Curtis Valk is another former member of the Medicine Hat Tigers to with connections to the Vancouver Canucks.
When the Canucks drafted Tigers’ forward Hunter Shinkaruk with the 24th selection in the 2013 NHL draft, it seems to have started a trend.
At the time Shinkaruk was selected, Mike Gillis was entering his sixth season as Vancouver’s president and general manager.
But after the Canucks weren’t able to exceed expectations and missed the playoffs, he, head coach John Tortorella and associate coach Mike Sullivan, all were relieved of their duties.
At the same time, the relationship between the Canucks and their fans was clearly damaged.
So, it was time to add someone who had a strong connection with the team and someone whom the Vancouver faithful had trust in to turn the franchise around.
That person is Trevor Linden.
He had spent three seasons with the Tigers, and another 16 with the Canucks. Throughout his time with Vancouver, he had become one of the most respected sports figures the city has ever had.
While the relationship with the fans may take a while to get back to where it was, filling the presidential position was complete.
The Canucks still needed a general manager, though.
They officially announced the hiring of Jim Benning on May 21. He had spent seven seasons with the Boston Bruins as their assistant general manager.
No, he didn’t have any previous history with the Tigers.
What he did have, though, was a connection with Linden. The two played for the Canucks in 1988-89 and 1989-90.
With the vacancies in the Canucks’ management filled, they still had to do the same with their coaching staff.
Vancouver named Willie Desjardins as its head coach on June 23.
It had to be patient in order to be granted an interview with the 57-year-old, as he was the head coach of the AHL’s Texas Stars, who battled all the way to the Calder Cup final. They went up against the St. John’s IceDogs in a best-of-seven series, and defeated them in five games to win the championship.
After Desjardins was named the head coach of the Canucks, he decided to bring Doug Lidster, one of his assistant coaches in Texas, to Vancouver in the same role.
It just happens that, prior to running the same bench in Texas, the duo coached together with the Tigers in 2002-03. Desjardins would spend seven more seasons with the team, while Lidster took a promotion and became the head coach of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit the following season.
With such a strong presence in the Canucks organization that had a track record with Medicine Hat, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when they invited Valk to their development camp in July.
He was in his last season with the Tigers in 2013-14 and ended up with 92 points, including 45 goals.
Earlier, Valk dressed for four games with Medicine Hat in Desjardins’ last season with the Tigers in 2009-10.
For the 21-year-old, earning an invite from Vancouver meant that he would be on the Canucks’ roster for the annual Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C.
This was an opportunity for the Canucks to allow media, and management to see how their prospects compete with the futures of the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.
“You train all summer, you train hard,” Desjardins told the prospects prior to playing the Edmonton Oilers in the tournament opener for both teams on Friday. “You got to be excited about getting to play to see where you are at. Especially as a coach, you always wonder how guys have (improved) over the summer. You can make a difference in your summer training in terms of where you are at.
“So I think for the guys that are here, you can make a name and spot for yourself, and maybe get yourself on a different line or whatever. I encourage you to go hard. A couple things that the organization is about is pretty simple. We’re about winning, and we’re about playing hard. Winning will take care of itself if you play hard so just focus on playing hard. Good luck at the tournament and I look forward to watching you.”
Valk, a 21-year-old Medicine Hat native, took Desjardins’ words to heart.
He scored two goals, as the Canucks lost 4-3 in overtime.
“It was a good game for myself,” Valk stated. “I think there is still room for improvement, though. I think for myself and the team, we got off to a little bit of s slow start and it seemed to cost us in this one.”
Some observers may consider the Young Stars tournament as an opportunity to simply get back into game action.
“I think it’s just a huge opportunity to make an impression,” he said. “I think that my job here in Penticton is to prove that I deserve to play at this level and I am just going to try to do that.”
So far, so good.