VANCOUVER - Defenceman Chris Tanev will get a chance to shine against his boyhood team as the Vancouver Canucks take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Tanev will suit up after being recalled earlier in the week from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
"That's definitely a big goal," said Tanev, 22, about playing the Leafs. "I'm from Toronto. All my buddies are Leafs fans and things like that, so it'll definitely be fun to go out there, and I'm going to try to enjoy it."
Tanev has begun his third stint in the NHL this season after he started the campaign with the Canucks, was sent down after three games, and then returned for one in January. His initial demotion stemmed from Canucks coach Alain Vigneault's desire to get him more playing time and the fact the club could not move other blueliners.
Tanev is listed in the club's media guide as a member of the Canucks rather than a player in the system—almost a sure sign the team intended to keep him up for the entire NHL season. However, Vancouver has several veterans on one-way contracts. Because of his age and experience, Tanev was able go up and down between the minors and the NHL without having to clear waivers.
"You definitely want to stay up here, so it was a little disappointing," said Tanev. "But I worked hard down there."
Tanev said the extensive playing time in the minors has paid off. His game has progressed throughout the season, but he stopped short of saying he feels ready to become a permanent NHLer.
"I'm more confident," said Tanev, who has 14 points with the Wolves, but is pointless with the Canucks. "I feel like I've gotten better on the offensive blue-line. I've gotten better offensively. I'm playing power play down there, so I'm just going to try and be confident and play smart out there."
The purpose of Tanev's recall was twofold. He helps make up for the absence of defenceman Keith Ballard, who will miss his fifth straight game Saturday because of a neck injury that may also be a concussion. Vigneault also wants to see how Tanev fares in case the Canucks trade some veteran blue-liners.
"It is an opportunity for us with the trade deadline (coming up)," said Vigneault. "We're able to evaluate some of our personnel."
The situation is reminiscent of last season, when Tanev, an undrafted find out of little-known Rochester Polytechnic Institute, came up late in the campaign and excelled during the stretch run and playoffs. He even saw action in the Stanley Cup finals as the Canucks bowed out to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
With the trade deadline approaching and Ballard's injury not showing any sign of significant improvement, Tanev is expected to be with the Canucks for the foreseeable future. Ballard will not go on the seven-game road trip that begins Sunday in Edmonton.
Meanwhile, Cody Hodgson, another Canuck who was born and raised in Hogtown, is looking forward to playing his first home game against the Leafs as he celebrates his 22nd birthday Saturday. Hodgson nearly entered the world at Maple Leaf Gardens. His mother went into labour while watching the Leafs play against New Jersey and he was born in a hospital the next day.
"You always cheer for those guys, too," said Hodgson. "When you go to school, all the kids are Leafs fans. Everybody's always cheering for the Leafs. There were some pretty good players, too, with Mats Sundin. Tie Domi was a big name in our house."
Hodgson, in his first full NHL season, has only played one game against the Leafs in Toronto since starting his pro career last season. His brother, in town for Cody's birthday, will be watching from the stands, along with many others cheering for the Blue and White.
"I expect the ambience that we normally have with a Toronto-Vancouver game," said Vigneault. "It should be a lot of fun."
The Canucks are looking to extend their dominance over the Leafs to 10 games. Toronto has not beaten Vancouver at home or away since 2003.
The Canucks, second overall in the Western Conference, are 8-0-2 in their past 10 games, although they have been perceived as playing poorly because of inconsistent offensive efforts at times.
"I think we're playing well right now," said goaltender Roberto Luongo. "We've been eliminating scoring chances against over the last couple weeks, which is very important. We've been involved in a lot of low-scoring games and finding ways to win."
James Reimer will play in goal for the Leafs, who are coming off a 4-3 overtime win in Edmonton on Wednesday. Toronto is a more modest 5-4-1 in their last 10 and is fighting to hold onto eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, Toronto defenceman Luke Schenn, the subject of recent trade speculation, will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Edmonton. Coach Ron Wilson said he scratched Schenn because he wanted to make sure that Mike Komisarek got to play after sitting out a number of contests.
"The hard part for us, with seven (or) eight defencemen in our organization all NHL-capable, is keeping everybody involved," said Wilson.