Kevin Bieksa

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Kevin Bieksa
A Caucasian ice hockey player's face, directed to the right.  He is wearing a white helmet.
Born (1981-06-16) June 16, 1981 (age 32)
Grimsby, ON, CAN
Height 6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Weight 198 lb (90 kg; 14 st 2 lb)
Position Defence
Shoots Right
NHL team Vancouver Canucks
NHL Draft 151st overall, 2001
Vancouver Canucks
Playing career 2004–present

Kevin Francesco Bieksa[1] (born June 16, 1981) is a Canadian professional ice hockey defenceman who currently plays for the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League (NHL), serving as an alternate captain for the Canucks during away games. After a three-year career in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OPJHL) with the Burlington Cougars, Bieksa was awarded a scholarship to Bowling Green State University. He was a one-time All-CCHA honourable mention during his four-year tenure with the Falcons of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). He graduated from the university with a bachelor's degree in finance and was a two-time CCHA All-Academic honourable mention in 2003 and 2004. Following his freshman year, Bieksa was selected 151st overall by the Canucks in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and joined their minor league affiliate, the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League (AHL), upon graduating. He earned AHL All-Rookie Team honours in his first and only full season with the Moose, before joining the Canucks as a regular member in 2005–06. He is known as a physical and aggressive defenceman.[2]

Playing career[edit]

Minor hockey[edit]

Bieksa grew up in Grimsby playing minor hockey for the local Jr. Kings program of the OMHA's Niagara District BB-E league before graduating to the Stoney Creek Warriors of the OMHA South Central AAA League. He played part of the 1997-98 season with the Stoney Creek Warriors of the OHA Golden Horseshoe Jr.B and the Jr.A Burlington Cougars before being drafted by Don Cherry and the Mississauga Ice Dogs in the 19th round of the 1998 OHL Draft. Bieksa wasn't signed by the Ice Dogs and pursued an NCAA scholarship three years later.

Junior and university[edit]

Bieksa began a three-year Junior A career with the Burlington Cougars of the OJHL in 1997–98. He recorded 37 points over 48 games in his second season with the Cougars and 33 points in his third. Bieksa was drafted into the major junior Ontario Hockey League (OHL) by the Mississauga IceDogs, but opted to play college hockey in the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) instead.[2]

In 2000–01, Bieksa joined the Bowling Green Falcons of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). After a 13-point regular season in 35 games as a freshman, he helped the Falcons become the lowest seeded team in league history (ninth) to advance to the CCHA semi-finals.[3] He scored his team's lone goal in a 2–1 defeat to the Michigan State Spartans before the Falcons were eliminated.[3]

In the 2001 off-season, Bieksa was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks with the 151st pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He returned to Bowling Green to complete his four-year college career after being drafted, recording 15 points in 2001–02. Bieksa was named an alternate captain to D'Arcy McCovney prior to his third season[4] and subsequently improved to a college career-high eight goals and 25 points in 2002–03. Bieksa was chosen by Falcons fans as the recipient of the W. G. Grinder's Grinder Award and was a co-recipient of the team's Jim Ruehl Award as the best defensive player with Jordan Sigalet.[4] He was also given his first of two consecutive honourable mentions as a CCHA All-Academic.[4]

Playing in his fourth and final college season in 2003–04, he scored seven goals and 22 points in 38 games, while leading his team in shots on goal.[5] He earned an honourable mention to the All-CCHA Team and received the Falcons' Howard Brown Award as the coaches' selection for best player.[4]

Manitoba Moose[edit]

Following his college career, Bieksa signed an amateur tryout contract with the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks' American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, on March 24, 2004.[6] During his tryout, he was involved in an off-ice incident with teammate Fedor Fedorov. According to then-Canucks general manager Brian Burke, several Moose players had gone out together when Bieksa accidentally spilled Fedorov's beer. While Bieksa apologized and offered to buy him another beer, Fedorov challenged him to a fight outside of the establishment, resulting in Bieksa knocking him down with one punch. In recounting the story, Burke has recalled wanting to sign him the next day upon hearing of the incident.[7] Bieksa went on to appear in four games with the Moose to close out the 2003–04 season, notching two assists. He remained with the Moose in 2004–05 and scored his first professional goal on the powerplay in a 3–2 shootout victory against the Cleveland Barons on November 11, 2004.[8] Bieksa finished his first full professional season with 12 goals and 39 points in 80 games. He was chosen as the AHL Rookie of the Month for March after recording two goals, 11 points and a plus-11 rating in 13 games[9] and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team after his first full professional season.[10] His 39 points broke Kirill Koltsov's team mark of 32 for points by a defenceman, set the previous season.[11] Canucks assistant general manager Steve Tambellini lauded Bieksa for his quick adjustment and development from college hockey to the AHL.[11] During the campaign, he was given the nickname "Juice" by Moose goaltender Alex Auld, a moniker that continued into his NHL career with the Canucks. Bieksa described the origin of the nickname as a "funny story that's been escalated to the point where it's bigger than it should be" and was based around him "drinking juice."[12]

Bieksa entered the Canucks' 2005–06 training camp as a projected competitor to be the team's sixth defenceman.[13] However, three days into prospects camp,[14] he suffered a high ankle sprain after colliding into the boards with another defenceman.[13] He was re-assigned to the Moose on October 3, 2005,[15] and missed the first month and a half of the 2005–06 AHL season.[16] While sidelined, Bieksa was named an alternate captain to Mike Keane by Moose coach Alain Vigneault on October 29.[17] He made his return to the lineup on November 11 against the Rochester Americans.[16] In his second game back, he notched two goals and an assist on November 15 against the Grand Rapids Griffins in a 6–5 shootout loss.[16]

Vancouver Canucks[edit]

An ice hockey player in the midst of skating and holding his hockey stick upwards. His equipment is coloured blue and green.
Bieksa during a pre-game skate in 2009

With 16 points through 20 games with the Moose,[18] Bieksa was called up by the Canucks and played his first NHL game on December 19, 2005, against the Los Angeles Kings.[19] He was called for a roughing penalty 10 seconds into his first shift and played 10 minutes and 45 seconds total in a 4–3 shootout loss to the Kings.[20] The following month, he notched his first NHL point, an assist to Markus Naslund, in a 3–2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on January 5, 2006.[21] He remained with the Canucks until near the end of the season, as he was re-assigned to the Moose on April 8 to make room for the return of Ed Jovanovski from injury.[22] Bieksa finished the season with six assists in 39 games for the Canucks, averaging 16 minutes of ice-time per game.[2] On August 17, 2006, he was re-signed by the Canucks to a two-year, one-way, $1.05 million contract.[14][23]

Early in the 2006–07 season, he scored his first NHL goal on October 13, 2006, against Vesa Toskala in a loss to the San Jose Sharks.[24] Bieksa rapidly developed into one of the Canucks' top blueliners and finished the season leading all team defencemen with 30 assists, 42 points and 134 penalty minutes,[25] while also tallying a career-high 12 goals. Paired with stay-at-home defenceman Willie Mitchell, he was also regularly given a shutdown role against opposing teams' top forwards.[26][27] At the end of his first full NHL season, he was awarded the Canucks' Babe Pratt Trophy as best defenceman and Fred J. Hume Award as the unsung hero.[28] Bieksa went pointless over nine games in his first Stanley Cup playoffs in 2007. He suffered two stomach oblique muscle tears during Game 6 of the opening round against the Dallas Stars, sidelining him for five games, before the Canucks were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.[27]

The Canucks acknowledged Bieksa's breakout season, signing him to a three-year, $11.25 million contract extension, on July 9, 2007.[29] The first year of the deal, in 2008–09, saw Bieksa make $4.25 million, while the remaining two years were set at $3.5 million.[29] He had one more season left on his original contract at $550,000.[29]

A relative unknown in his first couple of seasons in the NHL,[30] his last name, which is pronounced phonetically (Bee-ek-sa), was frequently mispronounced by sports newscasters and hockey broadcasters such as Bob Cole and Harry Neale of Hockey Night in Canada. It has even been misspelled on scoreboards.[30]

A month into the 2007–08 season, Bieksa suffered a severe calf laceration in a game against the Nashville Predators on November 1, 2007. After battling with forward Vern Fiddler against the boards, Fiddler's skate slashed Bieksa across the back of his right calf. Bieksa was helped to the bench, leaving a trail of blood behind him on the ice.[31] Although originally expected to miss two months,[32] he ended up missing more than half the season with 47 games.[33] Before returning to the lineup, he was assigned to the Moose for a one-game conditioning stint. Bieksa managed 12 points in 34 games with a team-worst minus-11 rating.[34]

He continued rehabilitating his calf in the off-season, after the Canucks failed to qualify for the playoffs, admitting that his leg had not fully recovered upon his return.[34] However, injury troubles continued early in 2008–09, as just two games into the season, Bieksa injured his knee while attempting to hit Wayne Primeau in an October 11, 2008 game against the Calgary Flames;[35] he was out of the lineup for a week.[36] On November 4, he was re-injured after taking a puck off his skate against the Nashville Predators. Bieksa played through the injury for two games before learning that he had suffered a bone fracture in his left foot.[37] He returned to the lineup after missing seven games.[38] Despite missing 10 games in total, Bieksa established a career-high 32 assists and 43 points, first among team defencemen.[39]

Without a no-trade clause in his contract with the Canucks and seen as an emerging offensive defencemen throughout the NHL, Bieksa was routinely the subject of trade rumours.[40] In the 2009 off-season, one such trade rumour was central in a feud between general managers Mike Gillis of Vancouver and Brian Burke of Toronto.[41] On a Leafs TV documentary on the 2009 NHL Entry Draft that aired in September 2009, a segment involves Burke speculating that the Canucks had offered Bieksa to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a package that included forward Alexandre Burrows and a first-round draft-choice in exchange for Tampa Bay's second-overall selection.[41] The documentary was immediately pulled from airing again and the Maple Leafs received a warning from the league.[41]

Bieksa suffered the second serious cut to his leg in three seasons in 2009–10. During a game against the Phoenix Coyotes on December 29, 2009, he bodychecked opposing forward Petr Prucha, whose skate cut into his left leg, above the ankle.[42] It was revealed six days later that Bieksa sustained severed tendons in his ankle.[43] He was sidelined for three-and-a-half months, missing 27 games.[38] The injury marked the second time in three years that he missed significant time due to a skate cut on his leg. As a result, he was limited to 55 games, notching three goals and 22 points. On the last game of the regular season, he scored his first two-goal game in the NHL in a 7–3 win against the Calgary Flames on April 10, 2010.[44] Playing the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs, Bieksa scored his first NHL post-season goal in the series' sixth and deciding game.[45] His goal against Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick tied the score at 2–2 in the third period, en route to a 4–2 Canucks win.[45] The Canucks were then eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks the following round for the second consecutive year.[46] Bieksa finished the playoffs with three goals and eight points in 12 games to lead team defencemen in scoring.[47]

Bieksa skates at a Canucks practice

Following the defensive acquisitions of Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis in the off-season, Bieksa was once again involved in trade rumours. Despite being several million dollars over the salary cap, general manager Mike Gillis asserted after signing Hamhuis that the Canucks were "keeping Bieksa."[48] Regardless, in order to get under the salary cap, Bieksa seemed the strongest candidate to be traded. He was among six defencemen with a salary over $3 million, was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the subsequent season, had seemingly fallen out of favour with head coach Alain Vigneault and did not have a no-trade clause in his contract.[49] On a July 2010 airing of The Sports Network's Off the Record, Bieksa conceded that he expected to be shopped around by the Canucks, stating "I can put two and two together.[48] The Province newspaper at one time reported that up to 10 teams were in talks with Vancouver for acquiring Bieksa.[49] The situation changed later in July after Canucks defenceman Sami Salo suffered a torn achilles tendon while playing floorball in his native Finland; the injury put the Canucks back under the salary cap and speculation about a Bieksa trade quieted.[50]

During the 2010–11 season, Bieksa's offensive production decreased, but he was lauded by the media and head coach Vigneault for improving his defensive game. He had often been criticized in the past for making high-risk plays that resulted in scoring chances for the opposing team, but his play improved to become more responsible in the defensive zone.[51] In February 2011, he suffered a fractured bone in his foot. Playing in a game against the Minnesota Wild, Bieksa sustained the injury while blocking a shot. While he finished the game and initial x-rays came back negative, a subsequent CT-scan revealed the fracture. He became the sixth Canucks defenceman injured at the time.[52] After missing 15 games, he returned to the lineup in late-March.[38] Playing on a shutdown defensive pairing with Dan Hamhuis,[53][54] his season-ending +32 plus-minus established a personal best by 31 points (his previous career-high was a +1 in 2006–07) and ranked second in the league, one point behind Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara.[55] Complementing his strong defensive play, he recorded 6 goals and 22 points in 66 games.

With the Canucks winning the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history, the team entered the 2011 playoffs as the first seed in the West. After helping Vancouver advance past the Blackhawks and Predators in the first two rounds, Bieksa scored a double-overtime winner in Game 5 of the third round against the San Jose Sharks to send the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994. The goal came after fellow Canucks defenceman Alex Edler's dump-in had bounced off a stanchion along the boards. With Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi unaware of the puck's location, Bieksa took a slapshot from the blueline to win the game.[56] Facing the Boston Bruins in the Finals, the Canucks were defeated in seven games. Bieksa finished the playoffs with 10 points over 25 games. His 5 goals led all playoff defencemen,[57] while his average ice time of 25 minutes and 40 seconds per game was first among Canucks players.[58] It was revealed after the Canucks' elimination that several players had been playing with injuries, including Bieksa, who had suffered a bruised medial collateral ligament.[59]

Having played the final year of his existing contract, he addressed his pending unrestricted free agency by telling the media he was ready to re-sign for less than market value in order to remain with the Canucks.[59] Shortly thereafter, on June 27, 2011, Bieksa signed a five-year, $23 million contract extension.[60] The deal comes with a no-trade clause and was reported to be front-loaded, with Bieksa making $7 million in his first year, followed by $4.5 million, $5 million, $4 million and $2.5 million annual salaries.[61]

Playing style[edit]

Bieksa is known as a two-way defenceman with the Canucks, capable of playing in all situations.[62] Throughout his NHL career, he has been placed on shutdown pairing with such defensive partners as Willie Mitchell and Dan Hamhuis.[53][62] Offensively, he regularly jumps into the rush[62] and has led the Canucks in defensive scoring in 2006–07 and 2008–09. His play is characterized by aggressive and competitive components.[2][11][62] He also earned a reputation as a fighter early in his career in the AHL.[63]

Personal life[edit]

Bieksa was born in Grimsby, Ontario, on June 16, 1981, to Al Bieksa and Angela Lombardo.[64] He has two brothers, Marty and Bryan, two stepsisters, Terri Lynn and Jennifer, and a stepmother, Lori.[64][65] His father works in the Ontario Federation of Labour[66] and coached his three sons during minor hockey.[65] Bieksa began playing minor hockey in Grimsby before joining AAA teams from Stoney Creek, Ontario.[65] After attending Blessed Trinity Secondary School in his hometown,[65] he graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in finance and a 3.42 grade point average.[67]

During Bieksa tenure with both the Manitoba Moose and Vancouver Canucks, he became close friends with teammate Rick Rypien, who committed suicide in August 2011 after years of clinical depression. Bieksa was the first Canucks teammate that Rypien confided in regarding his mental health; when Rypien took his first personal leave of absence from the Canucks in the 2008–09 NHL season, Bieksa took him into his home to live with his family. Having a close relationship with Rypien, Bieksa was involved in many of the ceremonies following his death. He was a pall bearer for Rypien's casket at his funeral in Alberta and he later presented Rypien's family with one of the forward's game-worn Canucks jerseys during the team's pre-game ceremony in Rypien's honour in October 2011.[68][69]

Career statistics[edit]

Regular season Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1997–98 Burlington Cougars OPJHL 27 0 3 3 10
1998–99 Burlington Cougars OPJHL 48 8 29 37 83
1999–00 Burlington Cougars OPJHL 49 6 27 33 139
2000–01 Bowling Green State University CCHA 35 4 9 13 90
2001–02 Bowling Green State University CCHA 40 5 10 15 68
2002–03 Bowling Green State University CCHA 34 8 17 25 92
2003–04 Bowling Green State University CCHA 38 7 15 22 66
2003–04 Manitoba Moose AHL 4 0 2 2 2
2004–05 Manitoba Moose AHL 80 12 27 39 192 14 1 1 2 35
2005–06 Manitoba Moose AHL 23 3 17 20 71 13 0 10 10 38
2005–06 Vancouver Canucks NHL 39 0 6 6 77
2006–07 Vancouver Canucks NHL 81 12 30 42 134 9 0 0 0 20
2007–08 Manitoba Moose AHL 1 0 1 1 2
2007–08 Vancouver Canucks NHL 34 2 10 12 90
2008–09 Vancouver Canucks NHL 72 11 32 43 97 10 0 5 5 14
2009–10 Vancouver Canucks NHL 55 3 19 22 85 12 3 5 8 14
2010–11 Vancouver Canucks NHL 66 6 16 22 73 25 5 5 10 51
2011–12 Vancouver Canucks NHL 78 8 36 44 94 5 1 0 1 6
2012–13 Vancouver Canucks NHL 36 6 6 12 48 4 1 0 1 8
2013–14 Vancouver Canucks NHL 76 4 20 24 104
CCHA totals 147 24 51 75 316
AHL totals 108 15 47 62 267 27 1 11 12 73
NHL totals 537 52 175 227 802 65 10 15 25 113

Awards[edit]

CCHA[edit]

Award Year(s)
All-Academic (honourable mention) 2003, 2004[4]
All-CCHA (honourable mention) 2004[4]

Bowling Green Falcons team awards[edit]

Award Year(s)
W. G. Grinder's Grinder Award (fan voted) 2003[4]
Jim Ruehl Award (best defensive player; co-recipient with Jordan Sigalet) 2003[4]
Howard Brown Award (coaches' selection) 2004[4]

AHL[edit]

Award Year(s)
AHL All-Rookie Team 2005[10]

Vancouver Canucks team awards[edit]

Award Year(s)
Babe Pratt Trophy (top defenceman) 2007[28]
Fred J. Hume Award (unsung hero) 2007[28]

Records[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]