Kevin Bieksa: Packing a Punch for the Vancouver Canucks

Originally published in Attractions Magazine in 2007

By Lucas Aykroyd

In 2005-06, Kevin Bieksa was hardly the most noticeable member of the Vancouver Canucks defense corps. Sure, he played 39 NHL games and added six assists, plus a decent defensive presence. But if Ed Jovanovski and Sami Salo hadn’t suffered long-term injuries, Bieksa would probably have spent much more of the season with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

However, 2006-07 has been a completely different story. When Jovanovski, a four-time NHL All-Star Game participant, inked a five-year, $32.5-million US deal with Phoenix in the summer, it created an opportunity for Bieksa to start contributing more offensively and physically. The Grimsby, Ontario native has done just that, averaging almost 24 minutes of ice time a night. Instead of being on the bubble, he’s rivaling or outpacing veterans like Salo and Mattias Ohlund in Vancouver’s blueline scoring derby, and he’s established himself as a Top Four D-man.

“I’ve been happy to contribute so far this year in the role I’ve been given,” the 25-year-old told Attractions Magazine. “It’s a challenge and a responsibility to play against some of the other teams’ better players. That’s been fun, and it’s been a good year so far.”

Bieksa attributes much of his success to playing alongside Willie Mitchell, the former Minnesota Wild penalty-killing expert whom the Canucks signed to a four-year, $14-million US free agent contract in July: “Willie’s one of the best defensive defensemen in the game, and I’ve learned a lot while playing with him over the last couple of months. He covers for me a little bit out there when I make some mistakes.”

But Mitchell is getting his money’s worth out of Bieksa, too. The latter majored in finance for four years at Bowling Green State University, where he twice earned CCHA All-Academic Honorable Mention and accumulated a 3.42 GPA. “Mitchell’s been reading a lot of books on finance lately,” Bieksa explained. “So we get into the occasional debate on the plane flights and stuff like that, talking about stocks and where to put our money in. We’ve had some fun.”

So has this dynamic duo ever fouled up an opposing team’s odd-man rush while debating the Dow Jones index? “Well, sometimes on the bench…no, no, definitely not during the games!” Bieksa said with a laugh.

By NHL standards, Bieksa’s salary is modest ($500,000 US this year and $550,000 in 2007-08), but that could change when his current deal is up. Of course, he’s more likely to enjoy personal success if he does everything possible to assist goaltender Roberto Luongo, Vancouver’s highest-paid player and sure-to-be team MVP.

“Roberto communicates a lot with the defensemen, so it’s pretty easy playing in front of him,” said Bieksa. “He’ll talk to us when we’re going back for the puck. He also usually tells us to get out of the way so he can see the shot and make the save, and then lets us clear the puck. That’s one of his big things.”

Bieksa cites Calgary captain Jarome Iginla as arguably the most challenging NHL forward to handle one-on-one. And with Iginla’s propensity for dropping the gloves, it wouldn’t be surprising if these two end up banging more than just shoulders at some point in the not-too-distant future. As of mid-February, Bieksa had racked up 10 NHL fights in total (five in both his seasons).

According to former Vancouver GM Brian Burke, who loves the rough stuff, the 6-1, 205-pounder even KO’d Manitoba teammate Fedor Fedorov once during a dispute at a Winnipeg watering hole (although Bieksa discreetly declines to comment on this report).

He does open up, however, when it comes to discussing one of his childhood NHL idols, Maple Ridge’s Cam Neely, who morphed into a Hall of Fame power forward after the Canucks traded him to Boston in 1986: “The way Neely got in there and threw his body around almost every game was great. Obviously he put the puck in the net a lot too. He was an all-round player. That’s something I try to emulate myself.”

Jokingly nicknamed “Juice” by his Canuck teammates due to his ripped physique, Bieksa has revamped his off-season training program to keep pace with the post-lockout NHL’s emphasis on skating and skill. There’s a lot more emphasis now on the speed of the game, so I work on that a little bit more, in addition to the same training I’ve been doing for a while,” said Bieksa. “[Strength and conditioning coach] Roger Takahashi has been a big help too.”

Female Canucks fans who used to drool over goalie Dan Cloutier’s dark-haired good looks may think they’ve identified an alternative future prospective husband in Bieksa, but they’re out of luck. He married his longtime sweetheart, Katie, in the off-season. However, Tourism Victoria may be disappointed to learn that he hasn’t taken his wife for a romantic weekend in the Garden City so far. And since he’s not going to be demoted to the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings, just when is he going to cross the Strait of Georgia?

“I’m definitely going to go over there before I head home for the summer,” said Bieksa. “I don’t know much about the city.”

Fortunately, fans all over British Columbia are starting to know a lot more about Kevin Bieksa, and that’s good news as the Canucks enter the playoff stretch drive.

“We need to stay consistent. We seem to come out and have a really strong game like we did in Edmonton [on February 6], and come back the next night maybe with not the best effort. We can’t take a night off. We need every point we can get with how tight the Northwest Division is. If we keep getting good efforts from everybody, we’ll be fine.”

Five Fun Bieksa Facts

The Canucks drafted him 151st overall in 2001.
Hockey Night in Canada misspelled his surname on-screen as “Bieska” on January 13.
His favourite food is watermelon.
He enjoys comedies starring Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson.
His birthday is June 16. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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