Cam Cole: Canucks rookie Virtanen calmly handles his 15 minutes of blame

 

Winger disappointed with world juniors result, but won’t let criticism get to him, he says in hometown grilling

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks rookie Jake Virtanen looks on from the bench during their Oct. 16, 2015 National Hockey League game against the visiting St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena.
 

Vancouver Canucks rookie Jake Virtanen looks on from the bench during their Oct. 16, 2015 National Hockey League game against the visiting St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

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VANCOUVER — He’s a big boy, with a big future and a big grin and, evidently, a big suit of fire-repellant armour.

Does Jake Virtanen feel the searing heat of a nation’s disappointment — which, as these things often go, was largely directed at the most convenient target — over the Canadian junior team’s sixth-place finish at the IIHF world under-20 championships?

Sure he does. He’d love to undo those penalties against the Finns.

Does the Vancouver tabloid that published the size-XL “Goat-medal winner” headline under Virtanen’s photo on its back-page sports cover Sunday wish it could have a do-over, considering the 19-year-old power forward is not only one of the Vancouver Canucks’ top prospects, but a kid from nearby Abbotsford?

You betcha.

But if Virtanen is struggling with the blindside hit from his hometown bugle, he gave no hint of it Wednesday, when he waded into the kind of scrum usually reserved for visiting superstars, and calmly handled 15 minutes of questions, until the last one had been asked and answered.

“It’s not going to bother me,” he said. “It’s something obviously I’d love to take back, that second penalty where I slashed the guy’s stick, (but) it was just emotion out there.

“The stuff that happened, us losing, you’ve just got to live with it, and move past it. We had a really good skill team. I think sometimes we kind of let each other down a little bit with undisciplined penalties, but it’s part of the game, and it’s not going to go our way every time.”

The Canadian team had banned Twitter during the tournament, but he was back on the social network on his return trip.

“I was like, wow, I guess people are being really hard on Team Canada,” he said. “but I mean, Canadian fans are so passionate about the game, Canada wants to win all the time, and obviously when we don’t get what we want, people kind of take it out on people … and I guess I was the guy.

“I think this is definitely the most criticized I’ve been (but) I’m not the kind of guy who’s like, ‘This is a joke, people saying this.’ I was more disappointed in losing the game. We went over there to win a gold medal and we didn’t get it. Obviously I want to take a little bit of the responsibility for that.”

The advice from his dad, reinforced by his Canucks teammates upon his return to practice, was: Let it go. But learn from it.

“He looked upbeat, I thought, this morning,” said Daniel Sedin, who ended up answering as many Virtanen questions as he did about being the lone Canuck selected to play in the all-star game.

“I think he wanted to play a little better than he did, but hopefully he’s hungry and he’s willing to learn from what happened over there and just get better.”

No one has to tell Daniel, or Henrik, about enduring criticism as a young professional. The twins took tons of heat early in their careers.

“It’s tough at the time, for sure, but if you learn from it, you’re going to be better in the long run,” Daniel said, his lip still swollen and teeth missing from the puck in the mouth he took Monday night. “Looking back, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now if we didn’t go through those years.”

Criticism, Daniel said, “can put doubt in your mind for sure. But if you do everything you can to be successful, in the gym, on the ice, practice days, game days, that should give you confidence. The only way it will creep into your head is if, in the back of your mind you know you haven’t done everything you can. Then, I can understand if self-esteem is not there. But if he does that, and that’s for every young guy, if he does everything he can on and off the ice, he should be happy.”

The twins had Markus Naslund and Mattias Ohlund and Trevor Linden to lean on, and watch, and learn from. Virtanen has the Sedins, and there are no better role models.

Like fellow rookie forward Jared McCann, he sounds determined to do whatever the Canucks have in mind for him, even if it means sitting out, now that the club has decided not to return him, at least not yet, to junior with the Calgary Hitmen.

“I’ve seen guys come in the league fast, and crash. It’s about the long run, not the short run,” Virtanen said.

“I think I’ve proved myself in junior. Obviously it wouldn’t be a huge bad thing (to be sent back to Calgary) but I want to be here, for sure.”

It’s his hometown, after all.

For better and, as he now knows, worse.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks rookie Jake Virtanen looks on from the bench during their Oct. 16, 2015 National Hockey League game against the visiting St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena.
 

Vancouver Canucks rookie Jake Virtanen looks on from the bench during their Oct. 16, 2015 National Hockey League game against the visiting St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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