Vancouver Sun

Pint-sized Stecher isn’t short on skill

Pint-sized de­fence­man poster boy for Green’s on­go­ing cul­ture change

- JA­SON BOTCH­FORD jbotch­ford@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/botch­ford Sports · NHL Hockey · Ice Hockey · Florida Panthers · Troy Stecher · National Hockey League · Colton Sceviour

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.

 ?? DAR­RYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? Van­cou­ver Canucks de­fence­man Troy Stecher’s abil­ity to win puck bat­tles, thanks in part to his quick­ness and his “ex­tremely high” com­pet­i­tive streak, has put him in head coach Travis Green’s good graces af­ter start­ing the sea­son “play­ing like s---.”
DAR­RYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Van­cou­ver Canucks de­fence­man Troy Stecher’s abil­ity to win puck bat­tles, thanks in part to his quick­ness and his “ex­tremely high” com­pet­i­tive streak, has put him in head coach Travis Green’s good graces af­ter start­ing the sea­son “play­ing like s---.”

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