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  • Sunday, October 10, 1999

    Canucks off to a fast start

    By JIM MORRIS -- Canadian Press
     VANCOUVER -- They are unbeaten after three games. They sit first in the Northwest Division and second overall in the NHL's Western Conference.
     Is this really the Vancouver Canucks we're talking about, the same team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years?
     It's no David Copperfield illusion that has the Canucks off to their best start in seven years. Vancouver has added depth, received strong games from key players and hasn't been rocked by any off-ice distractions.
     The team also has gotten a major break from the schedule maker.
     Although excited about the 3-0 start, the Canucks know there's a lot of hockey left before spring's showers bring the playoffs.
     "We're not getting carried away with ourselves," said coach Marc Crawford following Vancouver's 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens Saturday.
     "We know we've got a long way to go. We've got to continue to pay attention to the details that are making us successful."
     The Canucks haven't three games in a row since February of 1998. The last time they went unbeaten from the start of the season was 1992 when they bounded to an 4-0 start.
     So what makes the Canucks better this year?
     The team has enjoyed the tranquillity of playing without the turmoil of the Pavel Bure holdout and the friction that existed last year between coach Mike Keenan and general manager Brian Burke.
     "There's always been too much chaos and turmoil in this city," said left-winger Todd Bertuzzi, who scored a highlight reel goal Saturday, faking goaltender Jose Theodore with a backhand, then beating him on the forehand.
     "We have a good team, a good work ethic. Everyone knows what is going on from the top to the bottom. We have a system in place and everyone is following it."
     Last year the Canucks were lucky to scrape together one good line.
     Injuries to Mark Messier, Alexander Mogilny and Bertuzzi left Vancouver icing a team some nights that would have trouble winning in the American Hockey League.
     The addition of little left-winger Steve Kariya, who scored his first NHL goal against Montreal, and centre Andrew Cassels has given Vancouver a solid second line with Mogilny at right wing.
     The sometimes-moody Mogilny is so enamoured with his new linemates he scored twice in Vancouver's 5-4 win over Chicago last week.
     Bertuzzi has been dealing out some heavy hits and making smart plays on the third line while rookie Russian Artem Chubarov, only 19, has already scored his first goal.
     Meanwhile, Ed Jovanovski has been solid on defence as has Greg Hawgood.
     "We have a lot more depth in every position," said Garth Snow, who along with Kevin Weekes, has given Vancouver a strong goaltending tandem.
     "We're driven because we have to prove ourselves this year. We want to get into the playoffs."
     But the Canucks' record is deceiving.
     Vancouver opened the schedule with a four-game homestand.
     Of the Canucks' first 10 opponents only Carolina, who plays here Wednesday, was in the playoffs last year.
     Saturday's win over Montreal came against a team badly riddled with injuries.
     The Canadiens, playing their third game in four nights, were back on the ice less than 24 hours after a 4-1 victory over the Flames in Calgary.
     Crawford knows things are going to get a lot tougher when the Canucks start playing teams like Detroit, Dallas and San Jose.
     "We're not at the top end in terms of talent in the league," he said.
     "We have to make sure our work ethic is better than the opposition."
     The quick start hasn't brought fans flocking.
     Only 13,321 showed up for the Chicago game, the smallest ever for a regular season game in four years at GM Place. So far the Canucks have averaged 15,882 fans a game in the 18,422-season arena.

    VANCOUVER CANUCKS



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