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Canucks vs. Oilers: Conor Garland’s example will have an impact

“What he does should be inspiring. There have been games where he did his thing and the boys got to work. That’s exactly what we’re looking for.” — Rick Tocchet on Conor Garland.

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“Little big man.”

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We’ve seen this Vancouver Canucks movie several times and it always got rave reviews.

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Conor Garland, who is closer to 6-foot-1 than his listed height of 6-foot-1, plays a fearless and direct game. He anticipates like a demon, making good use of a figure skating background to swirl and swirl past or even under defenders. And he willingly sticks his nose into the most difficult areas.

Whether it’s the regular season or the testosterone-filled playoffs, the diminutive right winger continues to set an example of where to go and how to get there.

He accounted for both goals Tuesday in Edmonton during a disheartening 3-2 setback, but can count on making some impact Thursday. He finished with four shots, nine attempts and two blocks, logging extra shifts in Game 4 as he had it going.

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Garland’s teammates should follow suit. When skill meets will, it can help regain control of a thrilling second-round NHL playoff series tied at 2-2. Garland’s playing should be infectious.

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Conor Garland celebrates his goal during Game 1 of a second-round playoff series against the Oilers on May 8. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“I’ve played the game too, and when you sit on the bench, all you see is how hard this guy works,” said Tocchet, who also coached Garland in Arizona. “What he does must be inspiring. There have been games where he did his thing and the boys got to work.

“That’s what we’re looking for. That is exactly what we are looking for.”

In Game 3, it was Garland who made the lone shot on a four-minute power play. He drove hard to the net on a backhand-forehand display as he was knocked to the ice. He then contributed to a good cycle in the offensive zone and jumped on a loose puck to score.

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“He doesn’t give up,” Tocchet added. “He’s digging for us. He’s a guy that we rely on to give us juice, and hopefully some guys look at that and say, ‘Hey man, I gotta get going.’ He’s been like that all year.”

And what a year it has been. From uncertainty to uneasiness to peace.

You can hear it in his cheerful tone and see it in his body language. He’s so far removed from early October.

Garland, 28, changed agents and wondered if a change of scenery would help him, and the salary cap challenged the Canucks to find solutions that worked for both parties.

His US cap hit of $4.95 million for three more seasons was a hurdle for the roster. Garland’s competitive side saw an abundance of wingers here and decided to just play and grab every day.

“The cream is coming up and I believe that,” Garland emphasizes.

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He bounced back from an incredibly slow start – just three points (1-2) in his first fourteen games – before finding his way and developing chemistry with Dakota Joshua and rotating centers Pius Suter, Teddy Blueger and now Elias Lindholm.

Garland finished with a 15-point spurt (7-8) in the final 14 regular-season games to reach the 20-goal plateau for the second time in his career. He scored twice in the postseason, including a game-winner, and his line often pushes the pace and thrives in shutdown roles.

Garland’s grit and determination have not gone unnoticed.

“He has a lot of speed and skill and can make plays happen,” Suter said Wednesday. “That’s what we need. And more of us want to do that. But you have to keep doing what you do best as a player. Not everyone can play like him.”

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Garland wouldn’t be here without Tocchet. Garland wasn’t the easiest to coach and thought he knew a lot and demanded plenty of ice time. He quickly learned the rudiments of the game – especially as he became a reliable two-way player – and it resulted in a career-high 22 goals in the 2019-2020 season.

“Rick is a lot about systems and it’s so clear what players need to do,” Garland said. “It’s the openness. If you have something to say, he will listen. I think it’s rare that head coaches are that easy, even when you’re dealing with something.

“It makes you want to play ten times more. That’s a huge reason why you see the buy-in.”

Garland’s path to the NHL was not a straight line. He was removed from the bantam team of the famed Shattuck’s Saint Mary’s program in Minnesota because he was too small.

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“It’s not going to be easy where you want to go,” Garland recalls. “It definitely left a bitter taste in my mouth or whatever, but it was a wonderful thing that happened to me.”

And when it’s time to hang up the skates, he’s eager to hang out during the game.

“I would like to coach more than anything,” he said. “I love the game. It’s the only thing I know. I think I can see it pretty well. I coach tournaments in the

summer and I’m enjoying it immensely.“They are younger kids and it is worth it. It’s fun to sit behind the bench and watch the game from a different perspective. I would like to develop further as a coach.“Hopefully that will be in ten to fifteen years.”[email protected]


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