Rous­sel drag­ging young Canucks into bat­tle


Times Colonist - - Sports - BEN KUZMA

BUF­FALO — An­toine Rous­sel was the last player to emerge from the dress­ing room late Thurs­day night be­cause he was the first one in the fight to help fuel the Beat down in Bos­ton.

And that meant the ag­i­tat­ing Van­cou­ver Canucks’ winger was get­ting treat­ment af­ter treat­ing the Bos­ton Bru­ins to his bel­liger­ent brand of big-boy hockey.

It meant jaw­ing with David Backes and an en­su­ing mosh-pit in the op­po­si­tion crease. It meant hav­ing a first-pe­riod scor­ing chance with a no­tice­ably im­proved stride, draw­ing two penal­ties in the of­fen­sive zone — in­stead of tak­ing them — while throw­ing three hits and scor­ing in the sec­ond pe­riod to give the Canucks a 5-3 lead en route to an 8-5 NHL vic­tory.

“The big­gest chal­lenge ev­ery night is to get every­body emo­tion­ally in­volved and against the Bru­ins, it’s easy be­cause they have a lot of re­sponse in their game,” Rous­sel said Fri­day. “That trig­gers me and then the domi­noes fall and it’s a fun game to play.

“And when you play one of the best lines in the league [Brad Marc­hand-Pa­trice Berg­eron-David Pas­tr­nak] ev­ery­one gets to share the job be­cause we don’t have the matchups. It’s fun to be part of a group that doesn’t back down.”

Rous­sel checked all the boxes and ticked off yet an­other team. The big Bru­ins line was held to one goal and two points and Erik Gubran­son made one telling sum­ma­tion.

“I hated play­ing against him,” said the Canucks’ de­fence­man. “That was the stuff that used to drive me crazy and he’s been play­ing great for us.

“[Rous­sel] brings a piece of the puz­zle that might have been miss­ing last year.”

And if you think that sounds like pre­his­toric hockey logic in a league where youth, speed and skill rule the day, lis­ten to Travis Green. The Canucks’ coach knows an­other voice of rea­son on the ice and in the room and those sharp el­bows are im­per­a­tive for his tran­si­tion­ing and im­pres­sion­able ros­ter.

“He brings a lot of en­ergy. He drags you into games,” said Green. “He has a high com­pete level and is en­er­getic on the bench. He talks a lot and ap­pre­ci­ates lit­tle plays that guys do and you hear about it. He has been good for our group.”

Be­ing good meant get­ting over a bad mishap.

Af­ter suf­fer­ing a con­cus­sion Aug. 30 dur­ing an in­for­mal scrim­mage col­li­sion in Mon­treal — his fi­nal game of the sum­mer — he ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant post-con­cus­sion symp­toms. They were so bad the 28-year-old free-agent ac­qui­si­tion saw a spe­cial­ist in Detroit be­fore symp­toms fi­nally sub­sided to al­low him to re­turn Oct. 13 and score in Florida.

How­ever, Rous­sel lost con­di­tion­ing time with the con­cus­sion and his four-year, $12 mil­lion US con­tract was un­der scru­tiny be­cause his stride wasn’t there and it af­fected his abil­ity to push the pace.

Now he can, but it’s a tough dozen min­utes be­cause his mo­tor al­ways has to run hot.

Rous­sel has been ef­fec­tive on a line with Markus Gran­lund and Tyler Motte and could see some shut­down duty to­day against the Sabres. But it won’t be easy to shut down Jack Eichel, who leads his club with 19 points, and is one of the game’s emerg­ing stars.

“It’s man­ag­ing my en­ergy,” ad­mit­ted Rous­sel. “You need fresh legs be­cause every­body is so fast now. I’m get­ting closer.”

This Canucks team re­minds Rous­sel of the one he joined in Dal­las in the lock­out-short­ened 2012-13 sea­son.

The Stars were go­ing through a re­build and Bren­den Dil­lon (21), Reilly Smith (21), Cody Eakin (21) and Jamie Benn (23) were part of an emerg­ing for­ward core. But there was also Eric Nystrom (29) and Ver­non Fid­dler (32) to guide younger play­ers.

“It felt like this,” re­called Rous­sel. “You learn from the older play­ers how to deal with sit­u­a­tions. And what was in­trigu­ing for me to come here was [Bo] Hor­vat and [Elias] Pet­ters­son, two high-end cen­tres and it’s so hard to get that in this league.

“I’m pretty happy with my choice. This is a good fit.”

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