Quinn says conditioning key short season; Ronning, McLean also reflect on short 1994-95 campaign
VANCOUVER - Cliff Ronning and Kirk McLean remember the abbreviated 1994-95 NHL season. Kind of.
It was something of a blur.
A 48-game regular season began on Jan. 20 and ended May 3. It felt like the Vancouver Canucks were playing every other night and basically they were.
"Every game meant a lot," Ronning said Sunday. "You get on a losing streak and you are in trouble. Especially early in the season. It's important to have a good start."
"In a short season it's a sprint to the end," added McLean, the former Canuck goalie. "And that's not a bad thing honestly because you don't have time to think about anything else. It's like the playoffs."
Pat Quinn was the general manager of the Canucks that season, having just handed the coaching reins to Rick Ley after Vancouver's run to the Stanley Cup final the previous season.
He thinks conditioning will play a big part in determining how teams cope with a more hectic schedule.
"That is the thing you worry about is lack of conditioning, not necesasarily that they can't run the mile and do all that sort of thing, but game condition," Quinn said in a phone interview Sunday. "You know, your head, getting in the right spots and being ready to take checks and not be surprised out there because you are behind in your own preparation."
Quinn thinks teams that had lots of players competing overseas during the lockout will have an early edge when the puck drops on or about Jan. 19. That might not be good news for the Canucks, who were one of the teams with the fewest number of players competing in Europe.
"This year, I think the players that come back will have a little bit of a jump because they have been playing someplace and those that didn't have somehow got to find their game legs and their game head pretty fast," Quinn said.
Ronning remained in Vancouver during the 1994-95 lockout and trained with some other players. But he said he focused on the wrong things.
"I was doing a lot of weightlifting and thinking that by gaining eight more pounds it was going to help me," Ronning said. "But in the end the way I play I would have been better off to have good stamina and endurance. I know it definitely took me a while to get back into the swing of things."
The '95 Canuck team stumbled out of the gate that season, winning only two of its first 12 games.
"Like I said, a good start is huge and we didn't have one," Ronning said. "There's definitely an advantage for the players who have been playing full contact."
McLean, now a goaltending consultant for the Colorado Avalanche, played in 40 of Vancouver's 48 regular-season games that season. He suggested goalies have some special challenges after a long layoff.
"The challenge for the goaltenders is getting into the swing of things," McLean said. "I think the players keep themselves in pretty good shape, the body contact is the toughest part of positional play. But for goalies, you get into scrimmages with the guys for two or three months and you can pick up bad habits. It's a lot tougher to get game-ready if you haven't been playing elsewhere."
Quinn remembers the 1995 season as feeling "quite cramped" and said a condensed schedule takes its toll on players.
"When you go every second night and sometimes play four games a week, that's tough," said Quinn, who thinks the best-conditioned teams will have the early edge.
"There is no game as demanding on conditioning as the sport of hockey. That becomes so important. And that's what will be pretty obvious as we get going here again, because lesser ability teams with decent conditioning could get a jump and in that short schedule all of a sudden you are losing games you'd expect to win, you are losing to teams you'd expect to beat and then comes that mental aside of the game, that pressure that some people don't respond well to."
Ronning remembers he and his teammates battling through lots of nagging injuries. He missed several games that season with a groin pull.
"I'm sure the trainers will be busy," Ronning said. "It's not the big injuries, it's just the small nagging injuries."
For the record, the 1995 Canucks finished at 18-18-12, made the playoffs and then beat the St. Louis Blues in seven games in the first round. But they were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. The New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup that season.
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