Seeing fans in the stands at Rogers Arena Sunday night was fuel for Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
Capacity was capped at 50 per cent, with 9,108 hockey lovers taking in the Canucks’ 3-2 pre-season win over the Winnipeg Jets, but even the limited crowd provided a much-needed boost, Horvat said.
“You guys actually have no idea how much better it is, honest to God,” he told reporters after the game. “Not only just atmosphere wise, but it brings more life to the building, it brings more life to the team.”
“Me especially, I love playing in front of people,” Horvat said. “I think it brings the best out in me and I think it brings the best out in anybody who’s out on the ice. It’s just a relief to have people back in the stands.”
Horvat had a goal and an assist Sunday as the Canucks improved to 2-2-0 in pre-season action. Left-winger Tanner Pearson also put up a two-point night with a goal and an assist, while Nic Petan added a goal for Vancouver.
WATCH l Canucks claim pre-season win over Jets in Vancouver:
For Petan, a native of Delta, B.C., playing in Rogers Arena in front of a crowd was special.
“I thought it was pretty loud for the capacity we had in there,” he said. “I had family and friends in the crowd as well, so it’s a little extra motivation to play harder as well.”
Jeff Malott and Kristian Reichel each tallied a goal and an assist for Winnipeg as the Jets fell to 1-2-1 in pre-season play.
Jaroslav Halak stopped 9-of-10 shots for the home team before being replaced in the third period. Michael DiPietro had seven saves in relief.
Jets netminder Mikhail Berdin registered 30 saves across three full frames of work.
Vancouver came out fast and furious, scoring in the first four minutes of the game and outshooting the visitors 33-18 across three periods.
Winnipeg fought back, though, with Reichel scoring 16:44 into the final frame. Malott got him the puck off an offensive-zone faceoff and Reichel sent a shot flying over DiPietro’s glove to make it 3-2.
Pearson had upped Vancouver’s lead to two with a goal 12:35 into the third period. Nils Hoglander dished the puck to the Canucks winger in the slot and he shovelled it in past Berdin from the top of the crease.
Fans were treated to some four-on-four hockey early in the second period following a dust-up between Conor Garland and Jansen Harkins.
Harkins appeared to take issue with how the Canucks winger crashed the net searching for a rebound. The pair exchanged quick blows before they were broken up by officials and each handed a two-minute roughing penalty.
The home side had an extended man advantage later in the frame after Winnipeg’s Riley Nash caught Will Lockwood in the face with a high stick and was issued a double minor.
“Whenever you’re drawing penalties, it’s a good sign,” Lockwood said. “You don’t really want to take one to the face, lose a tooth and that, but if I can draw penalties, that’ll help the team.”
The Canucks had several chances on the four-minute penalty but couldn’t bury the puck before it expired.
Vancouver went 0 for 6 on the power play Sunday while Winnipeg was 0 for 3.
Malott scores 1st goal in NHL
The first period ended in a 1-1 draw after Malott put away the equalizer at 12:15. Playing in his second NHL game, the 25-year-old forward sent a wrist shot flying over Halak’s right pad from the bottom of the faceoff circle.
He was assisted by Reichel and Leon Gawanke. All three played for the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose last season.
The goal was Malott’s first in the NHL.
“It felt good,” he said. “A regular-season goal would be nice but it’s nice to take advantage of an opportunity here and just try to help the team win and just put forth a good effort in the pre-season. I think we’re happy with our play, just would like to come out with a win.”
Berdin attempted to clear the puck from behind the net but was picked off by Pearson, who sliced a pass to Horvat, stationed at the top of the crease. The Canucks captain blasted a snap shot that caught Berdin before dribbling over the goal line to put Vancouver up 1-0 just 3:32 into the game.
“I don’t know. Didn’t feel great with puck today. Puck bounces, you know,” said the 23-year-old Russian netminder. “First game, tough. But I will keep working on it.”
The NHL’s newest franchise, the Seattle Kraken, are set to make their inaugural visit to Vancouver on Tuesday. The Jets will be back in action in Winnipeg Wednesday, kicking off a home-and-home series with the Calgary Flames.
The Canucks have three pre-season games left to play while the Jets have two more tune-ups before beginning the regular season.