The contest was set: five free kicks from the penalty spot on the soccer pitch, Henrik Sedin versus twin brother Daniel, the two of them trying to get the ball by Vancouver Whitecaps goalie David Ousted.
“Can we practise?” wondered Daniel before the contest began. They could. The first shots went awry, Daniel floating the ball high and wide over the empty net.
The twins grew up in northern Sweden and had been skilled soccer players, both of them midfielders. But they gave up the game at 16 and stuck with hockey. On Tuesday, the brothers – who turn 34 in September – returned to the pitch in part of a series of friendly contests, including a table tennis match, for a Sedin-vs-Sedin video for the Vancouver Canucks website.
Henrik is acknowledged by both brothers as the better soccer player, and it was Henrik who won the penalty-kick tilt, his right foot putting four goals past Ousted while left-footed Daniel managed three.
So goes life in early June for the stars of a hockey team that’s well into its off-season. The sunny weather mirrored the twins’ disposition, which they maintain even as they watch the National Hockey League playoffs and the tremendous play of conference rivals Chicago and Los Angeles. The past season was a wreck for the Canucks, but the Sedins, like their new bosses, team president Trevor Linden and general manager Jim Benning, believe a renaissance is at hand this fall.
Benning, when he was hired two weeks ago, called the Canucks a team that could be turned around “in a hurry.”
“I’ve said that all along,” Daniel said to reporters at the Whitecaps’ practice, “so I’m happy he thinks that way too.”
It was the first public comment from the team’s on-ice leaders since the Canucks hired Benning. At this stage of the playoffs, the Sedins see teams with four effective forward lines and six strong defenceman. In the past two seasons, the Canucks have not had the same robust lineup.
“That’s what successful teams have, and where we need to go to,” said Daniel.
The bigger questions mostly went unanswered, such as what type of coach can revive the Canucks after the one-and-done reign of John Tortorella, who replaced Alain Vigneault, now the coach of the Stanley Cup-contending New York Rangers.
There is also the question of Ryan Kesler, who’s working out in Vancouver and may or may not want out of town. The Sedins met with Kesler on Monday. “We just talked, as teammates and friends,” said Henrik.
Seeing the Kings and the Blackhawks battle, Henrik said the Canucks “absolutely” can match up against them next season.
“If our guys can get back to producing and playing the way we know we can, we should be right there,” said Henrik. “The difference is [Chicago and L.A.] did it for 95 per cent of their games, and we didn’t do that. That’s the difference between making it and not making it.”