Vancouver Canucks

How Luke Schenn Became the Mentor for a New Generation

February 9, 2023

Brian Choi - @brianhwc

The game is tied at two and not much time remains in the third period. At this most inopportune time, the Canucks take a potentially back-breaking penalty.

The home fans hold their breath, hoping the penalty kill wouldn't end in disappointment.

And on this particular December night, the punctuation mark wasn't a puck in the back of the net. No, it was Luke Schenn, rivalling the strength of the lumberjack emblazoned on his jersey, sending Jakob Chychrun tumbling against the boards.

Just like he'd done to his opponents 2,946 times before that.

Al Murdoch's voice thundered throughout Rogers Arena, and John Shorthouse's voice reverberated throughout the lower mainland. The NHL had a new all-time leader for hits by a defenceman, and the fans jumped up in approval. It was a splendid milestone for the veteran defenceman, one worth every second of the celebration that ensued.

Not to be outdone by the roaring fans, Schenn's teammates jumped up, cheered, and banged the boards.

That's Luke Schenn. Respected by his fans, revered by his teammates. A consummate pro in every sense of the word.

But he didn't become this presence overnight, and he'd be the first to admit as much.

It seems improbable to think that Luke Schenn is anything but a born leader. You would be forgiven too, by anyone that had the chance to follow his career.

After making his debut in the 2008-09 season, it didn't take long for Luke Schenn to garner respect on the ice. In fact, he commanded it. Everyone had the scouting reports - he could hit like a truck, and you knew he would. He played with an edge, amassing 71 penalty minutes in just 70 games. You'd have to imagine there was no shortage of "Look out for number two" comments whispered on the opposing benches.

Needless to say, the adjective "cautious" would have been incredibly ill-suited for Luke Schenn's freshman season - especially when he was flattening Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in front of his own bench, or dropping the gloves with Ottawa's Chris Neil to defend his teammate. No matter your seniority in the NHL or star status, you could expect him to approach every matchup in the exact same way.

But when the game ended, and he left behind the lime-lit tunnel of outstretched hands looking for high fives, he was still 18-year-old Luke. He was the youngest of the young, in an already inexperienced Maple Leafs locker room. Just trying to find his way in the finest hockey league in the world.

"As a young guy, you always wanted to come in and be all ears for the most part," he reminisced. "You just want to be a sponge and listen to what the older guys around you are telling you."

There, within the walls of the dressing room, cautious would have been far more appropriate as a superlative. And you can't help but nod your head in understanding once you realize that he graduated from a team of 16 and 17-year-olds to a team full of husbands and fathers in just a few short months.

"When you come in, you don't want to speak out of place for sure. You want to be respectful of everyone, from the coaches to the trainers to the veteran players that are moving around you."

And in reflecting on his emergence from those quiet, humble beginnings to become the mentor he is today, he credits the veteran players he had the chance to play with.

"You can only hang onto the title of a young guy for so long before you gotta turn the page and be a leader," he said, both in reference to himself and the young players entering the league today.

"I was really fortunate to have a group of guys where they'd always invite me to dinners, and make me feel included. Now the tables have turned and I'm the older guy, and I try to be that same presence the older guys were to me."

The tables have turned indeed, and in so many different ways.

Luke Schenn is now a husband, and father of two. The clean shave from 15 years ago has since been replaced with dark stubble, he's had the chance to hoist the Stanley cup twice over his head, and now, he's staring down 1,000 career NHL games.

But it's the sweeping changes across the entire league that truly catch his eye.

"To be honest, it's more and more young players in the league."

And with that leaguewide change comes a revised set of expectations.

"Things have turned where there's not as many old guys in the league, so young guys have to be leaders now. And as an older guy, I'm going to listen to the young guy too, as long as he's put in the work."

Looking around the league, you can see he's absolutely right. Locker rooms all around the league are adapting to this change - just look at their captains.

Just across the provincial border, Connor McDavid was named captain at 19 years old. Nico Hischier was named captain at 22, Brady Tkachuk at 23, Nick Suzuki at 23, Dylan Larkin at 24.

"Just like society has changed and developed over time, the NHL dressing room has as well."

And it's players like Luke Schenn that help the new faces of the league become true professionals, and eventually graduate into leadership roles, just like his veteran teammates did for him.

"At the rink, you want to relate to everyone and communicate. I think that's the biggest thing. And as an older guy too, you want to try to lead by example, and that's putting in the work. If you're an older guy who's been around for a while, putting in the work, then there's no reason why as a young guy you shouldn't be."

The mentorship doesn't stop outside of the rink either.

"You just want to relate to them. Obviously, we're in different stages of life where I go home and have a wife and kids, and [the younger guys] are doing other things outside the rink. So you try to communicate with them, ask them what they're up to. Just grow relationships with them."

And on a team like Vancouver, the importance of a presence like Schenn becomes especially salient. It's been four years since Elias Pettersson changed everything in Vancouver - three years since Shorthouse proclaimed that the future is now. And now, more than ever, the future of the team is responsible for taking charge of the present.

"[On a championship team] you've got guys a little more experienced, guys who've been through more ups and downs in their career. Guys who have had more previous experience to fall back on. [But] as a younger team, you're typically trying to find your way in the NHL and there's some growing pains along the way."

Luke Schenn would fall firmly into the category of "guys a little more experienced, guys who've been through more ups and downs in their career."

He's been around the league, experiencing the highest of the highs the sport has to offer, and the lowest of the lows. He's been the star rookie and the grizzled veteran. Now, he's embracing his off-ice role, taking the young stars of the Vancouver Canucks and helping them become leaders. And when you see them inevitably and proudly displaying a letter on their jersey, above their heart, you can be sure that Luke Schenn's tutelage had a role in it.