic.

The 26-year-old, who has spent only four games in four seasons in the minors since signing with his hometown Canucks as an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Dakota, shows up and works hard. He doesn’t pound his chest when things are good, doesn’t complain when things aren’t. This season, he could have done both.

Stecher had a poor start to the season, struggling on a third pairing with newcomer Jordie Benn while averaging only 12:53 of ice time in October – a full seven minutes fewer than he logged the previous year as a second-pairing defenceman.

He got almost no special teams time and halfway through the year was still averaging less than 15 minutes a night for coach Travis Green. But in January, Stecher started to play more regularly with No. 2 defenceman Alex Edler, his old partner, which gave him more ice time and confidence.

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Stecher sweated through February’s trade deadline and by the time the NHL season suddenly halted on March 12, the five-foot-10 blue-liner’s average playing time had inched up to 15:21. Four of his top-seven TOI games this season were in the last three weeks before the shutdown.

Stecher’s surprisingly bumpy ride through his fourth campaign in the NHL had the added gravity of coming in a contract year. He is a restricted free agent whenever this season ends, but may not get a qualifying offer on his expiring $2.325-million salary due to his diminished role and other free agents who are a higher priority.

He loves his hometown, but there’s no guarantee he’ll play another game here for the Canucks.

“There was a moment during the season when I didn’t feel I was playing very good, and my agent (Eustace King) and I talked and I told him I didn’t want any more updates,” Stecher said. “I just wanted to focus on my game.

“Playing with Eddie helped. I really believe we have good chemistry, the two of us. Confidence is the biggest thing in this league, I think. If a player’s confident, you’re going to have a lot more success than when you’re doubting yourself. It was tough early on, maybe playing some lower minutes. But I didn’t want to let it affect my teammates.

“Every day is a new day. You just kind of cherish the day you had and try to make the most of them. Honestly, I have no idea (what will happen) because this has taken such a toll on the entire world, affected so many people. It’s so much bigger than hockey. So right now, I’m not even focused or concerned about my personal contract. That’s probably the best way to put it.”

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When the league gave players permission to leave their NHL cities a few days after the shutdown, Stecher isolated himself initially at a friend’s lakefront cabin in the B.C. Interior. But he has spent most of his time since then downtown, where he lives with his girlfriend, Emma Vincent, and his dog, Phoebe.

The Bernese mountain dog has her own social media accounts.

“She’s getting 24 hours of attention,” Stecher said. “(Isolating) is right up her alley. She loves it.

“It’s such a unique city, so beautiful. There’s so much to do outdoors that I feel you can still isolate and take precautions, but you can get out and stay sane.”

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Stecher said he gets updates on the NHL situation from captain Bo Horvat, the Canucks’ player rep, but has no idea whether the suspended season will be finished.

“I’ve actually talked this out a little bit with my family,” he said. “Just being from here, and being this close to the playoffs for the first time in my four years, it was something I was really looking forward to, something I believed our team was going to achieve. To have that cut short so drastically like the way it was, it was pretty heartbreaking. But there was nothing you can do. You have to do what you have to do to protect yourself and your family.

“I think having that taste of winning early on in the season added some belief in our room. I guess that was part of the struggle the last three years and why this year felt so different.

“With the 50/50 split with the revenue, I’m sure that both players and owners are going to want to play to recover some of the loss. I’m sure if there’s a way to figure it out, they’ll find a way. But right now, I don’t think there are many answers for anything in the world, let alone hockey.”

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