After a very public meltdown at the end of the 2013-14 season and significant changes to the team’s management and roster in the off-season, the Vancouver Canucks pulled out all the stops ahead of their home opener Saturday.
The game felt like a brand re-launch of sorts, with the team creating a festival atmosphere with live music at the North Plaza of Rogers Arena prior to puck drop. Fans attending the game were treated to a free drink and also had the chance to enter a number of giveaways to win game tickets and game-worn jerseys from each player on the ice. An updated mobile-friendly 50/50 draw, showing the real-time jackpot, was also introduced. Additionally, Rogers Arena had a thorough overhaul of their food and drink experience for fans, and changes included bringing locally-sourced in-season ingredients to dishes designed by Chef Robert Bartley.
The team also screened an uplifting video ahead of the home opener, and used impressive on-ice projection technology, seen around the NHL and reminiscent of Vancouver 2010’s opening ceremonies.
“Elevating our fans’ experience at Rogers Arena was our biggest focus during the offseason and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back this week for the start of the regular season,” said Victor de Bonis, COO, Canucks Sports & Entertainment and Alternate Governor, NHL, in a statement released ahead of Saturday’s game. “In addition to the changes to the team’s roster, fans can look forward to new menus, great food and an enhanced service experience. We’re expanding our concourses in the coming weeks and fans can expect suite upgrades, additional guest amenities and exciting game entertainment.”
With all of these efforts aside, arguably all fans wanted was to see their team back in top form on the ice securing a win in the home opener. The Canucks delivered, winning in a nail-biting shootout against the Edmonton Oilers. Fan favourite Chris Higgins was the man of the hour, scoring the only shootout goal for the Canucks, and Ryan Miller – with a league-leading shootout win now totaling a whopping 51 – stopped all three of the Oilers’ shootout attempts.
“It wasn’t how I envisioned it going but [I’m] happy to get a win and to contribute later in the game,” said Miller after his first home game as a Canuck. “I obviously want to clean myself up in the early parts but I was happy to settle down and contribute. The boys worked real hard and bailed me out. It’s going to take all different ways this year so it’s good to see they all stuck together and weren’t phased by a couple tough goals.”
Miller was referring to an arguably shaky start for the team, down two goals just halfway into the first period. The team battled hard and Henrik Sedin brought the team back within reach with a goal just before the horn sounded on the first period.
The 2-1 score didn’t last long, as little over two minutes into the second period Nail Yakupov gave the Oilers a two goal lead, on a play assisted by Benoit Pouliot. The Canucks responded two minutes later with a goal from Nick Bonino to bring the team within one goal of their rival. Little over four minutes after Bonino’s goal, Oilers winger Jesse Joensuu cleared the lead for his team and the Canucks were again two goals behind. Almost 11 minutes into the second period, Canucks forward Radim Vrbata scored, assisted by Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, and the remainder of the period closed out at 4-3.
Entering the third period, the home team battled hard. It would be a power play goal by rookie Linden Vey that would settle the score at 4-4 and bring the two teams to overtime. The goal marked a milestone for Vey – his very first NHL goal.
It was a convincing win for the Vancouver Canucks, who overcame three two-goal defeats and finished with a strong 43-29 lead for shots on goal. Fans should be encouraged that the slogan ‘Change Starts Here,’ plastered throughout Vancouver in the lead-up to the season, may indeed be more than just a platitude.