VANCOUVER — When Kevin Bieksa stepped onto the ice for the Vancouver Canucks’ morning skate at Rogers Arena on Thursday, he felt right at home.
It’s been more than four years since the defenseman qualified for an NHL game — and more than seven since he played for the Canucks — but memories of his time with the team flooded back quickly.
“I don’t know if you guys saw morning skates, but I dominated out there,” he joked with reporters. “But the ice felt good again.”
Bieksa, 41, was back in the building for his official retirement on Thursday after signing a one-day deal with Vancouver.
“It was amazing,” he said after skating that morning. “So I try not to be too distracting. I had a little skating in the morning, went to the locker room and tried to talk to the guys. … I’m trying to do my thing and enjoy graduating with my family, but don’t distract the rest of the guys.”
The occasion was marked with a ceremony before the Canucks faced the Anaheim Ducks, the only other team the blue liner played for in his 13-year NHL career.
Before dropping the puck, he ran to center ice in a full Canucks home uniform and saluted the cheering crowd with his stick. He was greeted by friend and former teammate Daniel Sedin and daughter Reese Bieksa, who dropped the puck in a celebratory faceoff.
Vancouver also wore Bieksa’s silhouette and number 3 patches on their jerseys for the game, and messages from his former teammates were broadcast on the big screen during the game.
Bieksa has 278 points (63 goals, 215 assists) in 808 NHL games for Vancouver and Anaheim.
Selected by Vancouver in the fifth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, he wasn’t always expected to be a star.
The six-foot-tall, 200-pound Grimsby, Ontario native used his physical play and solid shot to earn a spot in the Canucks’ roster and helped the team make seven playoffs between the 2007 and 2015 seasons – to lead participations.
“The only thing I knew about him was that he was the kind of team player you’ll never find,” said Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau, who sat part-time behind the Anaheim bench during Bieksa’s time in Vancouver.
“If someone got into trouble, they were there to protect you. If someone got hit, they were there to fill in. He was a great team player, he was very popular with everyone.
“And he competed every night. Whether he was good or bad made no difference. He went in and did whatever it took to win, because for Kevin – and all the greats – it’s all about winning.”
Bieksa was a crucial factor in Vancouver’s run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, recording 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 25 games.
In Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks, tied 2-2 in double overtime, Bieksa fired a shot from inside the blue line and sealed the series with a sneaky, game-winning goal.
What the defender is most proud of during his time in Vancouver is the culture he and his teammates created.
“We all wanted to be better than the other person, we all struggled and we tried to perfect our craft, be it picking up pucks in front of the net,” said Bieksa.
“It was just about being proud of what you do, being competitive and pushing each other. And I think that’s the sign of a good team with a good identity.”
Bo Horvat is the only player in Vancouver’s roster to play alongside Bieksa, standing by his side during his 2014-15 rookie season.
The Canucks captain said the omitted blue liner is still one of his favorite teammates.
“He really cares about every single teammate he plays with,” said Horvat. “For me as a young man who came in, he held me accountable. … He always wanted to bring out the best in me. He’s always kind of taken me under his wing and pushed me to work harder and be in great shape.”
In an off-season trade in June 2015, the Canucks sold Bieksa to the Ducks for a second-round pick in the 2016 draft. He had a year left on his contract at the time, capped at $4.6 million.
Bieksa said he never wanted to leave Vancouver.
“I always thought of myself as a Canuck,” he said. “When I was in Anaheim — and I loved my Anaheim teammates — but they were always like, ‘You and (Ryan) Kessler talk a lot about Vancouver. You always talk about Vancouver.’ And I thought, ‘This is how we do it here. We had a good thing for a long time.’
“Lots of good memories. We had a really great culture and a lot of success. That’s why I always thought of myself as Canuck, even when I left.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 3, 2022.
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