Heart of a Canuck survives scare
Premature Hansen twins sapped dad Jannik’s playoff run, but he never made excuses
Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks says the premature birth of his twin sons didn’t affect his play in last year’s playoffs. But with fear for their health a thing of the past, he’s ready to play.
Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images
VANCOUVER — Jannik Hansen plays with heart. That’s what they say in hockey because no one has thought of a better, equally brief term to describe his kind of player.
Born in Denmark, starting hockey at age 11, drafted 287th in 2004, Hansen really had no business making it to the National Hockey League. He has will over skill — another hockey bromide — but enough skill, too, to rise above mere fringe status in the best league in the world.
He skates and hits, battles for every puck like it means food on the table, and has missed only one game in the last three seasons for the Vancouver Canucks. Associate chief scout Thomas Gradin once perfectly described Hansen as the most North American-style player on the team. Heart.
But there were times last spring when you wondered how the 27-year-old could possibly put all his heart into work when so much of it was invested in the neonatal unit at B.C. Women’s Hospital, where Hansen’s twin boys spent the first 10 weeks of their lives after they were born 2½ months early on March 3. Lucas and Daniel weighed 2½ pounds each.
“It’s extremely hard sitting there and watching them and you’re not able to do anything for them,” Hansen recalled Sunday. “The care they got there was tremendous. It’s a place you never want to be, but you’re extremely grateful that it’s there when you need it.
“I’ve always had an attitude like once I step on the ice, that’s all that matters. But obviously it’s in the back of your head always. You’re looking at your phone (for messages) and you’re in touch all the time making sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be. It was a huge relief once we got settled and knew everything would be fine. It’s part of our history now and will always be there, but we’re happy that part is in the past.”
Jannik and wife Karen spent the summer with their babies in Winnipeg, the couple’s off-season home. They spent most of the spring in hospital.
Jannik would drop off Karen at hospital on his way to the rink in the morning, skate with the team, then return to hospital for the rest of the day. On game nights, Jannik would go back a second time after the game. The couple went home to sleep, then repeated the routine the next day.
In an organization whose “sleep doctor” is the best known manifestation of general manager Mike Gillis’s heavy investment in sports science, there was no guideline to handle a player spending most of his waking hours at hospital.
“You don’t choose everything that happens to you,” assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said. “If one has a troubled mind and a troubled heart, I can’t imagine it doesn’t impact your sleep. It was a constant source of concern for us. We monitored it almost every day through Alain (Vigneault, the former coach). ‘How is Jannik doing?’ I can honestly say there was no way this couldn’t impact him.”
Playing on the second or third lines with revolving centres, several of them experimental fill-ins, Hansen had a pretty good season despite the hours and emotions spent at hospital. His 27 points in 47 games represented his most prolific scoring in five NHL seasons.
But he had only four goals in the second half of the lockout-shortened year and went pointless as the Canucks were swept by the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs’ first round.
Apart from scoring or not, Hansen was uncharacteristically unnoticeable in several games later in the season, failing to make a physical impact. Other than acknowledging he had a lot on his mind, Hansen doesn’t believe his family situation adversely affected his play. Canuck coaches and managers weren’t so sure at the time.
“We’ve done so much work on fatigue management and maximizing these athletes, how could these factors not impact his performance?” Gilman said. “But to Jannik’s credit, he maintained vehemently that it wasn’t, and we felt Jannik left it all out on the ice each game.”
Hansen famously missed an empty net in the playoffs near the end of Game 2, which preceded a late tying goal by the Sharks in a game San Jose went on to win 3-2 in overtime. Hansen injured his shoulder in Game 4 when hit by Sharks winger Raffi Torres.
The Canuck was not expected in the lineup for Monday’s pre-season opener against the Sharks, but Hansen is healthy. Equally important, he is happy because Lucas and Daniel are healthy, too.
“They say it will take a couple of years to catch up to where they’re supposed to be, but they’re on a fast track and on the right path now,” Hansen said.
“There are no lingering effects. They’re done with the hospital for now.
“Six months. It goes by quick. Every day there’s a new thing happening now. It’s been very exciting. They’re changing every day. It’s the greatest gift you can get. Your daily day is changed — it’s turned upside down from what it used to be. But the joy from looking into their eyes and the smiles are worth it.”
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