Pint-sized Stecher isn’t short on skill
Pint-sized defenceman poster boy for Green’s ongoing culture change
It’s late in the first period and the Canucks are foundering.
A blend of mental lapses and physical missteps Tuesday had them looking flat and down a goal.
A Florida Panthers defenceman, deep in his end, attempts a homerun pass and it takes a ride all the way to the Canucks’ blue-line.
Vancouver defenceman Troy Stecher, the homegrown talent people once worried was too small for the NHL, aggressively jumps into the play. He’s hoping to turn the puck around, finding something to spark his team. He just misses picking off that pass.
Now he’s out of position, having lost several important steps to Panthers winger Colton Sceviour, who is behind him with a clear lane to the Canucks’ net.
But Stecher not only has the recovery speed to get back, he rides Sceviour into the corner and gets his stick around the 200-pound winger, in the end forcing him to turn the puck over to Alex Edler without so much as a shot attempt.
Edler ended up shooting that puck over the glass and taking a delay-of-game penalty. Unfortunate, because it was one heck of a sequence.
Eight seconds of game time and it showed you why Stecher has become one of the 20-minutes-a-night horses head coach Travis Green is leaning on most.
It didn’t always look like it was going to be a smooth transition for these two. Among the first things Green moved when he took over the job was Stecher off the power play.
Suddenly, the player picked as last year’s best Canucks defenceman was seeing fewer than 16 minutes a game in ice time and wondering if he was already on the outs with the new coach.
“For my sake, I went home, I complained to myself. I complained about different situations,” Stecher said. “But at one point, I finally looked in the mirror and said ‘You’re playing like s---.’
“I was playing bad. That’s how I felt. I wasn’t playing how I know I can play.”
What happened next may have helped most. Green paired Stecher with Edler. It was a reunion of sorts for a duo former head coach Willie Desjardins seemed to like from the moment Stecher put on a Vancouver jersey.
But crediting Edler probably doesn’t do Stecher justice. Of all the young players, there’s a sense he has understood, embraced and executed Green’s culture-change-in-progress better than anyone. At 5-9, he battles as hard as anyone on the team. He’s small and light, sure. But he wins an extraordinary number of puck battles.
He embodies the concept that you can be difficult to play against without being big and ill-tempered.
“The game has turned into such a quick game,” Green said. “It’s not just about turning up the ice, it’s getting back for a puck and making a play under pressure.
“That’s hard to find. If you’re a small guy, you have to be able to skate, you have to be good with the puck and your compete level has to be extremely high.
“That’s something Stech has. He’s had it since he was 14. I remember watching Troy Stecher then and he was really competitive.”
Stecher is not playing 20 minutes a game if he can’t win on the boards.
“If I’m not doing that, then I’m going to be pretty easy to play against. You can push me over pretty easy,” Stecher said. “You’ll win the puck battle and I’ll be chasing. Winning there is how I can be difficult to play against.”
Recovery speed is among the modern buzzwords for NHL defencemen. It’s one of the few positions in all of sports where athletes who play it have been getting smaller over time.
Increasingly NHL teams are drafting defencemen under 5-10 because more of them are proving to be effective top-four blue-liners.
Imagine how much Stecher heard he was too small for the NHL back when he was a teenager. Now, for some, the 23-year-old is a poster boy for where the league is trending.
“Being quick and being fast are two different things. Everyone is fast. But smaller players have the quickness,” Stecher said.
“If it is where the NHL is going, I’m in luck. But I don’t see it that way. It just depends on your skills.”
Make no mistake, Stecher has skills.
The game has turned into such a quick game. It’s not just about turning up the ice, it’s getting back for a puck and making a play under pressure.