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Vancouver Canucks training camp kicks off tomorrow in Whistler

New Canuck Curtis Lazar looking to make an impact as Vancouver NHL squad rolls into Meadow Park Sports Centre
B.C.-raised NHLer Curtis Lazar will be among the newer Vancouver Canucks reporting for training camp at Whistler’s Meadow Park Sports Centre on Thursday, Sept. 22.

For all of its winter Olympians, X Games medallists, mountain bike champions and overall athletic residents, one thing Whistler doesn’t have is an elite-level hockey team to call its own.

It makes sense, more or less. After all, even with a thriving minor hockey program in the Whistler Winterhawks, Canada’s top resort destination has only one public indoor ice surface.

But this week, pros will replace the bantam and beer league teams typically found on that rink when the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks roll into the Meadow Park Sports Centre for a three-day, preseason training camp from Thursday, Sept. 22 to Saturday, Sept. 24.

Players will be split into three groups, with each squad practicing once per day between 9:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. The on-ice sessions will be book-ended by goalie training and—this part’s reportedly a little unusual for head coach Bruce Boudreau—will feature daily scrimmages. All on-ice sessions are open to the public and free to attend. With a lengthy roster of players expected to report for duty, fans will have the chance to meet Canuck stars like J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko and captain Bo Horvat when camp wraps up on Saturday afternoon, as well as up-and-coming prospects like 21-year-old Surrey local Arshdeep Bains and Russian Kirill Kudryavtsev.

When he steps into Meadow Park Thursday for the first time as a Canuck, Curtis Lazar in particular will be able to relate to young fans sitting behind the glass. 

“Whenever the Canucks would travel around for training camp, I would always try and be there if it was close enough for me,” recalled the 27-year-old Lazar, who was born in Salmon Arm and raised in Vernon, B.C. “I know, distinctively, there's one year they came up to Kamloops and I was out there with my hockey cards the one day, asking all my favourite players for their signatures and whatnot after a day of work.”

The Canucks signed the forward to a three-year deal in July. After being drafted 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2013, Lazar went on to play for Calgary, Buffalo and Boston before officially making his way back to his home province this summer. While this week marks Lazar’s first training camp with the team, it’s far from his first time wearing a Canucks logo. “I grew up living the highs and lows of this franchise and getting the opportunity now to put on the sweater and represent them, it means a lot to me,” he told Pique. “The memories I have, travelling down and watching games with my dad and my grandpa—it means a lot.”

'Having the chance to go to Whistler and just really focus in on your team is so valuable'

The Canucks’ highs and lows aren’t confined to the seasons Lazar would have watched from the stands two decades ago. After a seriously rocky start to the 2021-22 season, the club, which has made the playoffs just once in the last seven years, overhauled its coaching and management staff last December when it named Boudreau head coach and brought in Jim Rutherford as president of hockey operations.

The team made headlines in the months following for not only turning around its record under their leadership—as Canuck Quinn Hughes said about Boudreau during a recent media tour, "You want to run through a brick wall for him”—but for becoming the first NHL club to employ two female assistant general managers. The Canucks hired player agent Émilie Castonguay in January and hall-of-fame Olympic gold medallist Cammi Granato less than a month later. Unfortunately, the regular season came to an end before the Canucks could spin their improved performance into a playoff appearance.

This week’s training camp will give Boudreau a chance to assess his players’ conditioning after a long off-season, dial in line combinations and ponder questions like whether left-shooting defenceman Hughes will prove more useful on the right side of the faceoff circle, for example, ahead of the season opener.

Lazar described the young crew of players as “the quickest and most skilled" group he's been a part of, but acknowledged the Canucks are on an even playing field with their competitors as they all look to start the season on the right foot.

“I think the key for us is, you know, when the going gets tough and when the adversity hits, which way do we go? Do we try to rely upon our individual skill or do we come together and rely on our structures and one another to get the job done? I feel like that's the key to a successful game, and once we get that instruction from the coaching staff, I'm sure that with the guys and their willingness to win here, it's going to be an easy transition.”

For his part, Lazar will be looking to fulfill the role he was hired for: to insert some physicality, depth and enthusiasm into the Canucks’ offence, kill some penalties and “help out wherever’s needed.”

But before any penalties can be put to rest, the Canucks' itinerary this week sets the scene for some much-needed team bonding, in the hopes off-ice camaraderie will translate into on-ice chemistry when the preseason gets underway later this month.

“I've been [in Vancouver] just over a week and you start to get to know guys, understand their personalities, understand their personal lives, but having the chance to go to Whistler and just really focus in on your team is so valuable,” said Lazar. “Really, we are a family throughout the season—we spend most of our time together, so it’s important if someone's having a bad day that we can pick each other up.”

Training camp in Whistler is “a great opportunity to do that, to go and put in the work and then we have the rest of the day to get to know each other and create some memories.”

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