Vancouver and the Canuckleheads

With the start of this year’s NHL Playoffs just getting started, the Vancouver Canucks enter not only as the #1 seed in the Western Conference, but also as the top NHL team in goals per game (3.1), goals allowed per game on defense (2.2), and also power play percentage (24.4%).  The Canucks also won the franchise’s first-ever President’s Trophy, finishing the season with an NHL-best 117 points, and a record of 54-19-9—a franchise record for the most victories, as well as the most points, in one season.

But hold on a second….what in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is a Canuck?  Hockey fans of any age know what Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes, and Predators are…but a Canuck??

Well, as it turns out, in the early 1900’s, and during World War II, the figure of “Johnny Canuck” appeared as a political cartoon figure/comic-book hero—the figure of a lumberjack, national personification of Canada, often, appropriately, wielding a hockey stick.  In much the same vein as Uncle Sam in the U.S. or John Bull in Britain, Johnny Canuck was viewed as a defender of Canada, and when the professional hockey team from Vancouver played in the Pacific Coast and Western Hockey Leagues (prior to joining the NHL), they envisioned a team full of these Defenders of Canada—a team of these Canucks.  More recently, the image of Johnny Canuck was also resurrected in 2006 on the mask of goalie Roberto Luongo.

Although Johnny Canuck is no longer the main symbol of the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo has remained the net-minder in Vancouver, and has tallied a career season in 2011.  This season, Luongo has set a career-high in his goals against average (2.11), he leads the league in wins for a goalie (38), and only 4 goalies in the entire NHL have fewer losses than Luongo, who has also become a 2011 Vezina Trophy candidate—although he’s been a two-time finalist for the NHL’s top-goalie award, Luongo has never won it.

But the Canucks can attribute their current position atop the league, and their #1 seed, to more than just the spectacular goaltending they have received this year: the Canucks also lead the NHL in power play goals (72), they have only been shut-out 5 times in 2011, and only the St. Louis Blues have allowed fewer short-handed goals.

And just when you begin to think that this team couldn’t possibly lead the NHL in any other category, you learn that 5 of the top-15 NHL players this year in plus/minus (+/-) are (you guessed it) Vancouver Canucks.

What’s even more curious is that, when you watch a Canucks game, you seem to see the name Sedin everywhere on the ice.—because it turns out two heads really are better than one.

In case you don’t follow hockey stringently, the Canucks do not have just one Sedin on their roster.  They have two—the twins Henrik and Sedin, and it is often difficult to tell them apart because both are able to rack up goals and assists like few other players in the NHL: Daniel leads the league with 104 points, and Henrik is 4th in the league with 94.  Henrik also leads the league in assists (75), while Daniel is 4th in goals (41), 3rd in assists (63), and is a top candidate for the 2011 Hart Trophy—the NHL’s MVP Award.

With the 2011 playoffs still looming, the Vancouver Canucks won only their 8th division title this season, and look poised to add to their franchise’s abbreviated playoff history.  The Canucks are riding high entering the playoffs, but Vancouver has never won a Stanley Cup, and the team has only been to the NHL Finals two times in it’s history (losing in 1982 to the Islanders, and losing to the Rangers in 1994).

Only time will tell if the Canuckleheads will be able to go where Vancouver’s franchise has never been before, but, regardless of how this year’s playoffs finish, the Canucks have already turned-in a season for the record-books (literally) in 2011.

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