Willie Desjardins explains Canucks' short defence, Rodin benching


Published on January 9, 2017

Vancouver Canucks' head coach Willie Desjardins stands on the bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday, February 21, 2016. One of Canucks head coach Desjardins' longest chats with the media this season was mostly spent talking about what didn't happen over the weekend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — One of Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins' longest chats with the media this season was mostly spent talking about what didn't happen over the weekend.

Like, why did Vancouver not recall a defenceman from the minors for insurance heading into Saturday's second game of a back-to-back against the Flames in Calgary, forcing the team to ultimately go with a skeleton crew of five blue liners?

And how was it that Anton Rodin — dressed as the 13th forward — stayed stapled to the bench the whole night, not seeing a single second of ice time?

"It was unusual," Desjardins said Monday of his short-handed defence in that 3-1 loss to Calgary. "It was a hard situation to prepare for."

"There's lots of things with Rodin," the coach continued later. "I like Anton Rodin."

On the defensive question, Desjardins said Christopher Tanev stayed in Vancouver to get checked out after taking a shot up high in Friday's 4-2 home victory over the Flames.

It was hoped he could fly to Calgary on Saturday, but when that didn't happen the club still had what it thought were six healthy defencemen. Things got dire when Ben Hutton, who was hit in the hand by a puck Friday, revealed after warmup he wouldn't be able to go, leaving the Canucks scrambling.

"I thought both would probably be OK," said Desjardins. "They say it's 50/50, it's like you might get one of them back. We thought we'd get one."

The decision had also been made earlier in the day that summoning a player from the AHL's Utica Comets, who were in Pennsylvania, didn't make sense when taking travel considerations into account.

"How much better is that guy going to be in your lineup than if you had to go with five defence?" said Desjardins. "We played a good game in Calgary. It was probably the right way to go, going with five. That's not how you want to go into games."

Tanev travelled with the Canucks as they set out on a two-game road trip to Nashville and Philadelphia, but Desjardins said Hutton will be out for "a bit."

Despite the tough circumstances, Tanev thought the Canucks put up a spirited fight in Saturday's defeat that snapped a six-game winning streak. Vancouver had looked outmatched the previous night, getting outshot 46-13 despite posting a  4-2 win over the Flames.

"I was just as surprised as you guys when I turned it on and saw there were only five defencemen playing," said Tanev, who missed 20 games earlier this season with a lower-body injury. "They did a great job."

Desjardins said he dressed Rodin as an insurance policy in case someone went down against a physical Calgary team.

He added that after sitting the 2015-16 MVP of the Swedish Hockey League for the first period, it wasn't fair to throw Rodin out for one or two shifts.

"I felt bad for him," said Desjardins. "I see a lot good things in this guy, but it's a really hard situation for both him and the team. I haven't seen him in games so I don't really know where he's at."

Rodin won the top award in his home country last season despite suffering an ugly knee injury after getting cut by a skate blade. Drafted by Vancouver in 2009, Rodin returned to Sweden after two unsuccessful AHL campaigns before giving North America another try when he signed on with the Canucks for one year.

He had two goals and three assists in five exhibition contests, but aggravated his surgically repaired knee and didn't suit up for the Canucks until Dec. 23.

"It's a tough league to get into. I need to be ready when I get my chance," Rodin said diplomatically. "It's always tough to be on the side and not playing."

Both Rodin and Desjardins said the player banged his knee Friday, part of the reason he didn't play in Calgary.

"I was pretty much on the same page," said Rodin, the only skater to suit up in the NHL this season and not see any time. "If I hadn't played in the first period it's pretty tough to jump in."

Prior to Saturday, the 26-year-old had been a healthy scratch in three of seven games since being given the green light to return to action.

"They want me to put a guy in that I'm not sure of," said Desjardins, who clarified in a subsequent answer that "they" wasn't referring specifically to Canucks' management. "It's hard to play a guy when you don't exactly know where he's at.

"Once he gets confident I think he can help us."

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press