About three years ago my friend gave me his old Playstation 2 and I immediately set out to find one of EA Sports' NHL games for it. I lived relatively sparely while going to university and hadn't played an NHL video game in years. A nearby video store had NHL 2004 cheap, so I picked it up, excited to play a season as the Canucks, one that would play out much differently than the Canucks actual 2003-04 season.
I loaded up the game and the above video was the first thing I saw. I immediately started crying. I'm a little ashamed to admit that, but it's true. Naslund and Bertuzzi were well-known to be good friends, and seeing them together, well before the Steve Moore incident, just smiling, laughing, and joking around, caught me completely off-guard. Even watching it now I get a little misty-eyed. By the time I saw this brief little clip of joviality, Todd Bertuzzi was no longer a Canuck and Naslund's play had slipped and the copious criticisms from the fickle fanbase had begun. This flashback to a happier time brought out the sentimental wuss in me.
And then the game froze every time I tried to start playing. So the only memory I have of NHL 2004 is crying like a baby. Thanks a lot, EA. After the jump, more Markus.
With Naslund's number being retired on Saturday, I've been thinking a lot about his legacy with the Vancouver Canucks. The Swedish sniper played 12 seasons with the Canucks, leading the team in scoring for 7 of them. After Pavel Bure, Naslund is the most lethal offensive player the Canucks have ever had (with a small asterisk allowed for Mogilny and some old-school fans whining "if only Tanti and Gradin had better linemates"). Naslund currently sits first in Canucks all-time points, goals, powerplay goals, gamewinning goals, and is third in games played behind none other than Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden. Yes, the Sedins will likely pass Naslund in many of these categories before their careers are done, but we'll hold off on the debate about retiring their numbers for a few years.
His offensive numbers are obviously impressive, but more impressive for me is the class and character that Naslund has always exhibited. He was honest to a fault in interviews, gave countless hours working in the community, and seemed to treat everyone with care and respect. He came into town this week for his retirement ceremony and it's significant that one of the first places he visited with his wife was Canuck Place for Kids. He and his wife were heavily involved with the charity during his time with the Canucks and this commitment to charity and to helping others is one of the lasting memories I will have of him.
Naslund has always been the quintessential nice guy. He's quiet, humble, and soft-spoken. He deflects compliments, accepts blame, and avoids the spotlight. A devoted Christian, he refused to use his celebrity as a soapbox for evangelism, but still contributed constantly to hockey camps with Hockey Ministries International. It seemed that the only person he wasn't nice to was himself. When he was confident, you could see it in his play. Markus admitted that he is his own worst critic this morning in an interview on the Team 1040, and when he lacked confidence, I think his own self-criticism sent his play on a downward spiral. The old saying about nice guys seemed to apply to Naslund's last couple of seasons in Vancouver when his point totals dropped and he seemed to play tentatively: his otherworldly talent-level still allowed him to produce, but I truly feel his lack of confidence prevented him from the heights he could have reached.
Still, Naslund will always remain in my mind alongside Smyl and Linden as the platonic form of Canuck and he will always remain one of my favorite Canucks of all-time. His humility, charity, class, and talent cement his place amongst Canuck greats and I am extremely glad Mike Gillis took the step of retiring his jersey.