Teddy Blueger knows snow.
The Vancouver Canucks centre was raised in Riga, Latvia, where the white stuff is a way of life. Something to savour and not dread. Let it snow.
On Wednesday, Blueger could have driven his BMW through clogged streets toward Rogers Arena in the same manner he has guided his energetic and effective line. But he walked. He wanted the experience of this city in the snow.
“I was surprised by how much there was, but I thought it was awesome,” Blueger said following practice Wednesday.
What’s not surprising is Blueger’s impact as a highly effective pivot who doesn’t stray from strong systems play. It became infectious and has brought out the best in linemates Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland.
Call the alignment what you want, but the combination is like a meat-and-potatoes dish. Joshua is the meat, Blueger is the potatoes, and Garland is the gravy. It’s supposed to be the third line, but is more like the second.
“It’s our mindset,” stressed the 29-year-old Blueger. “We work and compete and make plays when they’re there. The foundation is to work hard, get in on the forecheck, and win battles. We have different skill sets, and they complement each other.
“Garland is quick, smart, has good hands, and wants the puck down-low. Dak is more physical with that net-front presence and a good puck protector who can win battles.”
That was never more evident than Monday in Columbus. Joshua’s heavy forecheck led to an end-boards puck retrieval. He got it to Blueger in the corner, who spun to find a wide-open Garland in the slot. Tic-tac-goal.
“All the details were there. When the play was a there, we made it,” said Blueger.
Blueger had already made an NHL impression by being hard to play against, smart positionally, strong on the penalty kill, and possessing untapped offensive potential when the Canucks came calling. He has 18 points (5-13) in 30 games and is on pace for a career season.
The unrestricted free agent bet on himself with a one-year, $1.9-million US free-agent contract. It was based on going beyond what newcomers often bring to the rink to be more than a roster placeholder for someone else next season.
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin has lauded Blueger’s presence, poise and production. And for good reason.
Newcomers usually stay in their lanes and remain quiet. Not Blueger. He’s a culture carrier. He learned what it takes to become a consummate professional from Pittsburgh Penguins captain and teammate Sidney Crosby. And he saw how his Vegas Golden Knights formed a playoff pedigree to capture the Stanley Cup last season.
So, where did all this come from?
How did a kid who moved to North America in 2009 become more than just a player? Was it the way he was raised? And what drew him to the U.S.? Credit the famous Shattuck’s St. Mary’s hockey factory in Minnesota.
“Back home, they were showing a re-run of Pittsburgh playing the Wild and did a little segment with Crosby about how much he enjoyed coming back to Minnesota and how many guys who played there are now in the NHL,” recalled Blueger.
“That’s how we found out about it. We went for a visit, but the overall vibe and the fit is what matched up the best. We loved it.”
What the Canucks love is the fit, the focus and commitment.
“It’s a combination of the environments I’ve been in,” said Blueger. “It was the way I was raised and coached, and the expectation in Pittsburgh was to always win. Sid really set the tone and made sure everyone was involved.
“There was a high standard and everybody cared about each other and there was a good dynamic in the room. That’s important, and it was the same in Vegas. It’s building relationships and keeping the culture.”
Still, at some point on the career road, players will hit the ditch. It can be performance related, or how they carry themselves. Blueger got his. He was raised to respect elders and authority, and he carried that all the way to the NCAA level.
That’s when he had one of those no-no moments.
“I scored a goal to go up with two or three minutes left and did a big bow-and-arrow celebration,” recalled Blueger. “The next day, the coach made me come in and apologize in front of the whole team.
“I had kind of made it about myself, instead of the guy who made the play for me to score. It was a good example of the expectations. It’s always team first, and don’t discredit the opponent.”
Maybe Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet put it best about Blueger’s value.
“I was fortunate with a young team in Arizona to have Derek Stepan and Brad Richardson because they really helped our identity,” he said. “Teddy has a little bit of both of those guys. He’s a systems guy. Where you want a player to be, he’s there nine times out of 10.”
Canucks vs. Coyotes
Where/When: Thursday, 7 p.m., Rogers Arena
TV: SN Pacific Radio: Sportsnet
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