Alexandre Burrows has been in professional hockey long enough to know saying goodbye to teammates is part of the business. That doesn’t make it any easier.
The Vancouver Canucks dealt veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks this summer, bringing an end to a 15-year association with the franchise that drafted him in the fifth round of the 2001 NHL draft.
As the Canucks suit up for their first pre-season game on Monday night in Victoria against the San Jose Sharks, it will be strange for some of the veterans not having No. 3 on the ice.
“A little bit bitter-sweet for sure. Kevin was one of my best friends for a long time,” Burrows said at the start of training camp. “We played together for 11 years. It’s always tough to see one of your friends go, but it’s part of the business.”
A favourite among fans, Bieksa became a full-time player with Vancouver in 2006, registering 56 goals, 185 assists and 879 penalty minutes in 597 games to go along with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 71 playoff outings, including the Canucks’ memorable run to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
The Grimsby, Ont., native was a leader on and off the ice, as well as in the community, known for his tough playing style and dry sense of humour with both media and teammates. But there were rumblings this spring after Vancouver was bounced in the first round of the playoffs that management might ask Bieksa to waive his no-trade clause, and he eventually did so once the deal with Anaheim was struck.
“He’s a guy that we’re going to miss as a friend and as a teammate,” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. “He was here for a long time and it’s going to be tough without him, but it’s a chance for other guys to step up.”
And that’s exactly what Vancouver is counting on. General manager Jim Benning added free-agent defenceman Matt Bartkowski on July 1, while a couple of players in the system, including Frank Corrado, appear ready to make the jump to the NHL.
“In years past coming to camp, you always have that mindset where you’d like to make the team,” said Corrado. “I think this year it’s a little more realistic.”
The Canucks will take on Bieksa’s Ducks five times this season, with the first two meetings set for Anaheim on Oct. 12 and Nov. 30 before the 34-year-old makes his return to Vancouver on New Year’s Day.
“Kevin was a huge personality in our room and on the ice. He’ll certainly be missed, but it’s a great opportunity for more guys to step up, fill his role,” said Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis. “I don’t think you look at one guy to fill what he did.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press