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THE MOJ: Teacher’s pet Garland comes through as big as the shirts promised

Diminutive coach favourite scores 2 in milestone game to pace Canucks to big win over Vegas
Vancouver’s Dakota Joshua arrives at Rogers Arena wearing a t-shirt comemarting Conor Garland’s 400th NHL game. Garland would score twice in the Canucks 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights Monday night at Rogers Arena. Vancouver Canucks photo

J.T. Miller admits it was Conor Garland’s idea.

Earlier in the season, Garland suggested that the team get t-shirts made up to ‘celebrate’ a milestone in a certain player’s career.

The idea never came to fruition until Monday when Miller turned the tables on Garland for his 400th game in the NHL.

When Garland arrived for the game day skate prior to the Vegas game, all the players were wearing blue t-shirts celebrating his milestone complete with his caricature and the date and opponent listed on it as well.

“We had a meeting today and I was like ‘what are these t-shirts?’ 23 guys had Gar’s t-shirt on. That was pretty cool,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said after his team defeated the Golden Knights by a score of 4-3.

Vegas survived an early flurry by the Canucks and opened the scoring on Jack Eichel’s 28th goal of the season at 1:51 of the first period. Eichel added another goal at 8:06 of the first to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.

The Canucks responded with power play goals by Garland and Quinn Hughes to tie it after 20 minutes of play with the goal by Garland being the 100th of his career.

The Golden Knights would regain the lead on a power play goal by Noah Hanifan midway through the second but Brock Boeser’s 40th goal of the season at 13:10 would tie the game and then Garland’s second of the night would give the Canucks a 4-3 lead which would hold up after a scoreless third.

It was a special night for Garland, who has overcome the odds to make it to the NHL.

A fifth-round pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, many didn’t give Garland a chance because of his diminutive stature (5’10”, 165 lbs).

After two years in the American Hockey League, he made the Coyotes roster in the 2018-19 season where Tocchet was the coach.

It wasn’t like Garland lit up the AHL, scoring five goals in 55 games for Tucson in 2016-17 and then followed that up with 8 goals in 55 games during the 2017-18 season.

So when he came to Arizona, he challenged Tocchet.

“He had to change his game into being a more complete player. When we were in Arizona, I told him once during practice that ‘you’re not a 17-minute player. You’re just not.’ He looked at me and said ‘you better make me one.’ It helped my career because I had to help him out. We have a good bond and he plays really hard for me,” said Tocchet, who added that the team kids him about Garland being a ‘teacher’s pet.’

Garland admits hitting the milestone causes him to reflect.

“I think back to when I was in the minors. That first year in the minors was tough – five goals. Not too many people thought I could get here but when you make it and get your foot in the door, you never want it to slam shut on you. It’s about staying - and playing as hard as you can - for as long as you can. 400 really doesn’t mean anything but when you come from where I came from, it means a little,” said Garland.

For the Canucks, bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit against the defending Stanley Cup champions is a good sign that the team might be coming out of the doldrums.

Vancouver was 5-5 in their last 10 games prior to Monday night and the win could go a long way in getting the hockey club back on track.

“If you want to go far, you are going to have to come from behind and you are going to have to do special things. That’s just the way it is. You can ask Vegas about last year. They had to do a lot of special things to win,” said Tocchet.


* It was a night of milestones Monday at Rogers Arena. Besides Garland’s accomplishments, Boeser became the tenth Canuck player to reach the 40-goal plateau in a season. He joins Pavel Bure, Markus Naslund and Tony Tanti, who did it three times each. Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin, Alexander Mogilny, Darcy Rota and Ron Sedlbauer are the others to do so.

* With three assists, Miller becomes the seventh Canuck to eclipse 100 points in a season. “You know I downplay everything but it is pretty special. We have a lot of work to do. I might have an extra beer tonight but other than that, it might be something that I can enjoy in the summer,” said Miller. He joins Bure, Mogilny, Naslund, the Sedins and Elias Pettersson in the century club.

* Speaking of milestones, Tocchet turned 60 on Tuesday.

* Goaltender Thatcher Demko, who has been sidelined since injuring his knee in the Winnipeg game on March 9, returned to practice with the team on Tuesday. Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman was at the Vegas game. He will be part of the 34th annual Canucks for Kids Fund Telethon on Wednesday when the Arizona Coyotes pay a visit to Rogers Arena.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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