Happy Goodbyes to an Awful Year (The Province)


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.



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.

"I'm Very Optimistic" (FIBA Basketball magazine)

“I’m Very Optimistic”

Martin Muursepp, known in his days in Estonia as “The Baltic Kukoc,” is on his way to Phoenix after Dallas, his team for the last year and a half, traded him to get Steve Nash. The 23-year-old ponders his American Dream so far with Guy MacPherson

FIBA Basketball magazine, August 1998

Most of the foreign-born players in the NBA either played in college in the States or in the big European Leagues. You played in Sweden and Israel. How did you manage to get to the NBA?
“I played one year in Estonia the year before I came to the NBA. I played pretty good there and they happened to notice that. There are a lot of basketball players there. I think people should go out there and look for players from these countries: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia.”

But you’re not as well known as a lot of the other foreign players…
“I’m not because I’m very young – I came out early. That’s the thing with these other guys: they’ve been around a long time.”

You’ve played for a couple of high profile coaches in the NBA in Pat Riley and Don Nelson. How do those two compare?
“I think they’re very different. They’re very good coaches, but they both have very different styles. Riley, maybe he knows more details and stuff. But Nelson gives you a lot of freedom and independence. The system is a little different.”

Is coaching that much different or advanced in the NBA as it is in Europe?
“Basketball here is so much different. It’s a different style of basketball. The shot clock and the rules are different. This no-zone defence here in the NBA, for one thing. In Europe you can play zone – always double-teaming. It’s so much different. In Europe it’ smuch slower and not that physical.”

Are you in favour of allowing the zone in the NBA?
“I don’t know. It could make a slight difference. One year we should try that. Let’s see what happens!”

When did you first think you had a chance to make it in the NBA?
“I was always hopeful, I always thought, ‘I’m gonna make it.’ Like every kid probably right now who’s in college or high school, everyone thinks they’re gonna make it. I’m very optimistic. I’ve always been very optimistic.”

How difficult have the adjustments been to make?
“I get along everywhere. I mean, I’ve been in Israel, Sweden, I’ve been away from home since I was 17 years old. I make friends everywhere. I didn’t have a hard time with anything. It’s been easy for me.”

How about on the court?
“Oh, yeah. I mean, everything was new for me. I really didn’t expect to get drafted. But it happened fast, so I had to learn really quickly all these different rules, illegal defence. I hadn’t even thought that I’d have to learn that much. Because in Europe you only have a couple of plays. Here, when the point guard comes up the court, without him signaling anything, you have to already know the play. It was really kind of hard the first half of the season in Miami to learn all that. Plus, it’s just quicker, faster basketball.”

What do you miss most about home?
“Friends. But every summer we get together and have fun. My homeys!”

Do you have any good friends in the NBA?
“Yeah. A really good friend of mine is (Vitaly) Potapenko. And (Zydryunas) Ilgauskas. Ilgauskas is from my neighbouring country (Lithuania) and we’re very close. It’s one of the Baltic states. And with Potapenko, I played on the Soviet junior national team when I was 16, 17. We played two years together. And it was really fun. So we got together here at the – how you call it? – the transition programme, where all the rookies go before every season. We were really happy to see each other. We hadn’t heard from each other in a long time.”

Do you see yourself ever returning to play in Europe?
“Who knows? I have one more year left. Hopefully I’ll get better. I want to improve myself here. If not, I’ll go back and I’ll play there. But I don’t really have any plans right now.”

At Dallas, you were playing many positions. At times you even brought the ball up the court.
“That’s the Nellie system. He likes to create all kinds of mismatches. He wants every player to play different positions.”

What are your strengths?
“I think I’m a little quicker than other fours or fives in the league, so I can play four and three. It depends what three man I’m guarding.”

What do you think you need to work on?
“I need to lift weights and just get consistent. Every game, get five rebounds and 10 points.”

Dallas beat the Bulls after trailing by 19 in the fourth quarter and you also beat the Pacers, the Sonics twice… Why do you think that is?
“We didn’t have a lot of pressure on us. Everybody went out there and tried to have fun and play as well as they could. Everybody was just happy – the whole bench had started to play. Maybe it should have been that way from the beginning of the season.”

Dallas got a reputation as a team of distractions. Especially when Nellie arrived and made all those trades. Everyone thought he was crazy…
“Yeah, a lot of people think he’s crazy. But crazy in a good way! He gave us a lot of freedom and we can’t really be sad or mad about it.”

A lot of Dallas fans didn’t want you guys to win, because they want to get a higher draft pick…
“That was tough for the players – we couldn’t think like that. Every year there are so many changes so we couldn’t think like that. We just wanted to win. We couldn’t go out to lose. We didn’t really care about that. We wanted to make ourselves feel good. When it comes to draft picks, it really doesn’t matter if it’s a three or a six. There are a lot of great players coming out.”

Were you expecting to stay in Dallas?
“I’d already experienced this before. I was at Miami and we had a morning practice. And at lunch time I had a phone call and had to take a plane and go and play in Utah with the Mavericks.”

Was that a big shock for you?
“I didn’t even play that much. So I thought nobody knew me. So why should they take me? But you’ve got to be happy. You have to take it like somebody wants you. So you turn up and try to give them what they want.”

A Mug to Remember (Vancouver Echo)

A Mug to Remember

Vancouver Echo, July 15, 1998

God bless Harland Williams, that floppy-eared, dopey-looking goober, star of Half Baked and Rocket Man. Sure, those movies sucked, but you can’t help but like the guy.

Directors seem to like him, too. For when he’s not starring in his own half-baked films, he’s providing memorable supporting roles or cameos in some much better ones. His latest is as a crazed hitchhiker in There’s Something About Mary. You may have also seen him as the unsuspecting urine-drinking cop in Dumb and Dumber. And, for the record, he didn’t think Rocket Man sucked. On the phone from his Hollywood home, where he’s lived since making the move from Toronto in 1990, Williams defends his Disney-made flop.

“It didn’t go through the stratosphere,” he admits. “I don’t know why. That’s the thing about filmmaking. You just don’t know what’s going to come out in the end. I was really proud of the movie and really happy with it. And almost everyone who saw it really enjoyed it. It did moderate business, but to be a superstar, I think you’ve got to crack the $40 million mark.”

You might think talk of being a superstar is getting a little ahead of himself. And you might be right. But big things were predicted for him when he left home. Andrew Clark, author of Stand and Deliver: Inside Canadian Comedy, devoted a chapter to Williams, entitled The Next Big Thing. Clark remembers the first time he saw Williams on stage.

“I had the epiphany that many writers pray for. I know I was watching a major talent… When I left the club, I was prepared to bet a week’s pay that he would be bigger than Jim Carrey. For the next four years I followed his career, seeing his act a total of six times. Each time that I saw him reinforced my belief in his comic prowess.”

That’s a lot to live up to for any young comic. “It certainly put a lot of pressure on me, that’s for sure,” Williams says. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was one of the best compliments I’ve ever had. I actually met Andrew on the street in Toronto about a year ago. And I said, ‘I’m not there yet, Andrew, but I hope I live up to all the things you wrote about me. I hope your foresight comes through one day. I’m trying.’”

Harland Williams likes where he’s at. It may not yet be where he’d like it to be, but he’s happy. “I think I’m still in a really, really good zone right now,” he says. “You can feel the excitement. You’ve started to make some headway in this industry, which is really tough. And you’re in a place where you’ve got some recognition and people think of you for roles and think of you for development and things like that. That, to me, is a really nice place to be in. I guess somehow people recognize that you’ve got something to offer.”

And people now are starting to recognize his unforgettable mug on the street. “It’s getting crazier,” he says. “A couple of years ago it was maybe a couple of people a month. Now it’s pretty much every time I go out I get approached by people and people stop to talk to me. But so far I haven’t had any nuts that tried to take out there Black and Decker drill and drill a core sample out of me. But it’s kind of neat. I’m experiencing it at a smaller level. I just can’t imagine what these big megastars live through.”

But he’d sure like to give it a try. “What I wouldn’t mind is being able to do the movies I wanted when I wanted. And all that other stuff just comes with it. All that fan adoration is just a sign that you are kind of at a place where you’re doing what you want. My real first thing is to create kind of an art, and any of the other kind of fame stuff that comes is just there. As long as I don’t wake up one morning and find three guys with plaid shirts and swimming fins under my bed.”

He’ll keep at trying. If it’s not a feature film, it’s a Saturday morning cartoon, where he does the voice of Newton the Newt on Fox television. Or it’s his series of children’s books, The Adventures of Lickety Split, which he writes and illustrates. Or it’s his standup routine, which he still performs regularly, including his appearance at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival on July 26.

It won’t be his first time in Vancouver. Back when he was doing the standup circuit out of Toronto, the western road swing was one of his favourites. “That was a real sweet trip,” he recalls. “I always enjoyed it out there. The smell of logs in the air and the cry of the eagle.”

Some comedians abandon the stage as soon as they get a taste of film or TV. Others, like Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld or Robin Williams, have it in their blood. Harland Williams is clearly in this second group.

“I do a lot. I can’t shake it. All the clubs are real handy to me. I just roll down the hill and there I am, man,” he said.

“But I was always into standup and if anything else came along with it, that was just gravy.”