Rous­sel’s grit wel­come ad­di­tion to young club

Canucks winger showed in Bos­ton game what kind of pos­i­tive im­pact he can have

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - BEN KUZMA bkuzma@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/ benkuzma

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 beat­down in Bos­ton.

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 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 and 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.

Erik Gud­bran­son made one telling sum­ma­tion about Rous­sel.

“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. It’s im­pres­sive how con­sis­tent he is with it ev­ery game. He’s a bull in a china shop and makes us bet­ter.”

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.

Look at what hap­pened in Bos­ton. The Canucks weren’t in­tim­i­dated and of­ten ini­ti­ated.

“He brings a lot of en­ergy. He drags you into games,” Green said of Rous­sel. “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, US$12 mil­lion 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 al­ways a tough dozen min­utes be­cause his mo­tor al­ways has to run hot. If it doesn’t, he’ll blend in rather than stick out.

Rous­sel has been ef­fec­tive on a line with Markus Gran­lund and Tyler Motte and could see some shut­down duty Sat­ur­day here against the Sabres in a mati­nee game. 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,” Rous­sel said. “You need fresh legs be­cause every­body is so fast now. I’m get­ting closer. I can be bet­ter with the puck and make bet­ter passes and reads, but it’s get­ting there.

“Some­times, it feels like it takes 15 games for ev­ery­thing to slow down for you, but I’m mak­ing a lot of progress.”

Rous­sel’s third goal of the sea­son Thurs­day won’t make the high­light reels. How­ever, he got to the net and tipped a Markus Gran­lund

wide-an­gle shot that chased Jaroslav Halak from the net.

“I re­mem­ber the celly,” Rous­sel said, re­fer­ring to his an­i­mated goal cel­e­bra­tion. “We had a long shift and I thought I bet­ter change and I ended up stay­ing longer and scor­ing. We had depth scor­ing that night and it was huge be­cause it can’t al­ways be the big guns.”

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

The Stars were go­ing through a re­build and Bren­den Dil­lon, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin and Jamie Benn) were part of an emerg­ing for­ward core. But there was also Eric Nystrom and Ver­non Fid­dler to guide younger play­ers. The fol­low­ing sea­son, Tyler Seguin was ac­quired.

“It felt like this,” Rous­sel said. “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.”

CHRIS­TIAN PE­TERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

An­toine Rous­sel has been slowly work­ing him­self back into peak con­di­tion­ing since re­turn­ing from a con­cus­sion about four weeks ago, and his ag­gres­sive, pes­ter­ing style of play may be one of the pieces Van­cou­ver has been miss­ing the last cou­ple years.

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