VANCOUVER - After being a spare part for most of the playoffs, Vancouver Canucks rookie defenceman Chris Tanev made his Stanley Cup finals debut in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins.
"It means a lot," said Tanev on Friday about being around the Canucks during the final. "It's a dream come true."
Tanev got the call after Vancouver's depleted defensive corps struggled in a pair of one-sided losses that erased the Canucks' 2-0 series lead.
His opportunity came as the Canucks tried to deal with the losses of Dan Hamhuis, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 1, and journeyman Aaron Rome, who is out for the rest of the series after receiving a four-game suspension for his hit on Boston's Nathan Horton in Game 3.
Veteran Keith Ballard, who by his own admission struggled in Game 4 in Boston, was scratched in favour of the first-year pro. Tanev, a 21-year-old Toronto native was never drafted and signed as a free agent with the Canucks last May after helping little-known Rochester Institute of Technology reach the NCAA Frozen Four.
Starting the season with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, Tanev was not considered likely to wear a Canucks uniform any time soon. But he was called up to Vancouver in January when the defence was hit by a series of injuries.
Although he was only expected to stay for a few games after being rushed in for a game in Minnesota, he stayed for most of the second half of the season, suiting up for 29 games. He was returned to Manitoba late in the campaign once the injured defencemen got healthy.
He was recalled in mid-May after Manitoba's season ended and was relegated to skating with minor-leaguers and extra players. But coach Alain Vigneault soon invited him to skate with the big club and he got into two games in the Western Conference final against San Jose as more defensive health problems created opportunities.
In considering Tanev for Game 5, Vigneault opted for the slight rookie's puck-moving skills.
"We've used Chris this year to make a good first pass that can beat the forecheck," said Vigneault.
Added Tanev: "San Jose had some big guys, too. It's just a matter of playing my game if I'm in the lineup."
Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said the coaching staff and players have considerable confidence in Tanev.
"He's come in and he's played really solid, very consistently all year," said Bieksa. "And that's the thing. He doesn't have too many ups and downs. For a young defenceman, that's a great compliment."
Backup goalie Cory Schneider said the rookie's rapid rise to the NHL has been incredible. Two seasons ago, Tanev was playing with the Markham Waxers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
"I don't think anybody knew who he was coming into camp," said Schneider. "He was kind of like a scrawny kid who would take some time to develop and we'd see him in two years. But he got called up in the middle of the year and started playing.
"It's a great story, he's a great kid, he's worked really hard and he deserves this opportunity."
Notes: Hamhuis watched the morning skate in street clothes from the bench. ... The Canucks held a full morning skate after holding optionals earlier in the series. ... Boston did not skate in the morning.