It was rookies' night, the first game of the preseason, and 18-year-old Hunter Shinkaruk scored the prettiest goal of the evening, worthy of a highlight reel in his first National Hockey League game.
The winger from Calgary, with parents Roger and Patricia among those in attendance at Rogers Arena Monday night in Vancouver, raced up the left wing early in the third period with the Canucks down 2-1 to the visiting San Jose Sharks.
Shinkaruk, whose hustle has already stoked the notice of head coach John Tortorella, waited and waited and waited with the puck as he rolled deep into the Sharks' zone. Nearly at the goal line and almost out of room, Shinkaruk lifted a perfect wrist shot at an extreme angle over the shoulder, top shelf, of the Sharks' Alex Stalock, who failed to fully get over after guarding for the pass. Shinkaruk, afterwards, said he "saw a little bit of corner up there."
"Amazing," said Ryan Kesler after the game of the Shinkaruk goal, one which was called a "goal scorer's goal" by assistant coach Mike Sullivan. "He plays with a lot of moxie," said Sullivan of Shinkaruk.
Shinkaruk was one of a several young Canucks to generate notice – goaltender Eddie Lack and defenceman Yannick Weber also played well – but it was not an especially positive evening for Vancouver, as San Jose put well more than double the shots on net, 42-16, to win 3-2. It was only the first game of the preseason but Sullivan noted the Canucks were often pinned back by the Sharks and were "out-quicked" in the second period in particular.
Vancouver's young players are practically being begged by team management to crack the roster as the Canucks hope to inject some change into a lineup that looks mostly like it did a year ago. The hopefuls have Monday and Wednesday this week to conjure strong play during the first two games of the preseason as John Tortorella attempts to get a feel for the younger players. The new head coach watched Monday night's game against the Sharks from a box near press row high above the ice rather than behind the bench, an expansive rather than first-hand view.
Skinkaruk got the best shot of the young Canucks – and made the most of it. He was put on the top line of the evening, Ryan Kesler centring Shinkaruk and Alex Burrows – a line that will likely be Vancouver's second during the season, with still-convalescing David Booth in Shinkaruk's spot. On Monday, Shinkaruk merited the third-most ice time of any forward, 21:44, behind only Kesler and Burrows.
"It's a game I'll never forget," said Shinkaruk beaming in the locker room after the game, acne on his chin and forehead, his ballcap turned backwards.
Kesler hustled from the first moment like it was a game whose result mattered more than it actually did, no doubt spurred by memories of the last time San Jose was in Vancouver – in early May, winning two games on the way to a humbling sweep of the Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. The veteran centre led the Canucks with four shots on goal, with Shinkaruk right behind at three, however the rookie did lead the team with seven pucks directed at the net. Other rookies saw the ice less, such as Bo Horvat (17:19), NIcklas Jensen (14:54), and Gaunce (10:50), who also scored, putting in a rebound off a crafty Dale Weise shot early in the second.
As Shinaruk performed up front, Eddie Lack managed well in the Vancouver net. The 25-year-old Swede faced a battering of 27 shots in two periods of work and comported himself, even when the push ended up rolling against him. More important – after long months of convalesce away from game action – Lack looked spry, after he played only 13 games in the American Hockey League last winter before hip surgery.
"It felt good," said Lack. "My hip is not anything I think about any more."
The first puck to beat Lack came after one of his strong saves of the night. Midway through the first, San Jose's Tommy Wingels ripped a quick shot from in close and Lack defended it with a quick kick save with his left pad – but the rebound landed in the hands of Joe Pavelski, who easily buried it in the gaping net for the first goal of the night.
Weber, who in two seasons played 60 games for the Montrael Canadiens, was the third notable young Canuck. He saw time on the power play and penalty kill – ably working the ice to fight off a five-on-three disadvantage – and booked 24:15 of time, significantly more than say Andrew Alberts (14:22), a veteran whom the 24-year-old Weber would look to displace to score a spot as seventh or eighth defenceman.
With the evening all about auditions, there was a quartet of that hockey side-show, boxing. Tom Sesitito was the most heavily penalized of the scrappers, with a 10-minute misconduct, and other fighters were Dale Weise, Alberts, and Darren Archibald.