‘We always want to stick up for each other. Scrums happen and that’s just part of the game. There are a lot of emotions out there.’ — Canucks defenceman Alex Edler

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In an unpredictable NHL season dominated by coronavirus pandemic protocols, plus a mind-numbing and physically challenging compacted schedule, one aspect remains as predictable as rain in Vancouver.

When push and shove escalates to stick work and cheap shots, there’s going to be a response.There has to be a response.

For everything the Vancouver Canucks are enduring to chase a playoff position, there has been little outside of the right results on the scoreboard to bring the club closer together. COVID-19 safety measures and isolation have kept them apart at home and on the road. What will bring them closer together is what occurred Friday.

When Derek Forbort reacted to an aggressive corner boards hit from Nils Hoglander — a shoulder-to-chest blow that drove the big Winnipeg Jets defenceman into the Plexiglass — he responded by repeatedly cross-checking and then jumping the diminutive rookie winger in the final minute. A melee broke out.

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“He was just finishing his check, I was just kind of reaching for the puck,” said Forbort. “He just kind of caught me. It wasn’t like a dirty hit or anything, but I was just kinda pissed off and gave him a couple cross-checks.”

Equipment goes flying as Winnipeg Jets' Derek Forbort and Vancouver Canucks' Nils Hoglander, of Sweden, end up on the bottom of a pile-up after getting into a scuffle during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Friday, February 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck ORG XMIT: VCRD122
Equipment goes flying as Winnipeg Jets’ Derek Forbort and Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander, of Sweden, end up on the bottom of a pile-up after getting into a scuffle during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Friday. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canucks responded. Call it the code, or call it whatever you want, it had to happen.

“We always want to stick up for each other,” defenceman Alex Edler said Sunday morning. ”Scrums happen and that’s just part of the game. There are a lot of emotions out there.”

Whether a lack of drive or physical presence, no team wants to be labelled as easy to play against. Canucks coach Travis Green didn’t divulge roster options, but Zack MacEwen practised on the third line Saturday. And in the warm-up skate Sunday, MacEwen was on left wing with Jay Beagle and Jake Virtanen.

MacEwen has fought twice this season and seven times in his career. And with a mixture of skill and will, the winger could be a deterrent or the payback guy if Green wanted to play that card. But he wasn’t making a big deal of the melee.

“That happens a lot in a game,” he offered. “A big guy goes into a little guy and the team piles in to help him out. You expect that out of your team and it didn’t surprise me that guys jumped in there. And I would expect that to happen again.”

It happened Saturday in Edmonton.

Calgary centre Sam Bennett tried to send management the right message by dropping Oilers defenceman Slater Koekkoek with a thunderous early hit that broke his collarbone. On the ensuing faceoff, Jujhar Khaira lined up at centre and Bennett knew he had to answer the call of the code.

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VANCOUVER, BC - January 6, 2021  - Vancouver Canucks Olli Juolevi jumps over the boards in a scrimmage game at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, January 6, 2021. Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were in force to photographers offering limited shooting positions.

Photo by Arlen Redekop / Vancouver Sun / The Province (PNG) (story by reporter) [PNG Merlin Archive]
Like his teammates, Olli Juolevi learning tough NHL lesson on the fly. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

ADIOS DUBOIS, HELLO JUOLEVI

The plan for Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois on Sunday was to ease him back into the lineup on left wing after missing four games with a lower-body injury. He will start at left win with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

“He’s a good young player,” Green said of Dubois, who had 27 goals in 2018-19. “Whenever we played Columbus, he was always a talking point in our pre-scout. A big man who has a lot of skill and a big addition to their (Jets) team.”

If picks played out differently in the 2016 draft, Dubois would be playing for the Canucks.

The club had several draft targets that year, including Jesse Puljujarvi, Matthew Tkachuk, Olli Juolevi and Dubois, who could play wing and centre. However, the Canucks opted to bolster the blue line, even though Henrik and Daniel Sedin would turn 35 that fall, Brandon Sutter was 26, Bo Horvat was a depth centre at age 20 and Jared McCann, 19, was dealt to Florida before the 2016 draft in a package that brought Erik Gudbranson.

When Dubois went third overall to Columbus and Puljujarvi to Edmonton with the next pick, the Canucks chose Juolevi fifth. They passed on Tkachuk (sixth) and a bevy of blueliners in Mikhail Sergachev (ninth), Charlie McAvoy (14th), Jakob Chychrun (16th) and Dennis Cholowski (20th).

And with Markus Granlund, Brendan Gaunce, Cole Cassel and Alex Friesen not helping to solve franchise riddles in the middle, Juolevi would be under heavy scrutiny. To his credit, he has toughed it out.

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A noticeable improvement for Juolevi at this level is making that pivotal lateral pivot to tighten the gap, so opposition forwards don’t blow by the rookie defenceman. Practice has helped. So has his health.

“Well, first of all, it helps when you’re healthy and your knee is not hurting and it helps with the skating staff,” said Juolevi. “It just takes some time and I’ve been working hard.”

Juolevi suffered a knee ailment with the Utica Comets while being slammed into the boards in an AHL game onNov. 17, 2018. He was expected to be sidelined three to four weeks, but a further diagnosis the following month showed a meniscus tear that required surgery.

He was sidelined six months and still felt some discomfort at Canucks camp in 2019.

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/@benkuzma

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