Bieksa sets new goal
Bieksa sets new goal
"Very excited,” says Team Canada debutant
But next month, the 32-year-old defenceman will focus on another goal. Bieksa will make his IIHF World Championship debut in Belarus when Canada opens against France on May 9. It will be the first time he’s ever worn the national team jersey at any level.
While the Canucks had a disappointing season, finishing 12th in the Western Conference, Bieksa’s teammates are glad that he responded to the call from Team Canada general manager Rob Blake.
“He’ll do really well,” said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin, who was a tournament all-star when Sweden won the Worlds on home ice in Stockholm last year. “He’s a good skater, he’s an offensive guy, he likes to make plays, and he’s good with the puck. We’re happy that he got the chance, and wish him good luck.”
The robust nine-year NHLer recorded four goals and 20 assists in 76 games this season. It’s the first time Vancouver has missed the playoffs since 2007-08. Teammate Alexandre Burrows, who was 31 when he debuted for Canada at the 2012 Worlds, will join Bieksa in Minsk.
“I’m very excited,” Bieksa told IIHF.com after Vancouver completed its season with a 5-1 home win over the Calgary Flames on April 13. “It’s my first opportunity to represent my country. It’s still a few weeks away. I’ll be sitting around waiting for it, and when I go over there it’s going to be a lot of fun, putting that Maple Leaf on for the first time. I’ve been in this league for a long time and never really had the opportunity, so I’m going to take advantage of this.”
Bieksa will have a few adjustments to make on his inaugural trip to Europe. Since the 185-cm, 90-kg native of Grimsby, Ontario has spent his entire NHL career with the Canucks, he’ll be getting acquainted personally with many of his Minsk teammates for the first time.
It’ll also be his first stint on the larger international ice surface since college. He played four seasons with the Bowling Green Falcons and earned his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2004.
“I think maybe half the rinks were Olympic-sized in college,” he recalled. “It’s been a while, but I like the Olympic ice. Lots of room out there and a lot of skating.”
Bieksa isn’t the only top-class defender to emerge from Bowling Green. The Ohio-based university also spawned 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic gold medalist Ken Morrow and Canadian World Championship silver medalists Dave Ellett (1989) and Garry Galley (1996). But the best-known ex-Falcon blueliner – who won World Championship gold (1994, 1997), a Stanley Cup (2001), and Olympic gold (2002) – is none other than Rob Blake.
Did the alumni connection help Bieksa when it came to getting selected for this year’s roster?
“We’ve crossed paths a couple of times,” Bieksa said with a smile. “There’s a bond for sure, being from the same school. We have the secret handshake going and everything. I’ve spoken to him a few times over the years, and it’s nice to kind of reconnect with him.”
Another secret weapon for Bieksa might be the insights of Canuck teammate Dan Hamhuis. The two frequently played together on Vancouver’s top defence pairing en route to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular-season club in 2011 and 2012.
Hamhuis, like Blake, has played at six Worlds. Smooth-skating and versatile, he won gold (2007) and two silvers (2008, 2009), and added an Olympic championship in February in a support role in Sochi.
“He’s already offered his advice,” Bieksa quipped. “I didn’t even have to pick his brain. He just starts firing it at me. I’m sure he wants me to do well. We’ll talk over the next few weeks for sure.”
As Bieksa prepares for his trip to Belarus, he could also look at ex-Canuck teammate Brendan Morrison’s experience to put the value of participation in perspective. Morrison played 934 NHL games from 1997 to 2012. Still, the savvy British Columbia-born centre never got a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup or win an Olympics. His greatest victory was at one of the three Worlds he played. Morrison earned gold with Canada in 2004 in the Czech Republic. It just goes to show that any opportunity to win is precious in this uncertain hockey life.
Bieksa often has his surname misspelled as “Bieska.” Yet in Minsk, he may get to inscribe “Bieksa” forever in the annals of hockey history as Canada seeks its first world title in seven years.
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