The Vancouver Canucks have had many greats over the years, from exciting players to agitators that have become fan favorites. Today I will be honoring the latter, the ones that are sometimes underappreciated but valuable nonetheless. With that said, let’s start the countdown of the top five agitators that have donned Canucks’ colors.
5. Maxim Lapierre
Maxim Lapierre was a very effective forward for the Canucks in the three seasons he was with the team. He was not only a great face-off man and forechecker, but he could also annoy the hell out of an opponent. Acquired at the trade deadline in 2011 from the Anaheim Ducks, Lapierre became a key member of a very effective fourth line with fellow deadline acquisition Chris Higgins.
Lapierre could score, hit and run his mouth with the best of them. He also had a great personality in the locker room which made his teammates love to play with him, but not against him. He just had that knack of getting under people’s skin. It’s what made him an effective agitator on a team that had plenty of them at the time in Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, and Kevin Bieksa.
4. Dave “Tiger” Williams
Who could forget Tiger Williams? Every Canucks fan, young and old has seen his riding the stick celebration that delighted the faithful, but annoyed opponents. The impressive thing about Williams was his ability to agitate and be a scoring threat as well. Opposing teams were not only bothered by his antics but his penchant for scoring goals as well. In his 14-year career, he eclipsed the 20-goal mark four times, along with several seasons of at least ten goals.
Currently the National Hockey League’s all-time leader in penalty minutes with 3,966, Williams also could back up his agitation with his fists. Known as a fearsome fighter as well, he was a rare triple-threat, bringing pest, enforcer and offensive threat together into one.
3. Matt Cooke
Matt Cooke was another effective player during his time in the blue and green. He played all over the lineup both in the bottom six and on the top line. He was also part of one of the most memorable goals in Canucks’ history when he cashed in with less than six seconds on the clock to force overtime in Game 7 versus the Calgary Flames in 2004. Unfortunately, the Canucks would lose that game early in overtime. To this day, I still remember how I felt when that goal was scored.
Cooke or “Cookie Monster” to the fans, was anything but sweet. He would rile you up with trash talk, physical play, and a pesky attitude. He could also score a goal or two and play with skilled players. He even joined the famed West Coast Express line when Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for the infamous sucker punch on Steve Moore. Much to the surprise of everyone, he was quite effective with the duo of Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison.
2. Alexandre Burrows
Burrows will probably go down as one of the most versatile players in Canucks’ history. He was the Swiss army knife of forwards, just as valuable on a scoring line as a checking line. The key to his game was that he never changed the way he played even when he was matched with different players.
Before joining the Sedins however, Burrows was a pure agitator. He made his living as a burr in the saddle of opposing players. He was a constant physical presence on the forecheck and a pest to defenders and goaltenders in front of the net. There were plenty of incidents where goaltenders would get so annoyed that they would cross-check Burrows to the ice multiple times. All he would do was get up and have more choice words to say that would rile them up even more.
When Burrows wasn’t being physical, he would be talking trash to the other team as well. Teams probably hated playing the Canucks when both Burrows and Cooke were on the ice. Just like Cooke, Burrows was part of many memorable goals. None more memorable than the goal that “slayed the dragon” and sent the Chicago Blackhawks home in the 2011 playoffs.
You could ask any Canucks fan that was around in 2011, and they would say that was one of the most epic goals in Canucks’ history. Burrows was and will always be a fan favorite and a player worthy of a special place in Vancouver. In fact, he is being placed in the Ring of Honour this coming season. Canucks fans will be able to relive all of his agitating and electrifying moments as they get to see his face immortalized on the walls of Rogers Arena.
1. Jarkko Ruutu
We finally get to No. 1, and it is none other than the Finnish pest, Jarkko Ruutu. He and Burrows were neck and neck until the end, but ultimately Ruutu wins it. He was the ultimate pest, from the beginning of his career to the end. Burrows toned it down when he joined the Sedins and started to become an offensive catalyst on the team. Ruutu, on the other hand never toned it down. His game was to agitate and get under the skin of opposing players, even his own teammates at times.
The smirk he would give after a shoving match was comical. It definitely was not funny for the opposition. That along with the subsequent Finnish commentary was the catalyst to many penalties, which resulted in many power plays for the Canucks. He had the uncanny ability to get under the skin of someone and stay there even when they exited the penalty box.
Agitators will always be a valuable piece to any team, mostly because they get the other team off their game. They are a special breed of player, capable of being a skilled offensive or defensive player and an annoyance as well. Some of them even have the ability to fight every now and again.
The Canucks have been lucky to have a few of the best in the game ply their craft for them over the years. In fact, they employ probably two of the best in the NHL right now in Antoine Roussel and Michael Ferland. The Pacific Division would be wise to have pest control on speed dial.