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  • Friday, September 10, 1999

    All's peachy in Lotusland

    By JIM TAYLOR -- Calgary Sun
      You will, no doubt, be delighted to learn that the Vancouver Canucks' inexorable drive to the Stanley Cup championship (September division) is proceeding apace.
     They have signed two of the finest prospects in Swedish hockey -- the Sedin brothers, at the very least the most explosive -- and expensive -- set of twins since Bert and Nan Bobbsey.
     Okay, they're not coming till next season, but just you wait, boy. Besides, so many other really great things are happening that the Flighty Nucks might not even need them this year.
     Alexander Mogilny has announced that he wants to score more goals this season.
     Given that he managed but 14 in 59 games last season, this is indeed gratifying news.
     Markus Naslund is fairly brimming with excitement at the prospect of starting a season without Mike Keenan there to lease him a spot in the Chateau Bow-Wow.
     The kids look great. The vets look great. Mark Messier is only a year older. Brian Burke, it's said, is a kinder, gentler version of the guy who always looked like he was reading for the two-fisted, tough-talking Irishman barkeep role in a Maureen O'Hara movie.
     In other words, they are in training camp looking good against each other in scrimmages for which no discernible NHL points will be awarded.
     And, like every other team, they are exuding optimism because they've found a team they can beat, even if it's their own.
     Curious things, training camps.
     Teams trek to out-of-town sites (in this case, Kamloops) so they can have the players under controlled conditions and force the media to follow them and thus be gulled into filing at least one story a day if only to justify their bar tab.
     Because players arrive full of determination, vigor and starry-eyed optimism -- all traits that wane noticeably as the season drags on -- it is an easy fall into the trap of believing that this is, indeed, a team on the rise.
     And it may be. When you've missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, any jump that shows daylight between the ice and your skate blades falls under the heading of quantum leap.
     So the stories roll out of camp about this vet looking good and that kid showing a lot of spunk. Fans at home read page after page of good news, climb onto a kitchen chair and reach for the sugar bowl to retrieve that ticket money they were going to let the wife blow on food or a second dress.
     If they're lucky, the chair collapses, they strike their heads on the counter and wake up with a bad case of selective amnesia.
     Without the balm of blessed forgetfulness, Canuck fans might suffer flashback to days like the one when Pavel Bure was traded and Burke said the key from the Canucks' standpoint would be the veteran Dave Gagner.
     If Gagner could be the second-line centre they so desperately needed, said Burke, this would be a good trade. If he couldn't, then perhaps it wouldn't.
     Gagner is now being paid a reported $1.8 million for not playing this year, and the hunt for that second-line centre now focuses on ex-Calgary Flame Andrew Cassels.
     But this is not a time for pessimism.
     Pavel Bure isn't here whining to be traded. Mike Keenan isn't here to feud with Burke. There is at least an outside chance that this hockey season could be about hockey.
     It's September, and everyone's tied for first. In Vancouver, the customers are advised to treasure the moment. October will be here before they know it.

    VANCOUVER CANUCKS



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