CANUCKS EARN POINT IN BACK TO BACK AGAINST THE MARLIES, LOSE 4-3 IN OT
ABBOTSFORD, BC - The Abbotsford Canucks have their work cut out for them as the American Hockey League’s 2022 Calder Cup playoff tournament looms.
When Abbotsford was scheduled for a four-game road trip in California which began on March 19, it felt like the perfect timing. The team had an opportunity to control their own fate when it came to the playoffs.
The Canucks were scheduled to face the Bakersfield Condors, the Ontario Reign, the San Jose Barracuda and the Stockton Heat. This was a crucial road trip.
Why? The Condors and the Canucks have been battling for No. 4 in the Pacific Division for quite some time.
The Reign, on the other hand, was ahead of Abbotsford in the standings and the Canucks had the opportunity to gain some ground.
Abbotsford came away with six out of eight points on the road trip.
Things were on a high note, especially considering that the Canucks were returning home for six games, starting with back-to-back games against the Toronto Marlies on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Toronto had a shortage of goaltenders due to injuries, illness and recalls by the Maple Leafs, so many believed the Canucks had the advantage and could roll right through them in both games.
The Canucks did too.
They believed they could dominate the Marlies. After all, Toronto was forced to summon Talor Joseph, a 27-year-old goaltender from the Trinity Western University Spartans of USports.
In 12 games with the Spartans this season, he has a 5.86 goals-against average and .876 save percentage.
Along with that, the Marlies had 24-year-old Tavin Grant, who is from Burnaby, BC, as their backup goaltender. Prior to signing an amateur tryout agreement in this emergency situation, the last time he played was with the Prince George Cougars in 2017-18.
He played 37 games with the Cougars that season and had a 3.74 goals-against average along with a .892 save percentage.
That said, Joesph switched the script on the Canucks.
Abbotsford lost 5-3 to the Marlies on Tuesday and Joesph made 34 saves. It was two points, in a middle of a playoff race no less, that stung for Abbotsford to lose.
When the two teams went for their rematch on Wednesday at the confines of the Abbotsford Centre as the Canucks celebrated Hockey is for Everyone Night, things were just as strange, if not more.
The Marlies, this time, signed goaltender Billy Christopoulos to a professional tryout contract and released Grant.
Christopoulos was supposed to start in net against the Canucks. However, he got delayed at the border due to immigration paperwork and couldn’t arrive in time for the game.
Joesph had to start in net for Toronto on back-to-back nights. The Canucks took advantage, as they scored two goals on 10 shots against him.
They were leading 2-1 after the first period. Forwards Sheldon Dries and John Stevens had the goals for Abbotsford. It was their 35th and 15th goals of the season, respectively.
All of the sudden, as the teams came out of their respective tunnels for the second period, there was a different goaltender in the Marlies’ net.
It was Christopoulos. He had arrived and was going to play.
The Canucks did manage 21 shots on him, but were only able to beat him once.
That was when Canucks forward Sheldon Rempal scored his 26th goal of the season at 13:55 go the second period. Defenceman Noah Juulsen had the lone assist. That goal put the Canucks up 3-2.
Despite a better effort than the night before, though, Abbotsford eventually lost 4-3 in overtime to Toronto.
“We gave what we had,” Canucks head coach Trent Cull said. “I thought the group’s working hard… they improved from last night. It’s not the result we wanted, but we battled tonight.”
Meanwhile, the other teams who have direct impact on Abbotsford playoff push managed to win their respective games on the same night.
Ontario defeated San Jose and 6-3 and have 79 points for No. 2 in the Pacific Division with 11 games remaining.
The Colorado Eagles edged Stockton 2-1 and have 73 points for No. 3 in the Pacific Division with nine games remaining.
But perhaps the most important one: Bakersfield shutout the Henderson Silver Knights and are at 68 points and sit in No. 4 of the Pacific Division, with 12 games remaining.
The Canucks, with the single point, are just two points back of the Condors, but have one less game in hand.
Let’s not forget too, Stockton, Ontario, along with Colorado have already clinched their playoff spots.
Coming into the back-to-back games against the Marlies, the Canucks were undefeated against Toronto in two meetings this season.
With the Marlies needing to bring in goaltenders on short notice to play their games as well. It was a missed opportunity for the Canucks, not only in terms of clinching a playoff spot, but to gain points to move up the standings and earn home-ice advantage.
“We’re not an overly fancy group right now,” Cull said.
“We’re going to have to slug out points, no matter which way we do it.”
The Abbotsford Canucks (30-21-5-1) will continue their six-game homestand when they play host to the Laval Rocket (31-21-3-2) at the Abbotsford Centre on Saturday. Puck drop is scheduled at 7:00PM PST. It will be the team’s Country Night as well.
NEWS AND NOTES
Abbotsford forward Sheldon Dries is tied for the AHL goals lead with 35. He also had an assist. In his last four games, he’s had four goals and an assist.
Canucks forward John Stevens finished with a goal and an assist. He has three points in two games, including goals in both of them.
Abbotsford defenceman Jack Rathbone has three assists in his last two games.
Canucks forward Sheldon Rempal has three goals and three assists in his last five games. He also is one away from scoring his 50th-career AHL goal.
Alex Kannok-Leipert, who is originally a defenceman, played on the third line as the right winger with forwards Carson Focht and Chase Wouters.
Abbotsford goaltender Mikey DiPietro made 31 saves in his team-leading 23rd start of the start.
Canucks defenceman Madison Bowey led the team with seven shots.
Forward Nic Petan, who was in the lineup for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks when they lost 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues, got his first point was the team. It was an assist. He has 12 goals and 32 assists in 37 games with Abbotsford this season.