Vancouver left wing Alexandre Burrows is excited to see that an NHL team… (Andy Clark / Reuters )
Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — The announcement Tuesday that the NHL will return to Winnipeg next season following the sale and move of the Atlanta Thrashers was greeted favorably by the Vancouver Canucks, whose top farm team has been in Winnipeg since 2001.
Players who toiled in Winnipeg on their way to the big time have fond memories of the city, which will become the seventh NHL franchise based in Canada. The Canucks' affiliate, the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, will move to a still-undecided new home.
"I think it's great for Winnipeg, a Canadian market," winger Alexandre Burrows said Tuesday at Rogers Arena, after the Canucks' final practice before they open the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday against the Boston Bruins.
"When I played there, six, seven years ago, they had passionate fans for the game. We used to have really good crowds there. I'm sure the fans are going to support the new NHL team. Obviously, the organization there is very strong for an NHL team."
He played in the Winnipeg Arena, where the Jets played before being sold and moved to Phoenix in 1996, and in the new MTS Centre, which will be home to the relocated Thrashers.
"I think it is a great move for the league and I'm looking forward to playing there," Burrows said.
Winger Jeff Tambellini called it "a great day for Canada." Defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who spent parts of four seasons in Winnipeg, praised Moose owner Mark Chipman, a principal member of True North Sports & Entertainment, the group that will own the new NHL team.
"I'm very excited for the city and for the ownership. Mark Chipman, I think, is going to be a very good owner, very passionate about the game," Bieksa said. "Seems like he's going to do everything it takes to make that franchise succeed. Fans were passionate about getting a team back seven years ago when I was there and will do a good job of supporting it."
He said players will have to make some adjustments from the warm south to the frozen north.
"The tradeoff is going to be the passion from the city and the fans," he said. "They're going to like playing in the Canadian market a lot. They're going to be a big deal in the city. Everyone is going to cater to them. They're going to enjoy it.
"You want to play in the biggest market possible where the fans really understand the game, and every Canadian city gives you that. Even for a lot of the role players, guys like that, there's no better place to be appreciated than the Canadian market where the fans understand the details of the game."
Canucks' Malhotra doubtful for opener
Vancouver center Manny Malhotra, who has made a near-miraculous recovery from a serious eye injury, missed Tuesday's practice because of a doctor's visit and isn't expected to play Wednesday in Game 1 at Rogers Arena. Alexander Bolduc is expected to play on the fourth line with Tambellini and Victor Oreskovich.
Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis said Malhotra had not been cleared to play, though he was cleared for some contact. "We have to be really patient with this," Gillis said.
Tambellini was a Kings draft pick, chosen 27th overall in 2003. He played four games with the Kings in the 2005-06 season before then-General Manager Dave Taylor traded him to the New York Islanders in March 2006 with Denis Grebeshkov for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel. Neither of the players the Kings acquired had much impact.
"It was a little change. They were pushing to win that year," Tambellini said. "I don't think they ended up making the playoffs, but I got a chance to go to Long Island and got a great opportunity there."
He left the Islanders as a free agent last summer to sign with the Canucks, the team he rooted for as a kid. Although he hasn't won a regular spot in the lineup, he's happy with the way things have worked out for him.
"So far," he said, smiling. "We're in the Stanley Cup finals. Can't beat this. No complaints."
Big task for a big guy
Boston's Zdeno Chara and defense partner Dennis Seidenberg have become an outstanding shutdown pair and will see a lot of Vancouver's Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. Chara, a towering 6 feet 9 and more than 250 pounds, said he's prepared to try to neutralize their skill and creativity.
"We know how great they can be and we just have to be aware of them and just try to take as much time and space away from them as possible," he said.
"They're great players. They know about each other even when they're not looking at each other."
Seidenberg said he welcomes the assignment.
"Yeah, I love shutting down those guys. Trying to, at least," he said. "There's nothing better than having a big challenge ahead of you."
Boston Coach Claude Julien and Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault, defensemen during their playing careers, were teammates with Salt Lake City of the old Central Hockey League in the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons. They've remained friends, but the relationship will be put on hold for a while.
"I remember at one point saying we hoped to see each other in the Stanley Cup final, and here we are," Julien said. "I know that throughout the playoffs we were kind of encouraging each other. Now that we've made it here, we've both gone silent and don't plan on talking to each other till it's all over."
Vigneault said he and Julien felt pressure to win in their fourth season with their respective teams.
"From that standpoint I'm real happy for him. Now we're going to get an opportunity, both of us, to compete for the Cup," Vigneault said. "I've known him a long time, and we both know what coaches go through on a daily basis and a yearly basis. So he can relate to me and I can relate to him. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for what he does and what he's done with his team this year."