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Ed Willes: Twin thing turned journeymen into stars


There were small guys and big guys, guys who could skate and guys who were slower than Canada Post.

There were shooters and cornermen, stars and journeymen. Most famously, there was one guy who came up from the East Coast league and now finds himself in the Vancouver Canucks’ Ring of Honour.

The wingers who played with the Sedins over the years form an eclectic group, and that’s putting it mildly. But they shared one thing. They all found success playing with the twins and all regard their time with Daniel and Henrik as a defining moment in their careers.

The full list would include Jarkko Ruutu, Sheldon Brookbank, Markus Naslund, Brad Isbister, Anson Carter, Taylor Pyatt, Radim Vrbata and Sam Gagner. But there are space considerations and Carter couldn’t find time over the space of a week to bust off a five-minute phone call.

Here’s what the others remember.

TRENT KLATT

Canucks coach Marc Crawford placed Klatt on the Sedins’ line in their rookie year and the hard-nosed veteran helped shepherd the twins through their first three NHL seasons. Klatt is now the head of amateur scouting for the New York Islanders.

“At the time they were just so young. I thought of myself at their age, I would have been a sophomore in college and I had a hard enough time moving an hour away to the University of Minnesota. They were moving from Sweden. To leave their home and play in the world’s toughest league blew me away.”

Klatt played 782 games in the NHL and was never a big scorer, but he tailored his game to fit the twins’ unique skill set.

“I liked to play in the corners and cycle the puck so it wasn’t a big adjustment for me. Down the road they needed someone with more talent but they made it work. I just jumped on their shoulders and went for a ride.

“My wife (Kelly) is an identical twin. I never did figure it out. I just went to the net. They did all these things you couldn’t coach, blind passes, behind-the-back passes, drop passes. They could buy themselves time and space and they had this hockey sense. They’d talk to each other, ‘Next time we have the puck you go over there or turn left instead of right.’ I thought, give them enough time and they’ll figure it out.”

TREVOR LINDEN

Early in the 2001-02 season, GM Brian Burke acquired Linden in a trade with Washington. The former Canucks  captain was 31 and his best years were behind him. But when Klatt went down with a groin injury that year, Linden moved onto a line with the twins.

That started a relationship which evolved from teammate to mentor to friend. Linden was also their boss during his four-year run as the Canucks’ president.

“It was interesting. I didn’t know them at all (when he arrived from Washington). The first thing was I really liked them as people. They were struggling at times but you wouldn’t know it. They just kept playing the same way and that’s what impressed me. You think of the way the game was played then. Before the lockout it was a rodeo. But these guys gave the opposition so much trouble because no one played that way. They played the space game better than anyone I ever saw and they knew telepathically where the other was going to be.”

Linden recalls two goals he scored playing with the twins which resulted in tap-ins.

“There was one in Edmonton that was basically all them. There was one at home where they were doing their stuff and the next thing you know the puck is on my stick and there’s an empty net. I mean I’d been in the league 14, 15 years by then and I was like, ‘Wow.’

“They were the easiest guys to play with because they were so low maintenance. They told me when we have the puck, just stay away. Go someplace else and try to get open. If you get close to us, you’re just bringing another body in our space.”

JASON KING

In 2003-04, his rookie season, King offered the first clue the Sedins had something special. Although the native of Corner Brook played just half a season with the twins, he scored 10 goals in his first 17 games and was an early favourite in the Calder race. Crawford would break up the line when it hit a dry spell midway through the season and King was sent back to the minors. But he earned a permanent place in Canucks lore as a member of The Mattress Line — two twins and a King.

King is now an assistant coach with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica.

“I was called up for eight games the year before and played with them, so I had a taste. But in training camp that year they put us together and it clicked. Like most guys who played with them, there’s a chemistry there.”

King had been a big scorer with Halifax in the Quebec league and had the look of a professional goal scorer in those early games with the twins.

“You had to figure out relatively quickly to let them do their thing and stay out of the way as much as possible. To me it was just find the open areas and wait. You had to be ready when the opportunity presented itself. The game was more chip-and-chase then. It was a heavy game more than a puck possession game, but they had their own style.

“It was an amazing start. I though we gave (the Canucks) a secondary scoring line but we hit a dry spell. That was a good team and they wanted to make a change. The timing was unfortunate but it was still an amazing experience.”

King would play just four more NHL games after his brief stint with the twins.

He’s asked if he calls on his experience with the Sedins when teaching younger players in Utica.

“From the on-ice standpoint it’s tough to teach, because their hockey sense was off the charts. What I pass on is their consistency and work ethic. It was second to none. That was the reason they were so successful,

“They showed if you’re dedicated to your craft and have the desire and will to get there, no one’s going to stop you. They weren’t going to be denied and that’s the message you want to send to guys at our level.”

ALEX BURROWS

The twins would cycle through a variety of wingers between 2005 and 2009. Most famously, they coaxed a 33-goal season out of Carter, the quiet one, in 2005-06. Pyatt played there for a time. So did a past-his-prime Naslund. But on Feb. 10, 2009, in St. Louis, Alain Vigneault put Alex Burrows on the Sedins’ line in an attempt to spark a sluggish team. Burrows scored the tying goal in the Canucks’ come-from-behind win and …

“One game led to another game, led to another game and before you know it, it was five years. I got lucky. The timing was perfect for me.”

Over the next five seasons, Burrows averaged 28 goals per 82 games. This year he was inducted into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour.

He’s asked if he would have enjoyed that level of success with any other linemates.

“Maybe Sid (Sidney Crosby) and Ovie (Alex Ovechkin).

“They were so good. There’s only one puck out there and I always figured it was better they had the puck than me. I think everyone understood that. If they had the puck, they’d find you.

“They always made their linemates feel comfortable. They gave you confidence. I think that was their biggest quality.”

Well, that and their work ethic.

“It would have been easy for them to coast. But you could see them pushing each other every day to get better. When you’re a younger guy and you see these guys who are stars still pushing, still trying to get better, that was good for all of us. You look at all the teams that are successful and not just in the NHL. Their best players are their hardest workers and lead the way.”

Burrows is now an assistant coach in the AHL with Laval. He tries to pass on the lessons he learned from the twins.

“They played the right way. For sure I use them as an example. They were the most skilled players but they still chipped pucks in instead of forcing the play. I tell our players, maybe you can make that (fancy) play, but sometimes less is more. Sometimes the right play is to chip it in and forecheck.

“They were great linemates but I watched them off the ice, too. I looked at their families and I wanted to have a family. I saw how they treated people and they were great role models.”

MIKAEL SAMUELSSON

GM Mike Gillis signed Samuelsson to a three-year deal out of free agency prior to the 2009-10 season, and the Swedish winger often stood in for Burrows in his two full seasons with the Canucks. Their greatest success came during the opening-round playoff series against L.A. in 2010, when Samuelson scored seven goals in the Canucks’ six-game series win.

Samuelsson is asked about his decision to leave the Red Wings, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2008 during his four seasons there.

“Vancouver is a great city. It was a hungry team and you had the Sedins. Add that together and it was an easy choice.

“(The Kings) were a very good team. It was almost the same team that won (the Cup) a couple of years later. I just tried to find holes and once I got that confidence, it started rolling. It was so much fun. I was in the zone for that series and the start of the next series against Chicago.”

The Canucks would fall to a stacked Blackhawks team in the next round. Samuelsson scored 30 goals in his first season with the Canucks and came back in 2010-11 with 18-32-50 in 75 games before he suffered a groin injury late in the season. He was still nursing that injury when he tore an abductor muscle and suffered a sports hernia against Nashville in the second round of the playoffs.

Samuelsson was traded to Florida early the next season in a deal which brought David Booth to the Canucks.

“That was the worst injury in my career. I tore my groin really badly. When I was traded I couldn’t use my left leg. I couldn’t skate. Both A.V. (Vigneault) and GIllis called and said, ‘What’s going on.’ I told them I can’t use my left leg. A few days later, boom, I’m traded to Florida.

“Devastated is a big word, but I was shocked. Sometimes you can feel it coming but I didn’t see that coming. I really connected with the team here and the twins. That came out of the blue for me. I thought I had some good hockey left in me. The time was too short. I wish I could have played longer here.”

JANNIK HANSEN

In their last big season with the Canucks, Daniel and Henrik both finished in the top 10 in NHL scoring in 2014-15 and linemate Radim Vrbata scored 31 goals. The magic didn’t last, however, and the next season, Hansen lined up with the twins. It was his ninth season with the Canucks. He set career highs in goals (22) and points (38) that year.

“I practised with them every day and saw them play a lot of games. I had a pretty good idea of what they wanted and where they were going to be. But you played differently with them. There’s no question about that. It wasn’t so much, what am I going to do? It’s more get them the puck and try to find an open spot.”

Hansen’s first appearance with the Canucks was during the 2007 playoffs. Over the next decade he had a front-row seat as the Sedins evolved into the two greatest players in franchise history.

“They went from being good players to great players to, arguably, the best players in the league. It was natural. They didn’t really change. They went about their business the same way. They just kept scoring more.”

Hansen is asked about the twin thing.

“I don’t know what it is. Everybody talked about. You saw it but you can’t really define it. They just had something.”

ewilles@postmedia.com

twitter.com/WillesOnSports


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