In need of spark, Canucks’ Bachman turns in nightmare start

Mikko Koivu's goal and two assists leads the Minnesota Wild to the win over the Vancouver Canucks.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – When you have spent time in the National Hockey League and had a taste of that lifelong dream come to fruition, however fleetingly, you do not then report to the minors in your prime years because you love bus travel and can’t wait to see Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the wintertime.

You go to the American Hockey League because you still love the game, and can earn a living at it, and believe enough in yourself that you think if you work hard and are a conscientious pro and a good teammate, that dream of playing in the NHL can be nurtured and one day renewed.

And if you’re Richard Bachman, you wait for 19 months in Utica, N.Y., practising and playing for the AHL Comets with the hope the Vancouver Canucks will give you another chance in the NHL if injuries and opportunity align.

Thursday, finally, that chance came. And Bachman, 31, fanned the puck into the Canucks slot for an open-net goal that put Vancouver two down just 7 ½ minutes in, was beaten six times on 29 shots and generally looked overmatched in a 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Bachman said afterwards of his emotions. “It’s hard to put into words because you do take pride in being ready and coming in and hopefully stealing a game for the guys here. But it doesn’t always work out that way. It’s tough right now. It will be tough for a little bit, but you’ve got to move on.

“It is what it is: we’ve got to be better, I’ve got to be better.”

Nobody knows when he will get the chance to be better in the NHL. Or if he’ll get another chance.

Bachman, whose last game for the Canucks was on April 9, 2017, was recalled from the American League on Oct. 29 because backup goalie Anders Nilsson broke his finger and minor-league star Thatcher Demko, who is 22, was already out with a concussion.

And then Bachman watched starter Jacob Markstrom play nine straight games before coach Travis Green, who knows Bachman and likes him from their time together in the minors, finally conceded that Markstrom needed a couple of days to focus on practising, not playing.

And then this happened.

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One way or another, Bachman was going to be a story on Thursday. This was cruelly ironic because his last NHL win was here in Minnesota against the Wild on March 25, 2017, when Bachman played well but no one noticed because that was the night Brock Boeser made his NHL debut for the Canucks and scored in his hometown.

After the morning skate on Thursday, Bachman talked happily about that game, and his long wait to try to win another in the NHL.

“It crosses your mind that these opportunities could be few and far between,” he said. “You never know when your last one is going to be, so you just try to enjoy it and embrace it.”

He enjoyed it until Charlie Coyle fooled him badly on a breakaway at 5:37 of the first period on the Wild’s first scoring chance, and until he had time and space behind the net to clear the puck a couple of minutes later at the end of Minnesota power play but instead put it straight onto Mikko Koivu’s stick for a tap-in.

The truth is the Canucks were probably going to lose anyway, no matter who was in net, because 14 road games in six weeks and a pile of key injuries are finally overwhelming a team that surpassed all expectations in the first month of the NHL season.

But with Bachman, the Canucks were behind 5-1 after 33 minutes. Eric Staal banked the puck in off Bachman on a wraparound after Vancouver winger Nikolay Goldobin skated into his own goalie on the backcheck. On Matt Dumba’s point-shot goal, Canucks defenceman Michael Del Zotto accidentally clipped Bachman on the head just before the puck arrived.

It was that kind of night for the Canucks. Goals from Bo Horvat and Markus Granlund weren’t nearly enough to save Vancouver from its fourth straight defeat and a 1-3-2 record for their second six-game road trip just over a month.

“He played his heart out tonight,” Del Zotto said of Bachman. “It’s probably been a while since he played. A couple of unfortunate bounces, but it was the players in front of him who let him down tonight.”

A healthy scratch for the Canucks until injuries allowed him back in the lineup three weeks into the season, Del Zotto could feel Bachman’s pain.

“That’s the toughest part of this league: if you’re not playing every day, regardless of what position you are, staying mentally and physically ready,” Del Zotto said. “I think mentally is the toughest part. It’s a humbling league. You can play great and then one game like tonight … as a team in general, it can blow up like that.

“That’s the thing: you never when you are going to get that opportunity again, you never know when you’re going to get that chance. That’s the unfortunate part of the league we play in.”

Eventually chances run out for everyone.

Nilsson could be cleared to play next week. Markstrom will almost certainly start Saturday afternoon against the Montreal Canadiens and then Monday when the Winnipeg Jets visit Vancouver. Then the Canucks hit the road yet again for three games in four nights in California.

“It’s tough, it’s difficult to comprehend right now,” Bachman said. “Obviously, it didn’t go how I wanted it to go tonight. But it’s a hockey game. Mistakes happen. You can’t let it stop you from going about your business and keep trying to get better every day. And that’s what I’ll do starting tomorrow.”

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