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Patrick Johnston: Stecher makes a point to 'salute' late father after scoring winner for Canucks

Troy Stecher of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by his teammates as he skates by the bench after his third-period goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 on Wednesday night in Edmonton.
Troy Stecher of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by his teammates as he skates by the bench after his third-period goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 on Wednesday night in Edmonton.

Troy Stecher’s poignant point to the sky defined the moment Wednesday night.

The plucky defenceman from Richmond is best known for his defensive abilities and smart takes on the game, much less for having offensive punch.

His goal in Wednesday’s 5-2 win for the Vancouver Canucks against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series stood as the game winner. He followed his laser-like shot through Blues goalie Jordan Binnington by pointing to the sky at Rogers Place in a salute to his dad, who died of diabetes-related heart problems on Father’s Day.

It was as emotional a moment as we’ve witnessed in the 2020 NHL postseason. He wiped a tear from his eyes. Elias Pettersson gave him a hug at the bench. Bo Horvat, the team’s captain, got emotional speaking about the moment after the game in Edmonton.

“Thankful to be surrounded by my teammates,” Stecher said after the game. “Winning definitely helps. The atmosphere and the vibe in the room is a lot better, even back at the hotel when we’re hanging out. Even if we were losing, I think, just being around the teammates and the guys you’re closest with, who you spend the most time with, you’re going to have happy thoughts.”

Winger Brock Boeser has known Stecher for many years, dating to their time at the University of North Dakota.

“Seeing him point up to the sky, it gave me chills,” Boeser said Wednesday, when asked to reflect on what his friend had done and was going through. That Stecher got to play hero made Boeser happy.

“It’s tough for Stech — there’s good days and bad days.”

Boeser’s father had a health scare last summer, when he was again diagnosed with cancer. He thought his father might die. He heard from teammates, all supporting him.

“Whenever someone goes though something like that, we have a close group here, everyone is so supportive,” he said. “A lot of really good human beings on this team.”

Just as important in the Canucks’ playoff-opening win was the play of Stecher and his defence pairing partner Alex Edler. They went head to head with the Blues’ first line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz and kept them contained.

When Stecher and Edler were on the ice against the Schenn line, which totalled more than six minutes, the Canucks outshot the Blues. That’s as good a result as you can hope for in a matchup, especially one that features the opposition’s top scoring line.

“Just trying to play hard. It’s the playoffs here so there’s no more excuses,” Stecher said of how he and Edler played against the Blues. “Every single puck battle matters, winning every single line matters, it comes down to details this time of the year.”

Edler has been a Canuck for 14 years, a regular for 13. He’s had many blue-line partners over the years. Since Travis Green took over as the Canucks’ head coach in 2017-18, he’s often turned to Edler and Stecher to be his shutdown combo.

“I thought Baumer did a good job getting them out there,” Green said post-game, handing credit to assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner for managing to get the team’s preferred matchups as often as he could, no mean feat given the Canucks were the away team and didn’t have the final change for face-offs.

“Stech is a competitor. Smart player. Gets himself in good position. He’s fearless. And we all know about Eddie. They’re a good pair. We’re confident in that pair,” he added.

Edler chalked up their success to superb communication.

“We’ve played together now for a while, we read each other well,” he said. “Our strength is we battle really hard in our end, just try to keep it simple, do the right play, use each other when we can,” Edler said.

“We talk to each other … over the years we’ve been building up a good relationship on the ice.”

Miller expected to be fine Friday

We still don’t know why J.T. Miller wasn’t able to be part of the Game 1 warm-up. He was briefly listed as a scratch before the game and Adam Gaudette skated in his place during pre-game rushes but was scratched at the last minute so Miller could play.

All Green would offer Wednesday was that Miller wasn’t able to make it out on the ice for the warm-up.

Asked Thursday if he expected Miller to have any problems joining the Game 2 warm-up, Green said he didn’t anticipate any issues.

Benn skates

Jordie Benn has cleared quarantine and skated with the Canucks for the first time in Edmonton on Wednesday, the team confirmed to Postmedia Thursday.

Benn had started training camp with the team last month, but returned to his home in Dallas in mid-July to be with his pregnant fiancée Jessi Kohout. She gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Billie, three weeks ago.

Benn travelled to Edmonton at the beginning of last week and, under a protocol agreed to between the league and federal and provincial public health officials, was required to quarantine in his hotel room for at least four days while being tested for COVID-19 each day.

Because he had travelled to Dallas he spent an extra day in quarantine and was cleared to skate on his own on Sunday. He continued to be tested and continued to test negative and was cleared to rejoin his teammates on Wednesday.

Hamhuis hangs ’em up

Former Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis, a mainstay of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final team, announced Thursday he’s retiring.

“Happily going into retirement now from hockey. Feel really at peace with it,” he told TSN 1040.

Hamhuis said he made the decision in February that this would be his final NHL season. He said he was interested in playing another year in Europe so his family could have a new experience, but those plans changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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