The Abbotsford Canucks’ short and not-so-sweet first foray into the American Hockey League playoffs was still on the mind of head coach Trent Cull during a year-end media availability on Monday (May 9).
Cull said the 2-0 sweep at the hands of the Bakersfield Condors still stings.
“It’s still a little bit raw for me, I guess you’d say,” he said. “Just kind of disappointed and kind of just working through it a bit right now.”
Cull and his staff led the Canucks to a final record of 39-23-5-1, and Canucks general manager Ryan Johnson confirmed last week that Cull and his staff will be back for 2022-23.
The past year has seen the organization pack its bags and move across the continent, create a new identity and try to become a part of the Abbotsford community. Of course, the last part was challenging as the team had to deal with a pandemic, flooding in November and a management change with its parent team in Vancouver.
Cull said he has enjoyed his time in Abbotsford so far, pointing to the first home game – an overtime win over the Henderson Silver Knights on Oct. 22, 2021 – as a highlight. He said none of it would have been possible without the work of the front office staff.
“I know Ryan Johnson was working tirelessly and Rob Mulowney (chief operating officer) and the front office staff – just the work they put in to get the team up and running in that short amount of time,” he said.
“It was great. I feel like the fans kind of got a chance to grow with us as we had a slow start to the year. It was nice to see us get our groove and get ourselves rolling there and I thought the fans helped us a ton. It’s a great location, a beautiful place and we’re all very lucky to be here.”
Observers questioned playing defenceman Jett Woo as a forward for stretches of the regular season and both playoff games. Cull said he believed that Woo could bring a forecheck that would be missing without injured forward Justin Bailey.
“We felt we were getting stronger on our back end so I asked him to do (play forward) for the team,” he said. “We wanted to try and fill a forechecking role and Jett, when he gets moving, can skate well and can have that physical edge.”
Cull said the Condors are a physical team and he felt that Woo could add that dimension to the Canucks. He also explained the decision to scratch 2021 second-round pick Danila Klimovich. Cull said Klimovich was struggling near the end of the season and he thinks not playing him will be the right decision to develop him.
“It was all about trying to protect the guy,” he said. “We didn’t want to put him in a situation that might be too much for him. We want to make sure we’re not putting him in positions that would take away from what he as a player will become in the future too. We’re not trying to force him to be something he’s not.”
Those comments seem to indicate that it’s unlikely Klimovich would have received significant playing time in the series. Klimovich was rarely a top-six forward during the regular season, and with all the talent added for the playoffs from Vancouver, it’s unlikely he would have seen much playing time against Bakersfield.
Cull also spoke on the goaltending situation, as the Canucks’ elimination spelled the end for starter Spencer Martin, who was signed to a one-way contract by Vancouver. Arturs Silovs will likely be stepping in, as the Latvian is signed until 2024.
Michael DiPietro is now a restricted free agent so Abbotsford will have to sign him to a new contract if they want to keep him.
Cull said the pandemic created challenges getting playing time for goalies, but praised the hard work of Martin to earn an NHL contract.
“He was the guy who may have been the odd man out at the start of the year,” he said. “And he comes in and you know how good of a job he has done. Michael hadn’t played much hockey the last couple of years and he got himself up and running. Arturs is the guy I feel the worst about. Does he deserve to play more games? Absolutely. It’s tough in a pandemic year; you can’t send guys to different places or affiliates because of the border. But I know he’s a good goalie and I have a ton of confidence in him.”
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Cull said overall he is satisfied with the season.
“Really proud of the guys. Thought they had a great run, happy with where we were but just disappointed with the finish,” he said. “We were hoping for more, that’s for sure.”