Bullard still at the mic (The Province)

 

Bullard still at the mic

Comedy Showdown: Former TV host hoping to wind up in radio

 

The Province, February 21, 2008

In the U.S., late-night talk-show hosts are a dime a dozen. The three major networks have six among them. But in Canada, there’s only been one of note. And he’s been gone since 2004.

Open Mike with Mike Bullard hit the air back in 1997 on CTV in front of a miniscule crowd of about 100 at the back of a Toronto restaurant. His round face shadowed by a day’s growth of whiskers, and quick put-downs of anyone in his sights, were an instant hit with Canadians.

The show moved to bigger digs, attracted bigger guests, and he was sitting pretty. By 2003 Bullard had done 1,100 shows and his contract was up. Foolishly, he left, signing up with the rival Global network. Six weeks later, buh-bye.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to try some place else and see what happens,’” he says now. “I could have gone back [to CTV]. Do I wish I had? Many times. But I don’t look back. I try to look forward.”

In this age where it seems anything that ever hit the airwaves is available on DVD, it’s surprising there’s no highlight package from Open Mike. Bullard gets asked that all the time but has no answer. It seems that maybe only a public clamouring for one might get it done. There’s certainly no shortage of memorable moments, like the time he asked Julian Lennon who his favourite Beatle was, or when the late Mitch Hedberg made one of his first TV appearances, or when the sitting prime minister paid a visit.

Bullard’s all-time favourite show was when Ricky Martin arrived at the height of his fame. The host was told that under no circumstances was he to ask him any questions about his sexual preference. Bullard being Bullard decided to have a little on-air fun. As he tells it, “We do the interview and it’s going really well and we’re almost at the end. And I go, ‘Listen, Ricky, I don’t want to pry but I gotta tell you I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t ask you this question.’ And you could just see the colour go right out of his face. I said, ‘But if I don’t ask you this question I really won’t be able to look in the mirror tomorrow morning.’ And he stutters and stammers and goes, ‘W-w-what is it?’ And I go, ‘Are you Spanish or Puerto Rican?’”

After his cancellation, Bullard started doing corporate gigs with his standup act before landing a gig as a morning guy on XM radio. The station ran out of money, as he puts it, but Bullard thinks he’s found his calling.

“That’s where I want to wind up,” he says, whether it’s satellite or terrestrial radio. “There’s none of this, ‘Hey, let’s write this, let’s go over it 25 times and put it on the show tomorrow.’ It’s right there and now.”

Bullard has always been about the here and now. Abandoning any prepared material early in his standup career, he started concentrating on crowd work. He’s one of the few comics working today who can go a whole hour just spritzing with folks. You can see him in action at Yuk Yuk’s tonight through Saturday hosting the Comedy Showdown competition.

His impressive memory doesn’t forget a name or relevant piece of information throughout the night. It’s not anything he works on; it just comes naturally.

“I don’t know what it is,” he says. “I guess I’ve never lost a brain cell through drugs or booze because I never drank or anything. On the down side, I’m up all night with sparks going off in my head. That makes me wish I had had a drink once in a while.”

You'll laugh your Yak-off (The Province)

 

You’ll laugh your Yak-off
 

Pre-Valentine’s Show: Comedian giving love seminar for singles
 

The Province, February 9, 2007

When Yakov Naumovich Pokhis emigrated with his parents to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in 1977, he knew two things. One, he’d have to learn to speak English if he wanted to make it as a comedian in his new country.

And, two, he’d need a new name.

He accomplished the former by locking himself in his room and watching TV for three months straight.

“Then I realized it was a Spanish station,” he jokes.

As for the name, while working as a bartender in New York, he tried to figure out what would be a name Americans would respond to.

“They knew Krushchev but that wasn’t a good association,” he says. “But they had a smile on their face when they heard Smirnoff.”

Yakov Smirnoff went on to become one of the hottest comedy stars of the 1980s, featured in movies, his own sitcom, and Miller Lite commercials. As kind of an early model Borat, his observations on life in America compared with his former home, usually followed by his catchphrase “What a country!” kept him in the limelight until the fall of the Soviet empire.

“I thought it was very inconsiderate of them to do this to me,” he says of the collapse. “Not even a phone call! I mean, at least they could have said, “OK, get ready. Your mortgage is gonna be the same and your income is going to plummet.’”

But the resourceful comic moved shop to Branson, Missouri, where he owns his own 2,000-seat theatre and plays approximately 200 shows a year there.

“It was actually one of the best things that happened to the world and to me, as well,” he says, “because I needed it. I was too comfortable. I was doing Vegas, Atlantic City and was living high on the hog. It helped me to reevaluate and see what is it I really want to do.”

With the dissolution of both the USSR and his marriage, Smirnoff turned his attention away from east-west relations and toward human relations.

Taking a hiatus from comedy to get his masters in applied positive psychology from the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, he has now incorporated humour into the classroom, teaching a course entitled “Living Happily Ever Laughter.” He’s at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Burrard this Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. with a pre-Valentine’s Day seminar for singles called “Let Laughter Lead You to Love.”

“The secret here is not that laughter creates love,” he says, “it’s that love creates laughter.”

He believes that cachinnation is the canary in the coal mine that monitors the health of a relationship.

Don’t expect a dull dissertation. He claims you’ll laugh your Yak-off.

“Laughter is a serious matter but it’s very much an entertaining workshop,” he says. “My goal is to pass on this information because I am personally so excited by this. My mission statement is ‘to experience happiness and teach it to the world with passion through comedy and sensitivity.’ So I’m making it very fun and interesting but mainly this information has to go out there because there are too many unhappy people.”

He could easily impart the same message within the framework of his standup comedy, but Smirnoff says people would just walk out laughing.

“What I want to give them is tools that they can take home and create laughter in their own homes. It’s kind of like the Home Depot of comedy.”

A humble Harland Williams never wants for work (The Province)

A humble Harland Williams never wants for work

 

On a role: He’s played everything from a guy on Mars to a killer

 

The Province, November 23, 2006

When Harland Williams packed up and moved south in 1990, many in the entertainment industry predicted he’d be the next Jim Carrey, he was such a unique presence on the standup stages of his native Canada.

In fact, his first movie role was opposite his fellow countryman Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, where Williams played the first of seven law-enforcement characters he’d play to date in his career, albeit the only one who imbibed urine (his latest, Rosco P. Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, will be released next year.)

Williams, admittedly, hasn’t had the kind of stratospheric success of Carrey, but the humble Canuck is never wanting for work.

“I feel – in terms of a really gratifying career in movies and standup and TV, I mean – I could have died eight years ago and I would have been happy,” he says on the phone from San Jose, where he was performing in advance of his three-night run at Vancouver’s Funny Bone. “I’m really happy. And what’s great about it is I still feel anything can happen. Right now I’m at a certain level, which I’m very happy with, but I always strive to move forward and, God willing, I move up the chain to something else. But if I don’t, I really don’t have any regrets…. I’ve pretty much done everything I wanted to do.”

One of his better known parts was as Kenny Davis in the cult hit Half Baked. But it was a role Williams was reluctant to take, given the film’s pro-drug stance. (“I just didn’t want to condone that type of thing,” he says.) In fact, he turned the movie down five times before his manager convinced him it would widen his fan base.

“I’ve played a guy on Mars; I’ve played a cop drinking pee; I’ve played a serial killer in There’s Something About Mary. They’re just roles. And so I kind of justified it that way,” he says.

Occasionally he’ll be approached by a young fan who credits him with turning him on to pot. “I don’t really like that,” he says. “So it was a bit of a mixed thing for me.”

No doubt it was also problematic for his father, a former Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario and Solicitor-General.

“I think he gets a kick out of me playing all the cop roles because he was like the top cop there for a while,” says Williams. In fact, with all the time he’s spent in uniform, it’s surprising he hasn’t yet received recognition from the police.

“I’m hoping they give me something!” he laughs. “Like an honourable badge of merit or something. A diploma or an honorary degree or something. My own office, at least.”

She still has something to say (The Province)

She still has something to say

Roseanne Barr: Stand-up lets her say what’s on her mind

The Province, September 21, 2006

For nine seasons, Roseanne Barr entertained us weekly with her ground-breaking sitcom Roseanne as the matriarch of the Conner household. In fact, it’s quite possible she went by Roseanne Conner longer than her various professional surnames (or lack thereof): Barr, Arnold, Thomas, nothing.

But if you can, try to suppress the urge to shout it out during her appearance at the Red Robinson Show Theatre in Coquitlam on Friday. Despite rumours to the contrary, Barr is a real person.

After a 14-year hiatus from stand-up comedy, Barr is back doing what propelled her to fame, fortune and infamy after her debut on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1985. What drove her away from her chosen art form was yahoos who couldn’t separate fantasy from reality. As her talent was eclipsed by her enormous celebrity, audience members would take to shouting out, “Hey, where’s Dan?” in reference to her TV husband, played by John Goodman.

“It made me so furious,” she says now with a laugh on the phone from her home near Los Angeles. “I’d get real angry and go on stage and tell people to [screw] theirselves and stuff.”

Don’t get her wrong. She’s not bitter; it just goes against the old comedy axiom about timing. “Sometimes I’d be like, it isn’t even worth trying to come back from that because first of all, it [the series] is the greatest thing that ever happened and I really don’t have to do anything after that. I proved everything I needed to prove. But I’m doing it because I’m a comic.

“That’s why I ever got into that television show. I was a comic first and, once you’re a comic, you gotta do it.”

Now that she’s come back to her showbiz roots, she’s having a grand old time spouting off on politics, feminism, class struggles, and being a grandma. “It’s awesome. I love it,” she says, but admits it wasn’t easy coming back. “It wasn’t like riding a bike at all. It was like, ‘Geez, I gotta start over.’ The writing drives you crazy.”

She hasn’t noticed a significant difference in the stand-up scene since she first started back in 1980.

“They wouldn’t let me on stage then because they said nobody wants to hear anything any woman says,” she recalls. “I proved that pretty much wrong. They still don’t want to hear it. Even worse than when they didn’t want to hear it the first time I had to cram it down their throats. But, you know, I’m still going to say it… I like being a woman with something say and I’ll always want to say it.”

Dane Cook gets the hook at Yuk Yuk's (The Province)

Dane Cook gets the hook at Yuk Yuk's

Cut Short: Night's headliner, chain's CEO split over whether it was right call

The Province, July 25, 2006

One of, if not the, hottest names in show business right now is Dane Cook.

The 34-year-old standup comic was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2006, he sells out stadiums in the U.S. and is one of the few standups to have hosted Saturday Night Live without a series or movie to promote.

But all comics are created equal, it would see, to the Vancouver Yuk Yuk’s.

In town for six weeks filming a movie with Jessica Alba, Cook requested a guest spot at the Burrard St. comedy club on Saturday night.

Originally scheduled to go on for 45 minutes following an abbreviated set by scheduled headliner Peter Kelamis, Cook showed up and requested to go on early, before Kelamis. The club agreed, on condition that he shorten his set to 20 to 30 minutes.

After 33 minutes, and approximately five minutes of the warning light flashing him to wind up his act, Cook wasn’t appearing to slow down, so the club blared music from the speakers and cut his microphone in an effort to get him off the stage.

This action rarely happens, even on amateur nights.

Stunned, Cook appeared like he wasn’t sure if there was a technical glitch and, when the music stopped and his mic came back on, he continued his set. Five minutes later, the scene repeated itself. This time, Cook stuck his head behind the curtain, then turned back around to the audience, dropped the mic to the floor and walked off the stage.

The show then ended prematurely shortly after midnight and scheduled headliner Peter Kelamis, one of the top comics in the country but with nowhere near the star power of Cook, wasn’t able to perform.

Says Kelamis, “It was the most arrogant thing that I’ve ever seen in my life. Hands down. He knew a headliner was coming on after him… and he couldn’t have cared less about it. And throwing the mic down at the end was probably one of the most childish-looking things I’ve ever seen a performer do.

“In 18 years of comedy and my lifetime of witnessing comedy I’ve never seen a headliner get bumped time-wise from a show due to somebody doing what he did.”

Messages left with the local Yuk Yuk’s manager were not returned, but the comedy chain’s founder and CEO, Mark Breslin, sided with Cook.

“The tradition is stardom trumps everything,” said Breslin on the phone from his home in Toronto. “It’s the novelty factor and the fact that how often are these people even around? It’s too bad when somebody’s expecting to go on but you’ve got to be a big boy and suck it up.”

Breslin, who isn’t involved with the day-to-day running of individual clubs but still has his hand in booking the shows and oversees the local licencees (or franchises), sees no reason why the evening couldn’t have gone late since it was the last show of the night. When asked about the liquor laws, he replied that they still could have stayed until 2 a.m.

Breslin says he was doing damage control in Los Angeles all day Sunday with Cook’s manager.

“I’m on Dane’s side totally, 100 per cent,” said Breslin. “My guy screwed up. Period.

“I’m going to be spending a lot of time trying to mend this fence, both with Dane and with his manager…. Dane’s probably going to get the biggest fruit basket I can find.”

Cook’s publicity office said he was “unavailable for comment” yesterday. It’s safe to say, though, he hasn’t received that kind of treatment in a long time, if ever. Nor, it must be said, has Kelamis.

McGwire tops special 10 (The Province)

 

’98: Fascinating Year
 

McGwire tops special 10
 

The Province, January 3, 1999

It was a strange and wonderful year in sports, from the ridiculous – Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kevin Brown – to the sublime – Mark McGwire’s record-breaking season. Here’s our list of, if not the 10 most fascinating then at least 10 fascinating athletes of 1998.

1. Mark McGwire: It really was his year. He was on People magazine’s 25 Most Intriguing People list; was the NL Player of the Year; and was a candidate for Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

The St. Louis slugger shattered Roger Maris’s “unbreakable” record of 61 homers in a season by slamming 70. There was controversy when it was discovered McGwire took androstenedione, an over-the-counter supplement that produces testosterone, but since the drug isn’t banned by major league baseball, his mark isn’t tainted.

McGwire, paid princely amounts, also turns out to be a prince off the field. He recently donated $175,000 US each to four charities helping abused kids.

And who’ll forget his perfect fielding percentage in the World Series? St. Louis wasn’t in the Series, but McGwire, sitting in a front-row box seat, reached over and one-handed a foul ball to the delight of the fans.

2. Doug Flutie: He’s not Canadian, but we still feel proud that our little Doug has proven he belongs in the NFL.

After leading the Toronto Argonauts to two straight Grey Cup wins, the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder signed a two-year, incentive-laden deal with the 6-10 Buffalo Bills.

Beginning as Rob Johnson’s backup, Flutie, 35, took little time to establish himself as the No. 1 man. The scrambling and improvisation CFL fans have grown to love ­– or hate – for eight seasons proved to be just as effective in the NFL.

With Flutie starting, the Bills finished 10-6 and faced Miami Saturday in the AFC East wild-card game. All this from the little miracle-maker who was released by New England in 1989 after four unspectacular seasons with the Patriots and the Bears.

His initiation back into the men’s club is complete with his selection to the Pro Bowl behind AFC starter John Elway.

3. Ross Rebagliati: His 15 minutes of fame are almost up, but boy, what a ride.

Who would have thought a snowboarder from Whistler would have become the poster boy for Roots, released his own CD, partied with Dan Aykroyd and Mark Wahlberg, gotten offers from film-makers and been a guest on The Tonight Show?

And all because of a little misunderstanding with the IOC. Rebagliati won the first-ever Olympic gold for snowboarding. It was taken away when marijuana was found in his system. Pleading second-hand smoke, Rebagliati’s medal was returned.

Canadian speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan said: “It makes me kind of cringe that our society supports that situation as hero. You see his face everywhere….”

In what’s been dubbed the Rebagliati Rule, the IOC has added marijuana and other “social drugs” to the list of banned substances, even though they’re not performance-enhancers.

4. Ronaldo: Hours before Brazil’s World Cup final against France, its star is in hospital and scratched from the lineup – and then put back in.

He plays like he’s in a coma and France upsets the world’s No. 1-ranked team 3-0. Ronaldo later says he had convulsions. But what really happened? No one knows.

Doctors thought it may have been epilepsy. Other possibilities ranged from poison to problems with his love life, to emotional stress.

Ronaldo discounted the epileptic convulsions theory, saying: “There was never something like that. The problem is that the whole team played badly and they found a reason for the defeat in me. I’m not taking any more tests because nothing is wrong with me.”

Despite the loss and the scrutiny of its top player, Brazil is ranked first for the fifth straight year. And the 22-year-old Ronaldo has been short-listed for FIFA’s world player-of-the-year honours again.

5. Sammy Sosa: The Yin to McGwire’s Yang, Sosa also broke Maris’s record. Unfortunately for Sosa, he fell four short of McGwire, the man to whom he’ll be forever linked.

It’s a testament to the Chicago Cubs outfielder’s season that he was named the NL MVP in a year when McGwire amazed the world.

Sosa hit 66 homers, had 158 RBIs (to McGwire’s 147), a .308 batting average (McGwire .299) and scored 134 runs (McGwire 130). Most importantly, this ex-Vancouver Canadian led his team to the playoffs.

With the exception of two writers from St. Louis, Sosa was a unanimous selection as MVP. “I would have voted for Mark,” he said.

This ex-shoeshine boy from the Dominican Republic showed class, sportsmanship, charity and humour all year long.

6. Michelle Smith: ’98 was the year of the drug scandal. There was the Tour de France, which was rocked by a series of reports indicating use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs; the doping suspensions of track and field stars Dennis Mitchell and Randy Barnes; and four Chinese swimmers getting two-year bans after testing positive for banned masking agents at the World Championships in Australia.

But Michelle Smith, whose coach and husband is ex-Dutch discus thrower Erik de Bruin who himself was banned four years after testing positive for high levels of testosterone, is one of the highest-profile athletes ever banned for a doping-relating offence.

Her four-year ban by the international swim federation came when she was found guilty of tampering with an out-of-competition urine sample taken at her home in Kilkenny, Ireland. The sample was spiked with whiskey.

Drug rumours surrounded Smith after she won three golds at the Atlanta Olympics, including edging Marianne Limpert of Fredericton in the 200-metre individual medley.

The ban effectively ends Smith’s career.

7. Michael Jordan: Just another ho-hum year for basketball’s greatest: All-star, league MVP and Finals MVP for a record sixth time.

Jordan led his Chicago Bulls to their sixth title in eight years, scoring the winning hoop and 45 points in the final game against Utah. It was the most-watched final ever.

All this in a season in which His Airness had to answer questions about his future at every single NBA stop. Jordan let it be known he was gone if Bulls coach Phil Jackson left. Jackson’s out, but Jordan’s being coy. Charles Barkley says Jordan is gone for good. But we may never know, as the NBA lockout continues.

8. Dominique Moceanu: At age 14 at the Games in Atlanta, American gymnast Dominique Moceanu won gold despite suffering a stress fracture.

In ’98, at the ripe age of 17 after running away from her Romanian immigrant parents, Moceanu went to court in a bid to become legally independent from them. She won and was declared a legal adult.

Moceanu claimed her parents bullied her, hit her and squandered most of her earnings since she was 10 years old. She claimed her dad threatened to have her Romanian coach deported, the same coach who helped her become the first non-Russian to win the all-round competition at the Goodwill Games in August.

Her parents haven’t worked since her gold in ’96.

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.

9. Roger Clemens: Clemens did it all: He went 20-6 for the Jays, winning his second straight Cy Young and and unprecedented fifth total; won the triple crown for the second straight season, leading the league in wins, strikeouts (271) and ERA (2.65); went unbeaten in his final 22 starts, winning 15 times; was co-winner of the American Sportscasters Association’s AL player of the year award; and was the first winner since ’95 of the Joe Cronin award for significant achievement.

Toronto was in the playoff hunt up until the final weeks of the season. Clemens demanded a trade to a “contender” but later changed his mind.

10. Pete Sampras: One of the sporting world’s all0time dull guys gets on our list for precisely that reason.

In an age when hype makes right, the anti-personality that is Sampras finished the year s the top-ranked male tennis player for a record sixth straight year, breaking Jimmy Connors’ mark of five.

In an era in sport – and society – that places personality above talent, lesser players such as Andre Agassi are treated as gods while dull but dominant Sampras goes unnoticed.

Happy Goodbyes to an Awful Year (The Province)

HAPPY GOODBYES TO AN AWFUL YEAR

Canucks season real roller-coaster

Province newspaper, December 28, 1998

How do you sum up 1998 for the Canucks?

Tumultuous? Sure. Rocky? Without a doubt. A roller-coaster ride? Yup.

Break out the thesaurus. Anything goes.

The Canucks came into the New Year like a lamb. Only problem was it was a lamb to the slaughter.

Mike Keenan had taken over from Tom Renney a month and a half earlier, but you’d never know it from the way the local lads were performing. Vancouver lost 8-0 on New Year’s Eve to their traditional Dec. 31 rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, in one of the worst home defeats in club history.

It could well have been the impetus to gut the team like never before. Over the next 15 weeks, the club made 11 trades bringing in 11 new players. On the outs were fan favourites Trevor Linden, Gino Odjick, Kirk McLean, Martin Gelinas and Dave Babych, among others.

Through it all, the quotes kept getting better and better. It was a veritable soap opera.

• Early in the year, well before the full extent of the carnage that was to come, Kirk McLean said after being among the first to leave, “It’s been brutal. … After Pat Quinn and Tom Renney were fired, the team went into a terrible tailspin and nothing has changed since.”

• Keenan criticized local hero Linden, who was stung by the criticism. Messier defended Keenan, adding, “We’re definitely better than we were at the beginning of the season.” To drive home his point, the Canucks went 0-8-2 in their next 10 games. In the midst of that sterling string, Linden gave his blessings for a trade.

• After tussling with Buffalo tough guy Matthew Barnaby, goaltender Sean Burke, who flew in for a two-month tour of duty between Jan. 2 and March 4, said, “Matthew Barnaby couldn’t intimidate my grandmother.”

• “Our team would probably be in a position to win if I’d taken over at training camp,” Keenan crowed. “That’s a bold statement, but that’s how it is.”

• After being benched (and embarrassed) in his home town of Montreal, Enrico Ciccone said, “Everything I had heard about playing under Keenan is true. … I’m not a player, just a number.” Three days later, that number was traded to Tampa Bay. “Mike has a big ego and that’s what this is about” Ciccone said. “He wants a player who will get down and lick his boots and I won’t do that.”

• Odjick, on being traded to the Islanders for Jason Strudwick: “I didn’t think I’d get traded for somebody I didn’t even know.” Gino blamed Messier for his exile to Long Island. “He sits in for four hours with management every time there’s a trade. He’s responsible for a lot of the changes.”

• The Canucks were officially eliminated from the playoff race on April 6 after a 3-2 loss in Edmonton. Messier said, “We’re going to be a force next year, there’s no doubt about it. And I don’t mind going on the record about that.”

The year was more than just 15 weeks of trades, though. There was the developing acrimony between superstar Pavel Bure and Vancouver. Bure asked the team for a trade at the end of March.

Days later there was the pithy exchange between Keenan and Bure, when Coach K called his star player “a selfish little suck,” to which Bure uttered the immortal words, “Fuddle duddle.” Or something like that.

There was the hiring of general manager Brian Burke in the off-season, who promptly pulled an Alexander Haig and let us all know who exactly was in charge.

“Inmates don’t run the asylum,” were his exact words. This was in response to the wishes of one Pavel Bure, who continued with his trade demands and a threat not to report to camp. Bure is four months late.

The new season has been an improvement. It would have been next to impossible to be anything but.

While the team can be a big tease, the Canucks, at 13-16-4, have as many wins in 33 games as they had in the 42 games from Jan. 1 until the end of last season, when they went 13-21-8. So things must be looking up.

Sure, there have been disappointments. The injuries to Todd Bertuzzi and Alexander Mogilny have depleted the already thin ranks. The absence of Bure, with no one in exchange, has not only lessened the team’s firepower, but has caused some rifts between Keenan and Burke.

Defenceman Bryan McCabe missed the first 13 games before agreeing to a new contract. And the team continues to frustrate loyal fans, seeming to play to the level of the competition.

But there have been plenty of pleasant surprises: The re-emergence of Mark Messier. The old man is back in the top 15 in league scoring and, while still not vintage Mess, he seems to record another milestone every other game.

Garth Snow is proving himself to be the No. 1 goalie the Canucks didn’t think they had, starting all but three games this season and with a goals-against average of well under three.

Right-winger Bill Muckult is trying to do what Mattias Ohlund couldn’t do last season – win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. (Ohlund finished second.) Muckult is leading all rookies in the scoring race, while Ohlund has emerged as the top defenceman.

The players seem to be happier, too, which is usually a sign of something positive.

Adrian Aucoin, for one, believes it’s not too soon to say the Canucks are gelling.

“I think we’re a great bunch of guys that love each other and hang out together,” he said prior to the Christmas break.

“That’s probably why we’re playing a little better this year. The best thing about this team is, win or lose, nobody’s going to be pointing fingers at anybody and we’re always going to be supporting each other.”

Aucoin, who leads all NHL defencemen with 10 goals this season, has some perspective on the situation, as he is one of the few players to stick around through the numerous comings and goings.

“For myself, going through it all was hard,” he said. “I didn’t play much last year, so it made it even harder. Seeing everybody get traded away, a lot of times it crosses your mind that maybe you’re next.”

Aucoin doesn’t fear that this season. “All the talk from the media is about Pavel and nobody else on our team, so guys aren’t too worried.”

Brett Hedican is another survivor from ’98. “Last year we were at Ground Zero – maybe even below zero,” he said. “But I thought we made some steps last year to get our heads above water.”

And if Hedican – and the rest of the team – have their way, 1999 will prove to be the year the lowly Canuckleheads finally turn the ship around and start heading in the right direction.

“The heart and soul of our team are veterans who want to make it to the next level,” Hedican said. “And the young guys bring a lot of excitement to the team. We’re definitely building. I’m looking forward to the future, I really am, with this new team. It’s fun to look around the dressing room and know that every guy’s going to give everything he has. We have a good group of guys that want to work for one another.”

We’ll see what the Flyers have to say about that when the two teams usher in 1999 at their usual meeting place.

TIMELINE

1998

January – Vancouver expands Mike Keenan’s duties from coach to include authority to make trades and other player-personnel decisions. It got what it bargained for, as Iron Mike goes on to make 10 more trades before the March 24 deadline. Keenan criticizes the team’s fitness level, saying, “The culture here is not acceptable.”

February – So long, Trevor, it was good to know you. Linden is traded to the Islanders for Bryan McCabe, Todd Bertuzzi and a draft choice. Messier scores his 1,600th career point, and says, “Everyone seems to be having more fun. We have four solid lines now. It’s a very unselfish team.”

March – Keenan faxes a message to every team saying Scott Walker, Gino Odjick and Dave Roberts are available. Management is red-faced, players upset. Linden returns to Vancouver as an Islander and is given a standing ovation after a pregame video tribute. “That’s as nervous as I’ve been for a hockey game.” Bure asks for trade late in the month.

April – Out of playoff contention April 6. “It’s disappointing for the team because we’ve come together pretty well,” says Keenan. Pavel Bure scores his 50th in a 4-2 loss to Calgary, finishes with 51. Canucks finish 25-43-14 overall. Only 13 Canucks stayed with the team from start to finish.

May – Brian Burke is interested in the general manager job. Neil Macrae writes: “I would be awfully surprised to see Brian Burke wind up here as general manager because the Canucks are looking at downsizing their payroll, not increasing it.” Edmonton’s Glen Sather and player agent Mike Gillis also are rumoured for the position.

June – Burke wins. Asked whether he can get along with his coach, he replies, “I can’t see any reason why two hard-headed Irishmen can’t get together and win hockey games.” Mattias Ohlund loses out to Sergei Samsonov for the Calder Trophy. Bryan Allen picked fourth overall in draft.

July – Jyrki Lumme, who was minus-25 on the season, signs with Phoenix when Burke will not agree to a no-trade clause in his contract, leaving Dana Murzyn as the longest-serving Canuck, at seven years of service.

August – Steve Tambellini is named vice-president of player personnel and David Nonis is named senior vice-president of hockey operations.

September – Training camp opens sans Pavel Bure. Also holding out is defenceman Bryan McCabe. Brad May, however, re-signs with the Canucks, and rookie Bill Muckalt signs his first pro contract with Vancouver.

October – Draft pick Bryan Allen makes the squad, but can’t come to terms with a contract and is re-assigned to Oshawa of the OHL. Canucks make their last trade of the year, obtaining right-winger Trent Klatt in exchange for a 6th round pick in 2000.

November – McCabe ends holdout on Nov. 10 and sets up a goal in his first game back, finishing the month at 3-3-6. Canucks go 5-9-1 for the month.

December – Harry York is picked up on waivers on the 8th, going 3-2-5 in his first five games and stepping in for Messier, who misses his first game as a Canuck after suffering a head injury in Calgary Dec. 22.