Vancouver Canucks

Garland's Game

...First-time Canuck bringing more than points this year

March 4, 2022

Jacob New - @jkmnew

Conor Garland sensed something was bound to happen last summer.

As a restricted free agent on a team with changes on the horizon, he knew a trade out of Arizona was a probable outcome.

"I was disappointed about that aspect of it, but I just kind of waited to see what team I went to and Ol [Ekman-Larsson] texted me before it happened," Garland recalled. "He let me know that he heard we might end up here."

The Canucks were in their own unique position as well. Coming off a last-place finish in the NHL's all-Canadian division, they were ready to return to the Pacific Division with higher expectations. The Garland/Ekman-Larsson trade, which sent Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to the desert with some draft capital, was the culmination of their aggressive approach.

While many would say this is not how the Canucks expected their season to go, there is no doubt that Garland is a definitive part of what makes this roster different and more captivating than in previous seasons.

Garland's adjustment to this hockey market and its relentless energy was evident quickly. Fans became enthralled with his fast pace and goal celebrations on the ice. It did not take long for him to evolve into a centrepiece of the Canucks' top-six.

The bread and butter of Garland's game is his agility along the boards, spinning past opponents while keeping the puck on his stick or passing it to a teammate gaining speed. It is not a Canucks game without a clip of number 8 putting on the brakes and evading his pursuer in just seconds.

"I like having the puck," Garland said. "Everybody wants it out there and sometimes you got to have a little poise and wait for the right place."

Puck possession is not the only benefit; he has drawn penalties with the opposition desperate to keep him from getting loose with the puck. Garland acknowledged this strategy came from a size disadvantage on the ice and he has utilized it throughout his hockey career.

"As a big guy, you can shield the puck and use your body and get into guys a little more," he said. "For me, to hold onto the puck longer, I've got to cut back and be an elite skater. I just try to use that to my advantage and find ways to make plays."

The spins are just the beginning. From his crouched position at the front of the net that became a meme of its own, to skilled plays like a no-look pass to set up Vasily Podkolzin for a beautiful goal in November, Garland has found ways to entertain in different ways.  

Perhaps the most entertaining thing we have seen from him came early in the season, down in Washington State. With only a few minutes left in the Seattle Kraken's first-ever home game, Garland stepped up and delivered the game-winning goal in dramatic fashion, stunning the crowd at Climate Pledge Arena.

"I like playing the big games," he said, recalling that night. "That was a big game and the environment was crazy. There's no music in warm-ups and it was the loudest I've ever heard in the building. It's an easy game to get up for and when you have a chance to win a game late, I kind of perk up a little bit."

Even more memorable may have been the stare Garland darted behind the bench at a fan who had heckled him earlier. Truly, he is a player who does not forget things easily.

Even with the spoiling of the party down south, Garland considered the team's winning streak under new head coach Bruce Boudreau to be his own highlight of the season thus far.

"We had struggled for so long," he said. "We were battling and then we went on that run there and it felt good. It felt like we were a good team we were working with, and we were taking a mile together so that was a lot of fun for us."

It was a fun stretch for the team, but there remains uncertainty for what will be accomplished by April. As a team battling to keep pace for a playoff spot, the Canucks have a lot to live up to if they want to be in the postseason. Garland knows this.

"We should be hard to beat, especially with how well we play five-on-five," he said. "I think we just keep getting better, whether it's management that thinks they need to get players, or we get better as a group with chemistry or in the off-season. Guys get better and you come back as a better team."

Garland gave much credit to his teammates for their recent run of success, pointing out he has struggled to be productive at points. This season has not been without its high moments for Garland and his team, however. He made franchise history with a six-game point scoring streak to start his time in Vancouver, the first time it has ever been done. He's come to life in games against Seattle, sowing the seeds for an entertaining Pacific Northwest rivalry.

You cannot ask for more of a team player; one who tries to downplay their own success and credit their teammates for winning hockey games.

It has been an eventful year for this Vancouver Canucks team, and Conor Garland has been right in the middle of the action all season. He has been the exact type of player fans hoped to see when the club acquired him with that draft day trade in 2021.