British Columbia

Rick Tocchet coaching era begins for Vancouver Canucks

"Going through a lot of the B.S. outside of the room, it's taxing," said forward J.T. Miller. "No disrespect to Bruce... It sucks to see him leave, but as of today, we need to move on."

New coaching regime marks the end of one the most strange and dramatic chapters in Vancouver Canucks history

A man dressed in black, identified as the new coach, holds a hockey stick pointing toward the ice while three players stand behind him during hockey practice.
Rick Tocchet runs his first practice as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Rick Tocchet era began in earnest Monday when the Vancouver Canucks new head coach stepped onto the ice to lead practice only 24 hours after the club finally put an end to the long-running drama around the firing of predecessor Bruce Boudreau.

"I was happy. I thought the pace was good. First day, I'm sure the guys' heads were spinning with anxiety and stuff like that," said Tocchet, speaking to media afterwards. "But it was good."

With assistants Sergei Gonchar and Adam Foote also added to the mix, the Canucks new coaching regime puts an end to one of the strangest chapters in team history where the rumoured demise of the popular Boudreau made headlines for weeks, while team management let him twist in the wind amid growing fan and social media backlash.

The situation hit a fever pitch of weirdness Saturday night when Hockey Night in Canada cameras focused on Boudreau choking back tears on the Canucks bench as fans chanted in appreciation during another loss: "Bruce, there it is." Hours later, he was officially fired. 

The story garnered attention well beyond the usual sports media. Even venerable business magazine Forbes covered it — twice — first decrying the "despicable treatment" of Boudreau, then reporting on Tocchet's introduction to the Vancouver market Sunday morning. 

Watch | Canucks fans weigh in on Bruce Boudreau firing:

Fans react to Canucks firing head coach Bruce Boudreau

13 days ago
Duration 1:03
Bruce Boudreau was a favourite among Vancouver Canucks fans, who reacted with disappointment to news of his firing over the weekend.

On Monday, forward J.T. Miller expressed relief that the Canucks coaching soap opera was finally over.

"Going through a lot of the B.S. outside of the room, it's taxing," said Miller. "No disrespect to Bruce, I had a great relationship with him. It sucks to see him leave, but as of today, we need to move on."

Defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who previously played for Tocchet in Phoenix, said the coaching change is welcomed.

"It's been weird, I'm not going to lie," said Ekman-Larsson.  "I do think that the players have to step up ... We've not been good enough, to be honest, and we've left the coaches out to dry ... [Tocchet] is going to have a lot of rules and will be good for us."

Two men in dark clothing sit in the bleachers.
Vancouver Canucks General manager Patrik Allvin, left, and president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, right, look on as new head coach Rick Tocchet runs his first practice as head coach. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Tocchet said turning the Canucks into a winner will be a lot like eating an elephant — you can only take one bite at a time. 

"There's so many things I want to do, but you've got to be careful not to throw too much at players," he said. 

"We've just got to play a little more predictable hockey. Everybody has to know where the puck is going. Even guys who are average skaters look faster when you play a little more predictable. 

Tocchet's game debut goes Tuesday when the lowly Chicago Blackhawks come to town. With just 31 points in 45 games, Chicago is having an even worse season than Vancouver (39 points in 46 games). 

The three-game in four nights stretch includes a road game in Seattle on Wednesday, followed by a home game against the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday before a nine-day break for the NHL all-star game.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

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