VANCOUVER — Jordan Schroeder hopes to treat it like just another game, even though he knows it most certainly is not.
It is, quite simply, the biggest game of his life, one Schroeder has been dreaming about since he was a kid skating on a frozen Minnesota pond.
Tonight against the Calgary Flames, the player the Canucks selected 22nd overall in the first round of the 2009 draft will play his first National Hockey League game.
"We'll see how I sleep tonight," a smiling Schroeder said Tuesday. "It's beyond exciting. I have been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time. For these guys (his new teammates) it's an everyday job, but this is a first for me. I'm just looking to come in and prove I can play here.
"I'll be nervous, but I don't want to let it affect how I play. I just want to stay calm. . .and these guys in this locker-room have been around and I'm sure they will be talking to me. I'm looking forward to some support from them."
Schroeder was recalled Tuesday after defenceman Jim Vandermeer cleared waivers and was assigned to the AHL's Chicago Wolves. Schroeder skated in practice Tuesday between Mason Raymond and Dale Weise. Let's call that the Canucks' new third line as Alex Burrows will centre a new-look second line between Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen.
Tonight's game will not only be Schroeder's first NHL game, but his first game of any kind since Jan. 5. He'll be looking to build on some chemistry he demonstrated with Raymond in Thursday night's final training camp scrimmage when he helped set up two of the three goals Raymond scored that night.
Schroeder likes to think Raymond's speed complements his play-making abilities.
"I have had the opportunity down there (in Chicago) to play with Bill Sweatt and they kind of play a similar style," Schroeder said of Raymond "I think it works well because I am more of a play-making centre, a move-the-puck type guy and with his speed I just have to find him and he'll create the openings."
Raymond knows Schroeder will be skating tonight with a stomach full of butterflies.
"If you're not nervous, you're not human, right," Raymond said, recalling his own NHL debut back on Oct. 5 of 2007. "He is going to have some nerves there, but I just remember the excitement. This is what you dream about as a kid -- this is where I want to be, this is what I want to do. We lost my first game, but it was a memorable one. I remember getting an assist and moving forward from there. It's an exciting time for him. I am happy for him."
Schroeder has been a project since being drafted by the Canucks. He's battled concerns about his lack of size -- he's generously listed as five-foot-nine and 180 pounds -- and the fact he hasn't yet really dominated at the minor pro level. He has 19 points in 30 games this season with the Wolves.
Schroeder, now 22, acknowledged the path to the NHL has been more difficult than he imagined.
"It's gone by fast, but it's a lot of hard work," he said. "As a young kid you are thinking I can probably step in there right away and make the team. But when you come to camp and realize how good the NHL is it makes you realize you have some work to do and I had some work I had to do. I think I have put in the work and it's my time now."
Schroeder knows tonight's game will get good ratings back home in Minnesota, where he has lots of family and friends. And as he prepares for his first NHL: game he has done considerable thinking about all the sacrifices his parents, John and Deb, made to get him here. He has a hunch his dad just might be in the stands at Rogers Arena to watch tonight's game.
"My dad, I'm sure, will do whatever it takes to come," he said.
Almost as excited as Schroeder about tonight's game is Weise, who is getting a promotion of sorts. After lighting up the Dutch league during the lockout, Weise has shown considerable jump in Vancouver's first two games.
"Dale has been one of our better players in those two games," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He has been physical, he has been finding open space, he has been using his speed to take the puck to the net, he deserves to play more and he is going to play more."
That's music to the ears of Weise, who has been almost exclusively a fourth-liner with the Canucks. But as Weise noted Tuesday, pretty well all NHL fourth-liners were at one time in their hockey lives scoring stars.
"You look at any guy in the NHL and they have scored at every level," Weise said. "What people may forget is I didn't play on the fourth line in the minors, I didn't play on the fourth line in junior. You look at my stats and I've scored 30 goals in the minors . . .I am very confident in myself and am going to try and capitalize on this opportunity."
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