Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Markus Naslund: B.C.'s adopted son

Living in Toronto and working in the Eastern media, I must profess I sometimes feel disenfranchised from my humble Western Canadian roots. Jes Golbez's love letter to Markus Naslund today, however, really reminds me of home.

As ridiculous as it may sound, B.C. does love this guy. I personally don’t know how he feels about Vancouver, but the city has adopted him as its second son. The Canucks' rebirth has followed lockstep with his progression into an elite NHLer, and Naslund’s understated and kind demeanour have endeared him to everyone there.

In the fall of September, 2000, the Canucks held their training camp in Sweden, eschewing the customary practice of holding camp in a small B.C. city (which often meant a parade of NHLers to Riverside Coliseum in Kamloops). That year, with Mark Messier (thankfully) leaving the team, the Canucks named Naslund the then-troubled club’s new captain.

It seems like a no-brainer now, but people at the time (myself included) questioned the move. To that point, Naslund’s NHL career had been short of spectacular. The Penguins had inexplicably unloaded the former 1st-round pick (16th overall in 2001) for Canuck goon Alex Stojanov in 1996, a move that remains the most favourably lopsided trade in Canucks’ history.

Naslund put together back-to-back seasons of 66 and 65 points in 1998-99 and 1999-00, but was often derided as being a soft and sometimes-disinterested player. However, with both Messier and Alexander Mogilny ending their unproductive tenures with the team, it was time for new blood to lead the team. I had thought steady defender Mattias Ohlund was a solid candidate to wear the ‘C’ but Naslund was the one who became the face of the team.

Five years and a couple of league MVP-calibre seasons later, it goes without saying Naslund was the right choice. His conversion from an unwanted castoff to an NHL superstar is one Vancouver fans have written into the team’s lore.

The three million or so residents of B.C. live and breathe Canucks hockey. And, despite the fact the team has never won a championship and had only very minor successes in its 35 year-history, people really do love the team, and by extension its soft-spoken captain.

As an example, a friend of mine from high school had the Canuck whale logo tattooed on his arm right around the time Naslund and the Canucks began to turn things around. As bizarre as that may sound to fans who have been lucky enough to cheer for hockey's dynasties, for better or worse, this is B.C.'s team.

And Naslund, well, he’s the core of what that team is. If there are Leafs fans reading, you can imagine the horror of losing beloved captain Mats Sundin, a player who has come to exemplify what that team is. Next to Trevor Linden, there are few guys more emblematic of what it is to be a Canuck.

Perhaps this isn’t the most eloquent plea, but there’s one thing I do know. It’ll be a sad day indeed when Naslund leaves.

Even I, objective journalist, might shed a tear.


At 6:45 p.m., July 27, 2005, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

Wow, well said James!

At 5:57 p.m., July 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible. Just absolutely incredible.


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