Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Monday Feb. 17, 2014 15:19 ET

Marc-Edouard Vlasic 'way better' than people know

Doughty's defence partner a big reason for Canada's success

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter in men's hockey
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, left, has been finding good chemistry with his defence partner Drew Doughty, middle, in the Olympic tournament. (Bruce Bennett/Getty)

SOCHI – A day after Drew Doughty continued to be the main source of offence for the Canadian men’s hockey team at the Olympics, his defence partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic also received acclaim.

“I just told somebody this morning that Vlasic is way better than everybody knows,” Canadian head coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a really, really good player. Doughty gets to do anything he wants and Vlasic is always in a great spot. He’s a good defender, he’s become harder.

“He used to be a thin kid. Now he’s a thick man. He’s hard, he’s smart, he skates, he moves the puck, and he’s safe.’’

Patrice Bergeron, any thoughts on 26-year-old, 6-foot-1, 205-pound San Jose Sharks defenceman?

“I think because he plays in San Jose not everyone has had a chance to see him rise so quickly in the NHL,” Bergeron said. “He’s making his way up without creating too many waves, if you will, and he does his work really well. I work out with him in the summer, so I know a bit how good of a player he is, but now playing with him you realize just how good he is.”

Montreal roots

Vlasic was raised in an athletic family on Montreal’s West Island. The story goes that his parents, Ed and Marie-Josee, put him on skates when he was 18 months old. But after a few minutes there were tears streaming down his face. He didn't enjoy it.

But Ed wasn’t about to give up. Hockey was his passion. He played defence at McGill University and earned all-conference honours in the early 1980s. By the time he was finishing school, earning a third degree in mechanical engineering, a chap named Babcock was patrolling the blue line for McGill.

After the initial skate for his son, Ed built a backyard rink and tried again. He took a three-year-old Marc-Edouard for another trial when he was three. This time he liked it. A budding star was born.

He went on to win a Memorial Cup under Patrick Roy with the 2005-06 Quebec Remparts and in his first eight seasons has become one of the premier two-way defencemen in the NHL.

“This is one of the greatest honours of my career, to represent my country at the Olympics,” said Vlasic, whose grandfather Ivan was a McGill law professor. “This can only help my career and my experience if ever I reach the Cup final, or further along for the next Olympics.”

Vlasic remarked that Roy had a big influence on his development. But he also was thankful that Todd McLellan was hired as the Sharks head coach.

Nicknamed 'Pickles'

When he was a younger player, his San Jose teammates referred to Vlasic as "Pickles" or the "Stork" after the Vlasic Pickles mascot. But then McLellan arrived and called him Eddie. His teammates followed suit.

It’s not always easy to come to a tournament like the Olympics and develop instant chemistry with a defence partner. But the Doughty-Vlasic pairing has been a hit.

The two played together for Canada at the 2009 world championship and often play against one another in the NHL. Vlasic said that has helped in the transition to becoming teammates.

“I know him pretty well,” Vlasic said. “We played together [at the world championship], we played against each other in the playoffs last year. So I know him very well. He comes into my zone pretty often [with the Los Angeles Kings].”

Before Doughty’s overtime winner, Vlasic had a chance with 33.3 seconds remaining in regulation to win the game for Canada on Sunday, but Finland goalie Tuukka Rask made an outstanding arm save.

Can Vlasic take any credit for Doughty’s strong showing so far?

“I’d like to say yes, but no,” Vlasic said. “He’s a great player. He’s good offensively, he likes skating with the puck and he makes plays. It’s just like he is in the regular season.”

“We play off each other well. If he joins the rush I’ll stay back and vice-versa. We’ve been able to create some stuff offensively and both been able to skate back to get pucks and talk to each other. We’ve been able to work off each other to get pucks out pretty quickly. It’s worked out well together.”

The Sharks didn’t draft Vlasic until the second round (35th overall) in 2005. But eight seasons later, only the Kings’ Anze Kopitar (581) has played more games than Vlasic’s 578 from the 2005 draft class.

Partnered with Hockey Hall of Famer Rob Blake helped the progression. Was Blake in any way similar to the way Doughty plays?

“Drew is unique,” Vlasic said. “When I played with Blake he was older and a little bit slower. But his offensive instincts were the same as Drew. They are similar players, it’s just that I have played with them at different times in their careers.”

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