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Abbotsford Canucks

Buzzed: Canucks Fall to Condors in Inaugural Season Opener

Stanley Lee/ Field Pass Hockey

Buzzed: Canucks Fall to Condors in Inaugural Season Opener

VANCOUVER, BC – April 19th, 2014 was the last time an Abbotsford AHL team played a regular-season game. 

That’s 2738 days ago. 

Under a different name, with different colors and a different affiliation, AHL hockey has returned to the lower mainland. Though the Canucks may have dropped their inaugural game to the Bakersfield Condors, fans of the team have much to look forward to this year. 

The first tilt in Abbotsford Canucks franchise history came against the affiliate team of the Edmonton Oilers, whom the Vancouver Canucks opened their NHL season against. Heading into hostile territory, this would be the first time the team took to the ice as a unit. 

A side note: the Canucks ran with three assistant captains tonight. Early reports suggested that Ashton Sautner, a fixture of the Vancouver organization, would be the favorite to earn the C, so perhaps the team is waiting for their return home to unveil the first captain in franchise history. 

First Period

After a microphone issue with the anthem singer, the puck was dropped for the Canucks’ first game in franchise history. Right off the bat, it was the Condors that dictated play. Early pressure and a power-play generated plenty of shots, but Michael DiPietro was equal to the task. 

With the first penalty kill in franchise history complete, the Canucks got some chances of their own. 2021 second-round pick Danila Klimovich showed off his talent in brief spurts, cool under pressure, and hands like butter. The first line of Justin Bailey, Sheldon Dries, and Sheldon Rempal was the best early on, generating the most sustained zone pressure the Canucks would get. 

Unfortunately, despite DiPietro’s finest efforts, it was the Condors that would strike first. The Canuck netminder made the initial save through traffic, but James Hamblin was first to the loose puck as he buried it on a spinning backhander. Coming at 16:08, it put the home side up 1-0 with the flow of the play at their backs. 

Abbotsford would manage to get some zone time in the final moments of the period, but the first quickly came to an end, being outshot 11-3. While the new kids on the block certainly were hustling, there were many sloppy plays, from missed passes to breakouts going wrong. It felt like a constant chemistry experiment, the lines trying to click and mesh with each other. 

That was sort of to be expected with this team, though. With no preseason and prior action to this game, there were to be growing pains. The Canucks certainly didn’t look brilliant, but they did not look bad. 

Second Period

Whatever Trent Cull said during the intermission seemed to spark his team. Abbotsford came out of the gates with speed and aggression, getting into Bakersfield territory and generating chances. It didn’t take long before the first goal in franchise history was scored. 

Jared Lukosevicius potted in a wrister from a broken play, the Squamish BC native etching his name into Canuck history. The goal came at 2:18 in the second. It felt like a jolt of energy was pumped throughout the entire lineup. Abbotsford would keep coming, nearly leveling the shot count. Eventually, they earned themselves a powerplay to try and keep the good vibes going. That was when William Lockwood took a crosschecking minor halfway through. 

Bakersfield would make the Abbotsford pay for the lapse, as it was former Vancouver Canuck Adam Cracknell that blasted a one-timer past a lunging DiPietro. 

Instead of folding, the Canucks took the challenge head-on and continued to go on the attack. Though he showed moments of inexperience, it was the young rookie Klimovich that opened his AHL account. 

Being at the right spot at the right time, the 2nd rounder easily slotted it past Stuart Skinner to knot the game right back up less than a minute later. Already, the game was becoming exciting. 

A couple of dicey moments would ensue, as the Abbotsford special teams really had to step up. With Carson Focht and Ashton Sautner heading to the box, the Canucks faced their first 5-on-3 penalty kill. They fought admirably and were able to get out of it scot-free thanks to some excellent netminding by Mikey DiPietro. 

Perhaps spurred on by the kill, Abbotsford would tally their third goal of the frame courtesy of Justin Bailey. Sheldon Rempal battled hard in the corner boards before hooking the puck right to Bailey, who had drifted in front of goal. He easily snapped it by Skinner to give the Canucks their first-ever lead in a hockey game. 

The period would draw to a close with a 3-2 lead. It was a much better period for the Canucks, having found their scoring touch for three goals in the period. There were concerns, though, as momentum did not seem to favor the new kids. Michael DiPietro was much of the reason Abbotsford enjoyed the lead they did, but for how long could they go on being outshot and out-chanced?

As it turned out, not very long.

Third Period

Bakersfield wasn’t going to let themselves get pipped so easily during their home opener. Just two minutes in, Sautner would turn the puck over in his own corner. Seth Griffith would let loose a blast from the point, which DiPietro saved through plenty of traffic, but Yanni Kladis pounced on the rebound to knot the game right back up. 

To make matters worse, just 39 seconds later, Cracknell tallied his second of the game off of some poor team defense by the Canucks. In just a matter of moments, the game turned on its head with the Condors leading by one. 

Though Abbotsford tried to mount a comeback effort, they got in their own way with poor discipline. Minor penalties seemed to halt any flow or rhythm the team generated. Though their penalty kill held up strong, it didn’t help that they still spent most of the time in their own zone. DiPietro once again had to be strong to keep the deficit to a single goal. 

It proved too much to overcome. With the net empty, Sheldon Dries sent a wild pass into the middle of the ice that Luke Esposito easily read. The Condor made no mistake and fired it into the yawning cage, icing the 5-3 win in their home opener. 

Though I’ve mentioned him in a couple of bad situations, Sautner and his partner Jett Woo were a surprisingly good pairing. For the most part, they were solid in their own end and looked not out of place at all. Barring a few communication details to hash out, this pairing could have potential. 

Takeaways

 

The Canucks fought hard but came up short, a learning experience for everyone. It was the franchise’s first game and first loss but still a tremendous step for all involved.

There’s no rest for the weary, as the Abbotsford Canucks return to action Sunday against the Ontario Reign. They look to bounce back from a tough defeat and earn their first win in franchise history. Puck drop set for 5:00 PM PT.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    Michael Liu covers the Abbotsford Canucks for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHCanucks.

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