In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
For the first time in NHL history, regular season games are played outside North America as the Vancouver Canucks, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim open the season with a pair of games in Tokyo, Japan. The games are a part of the league’s efforts to promote the upcoming Olympics in Nagano. The Canucks led by their new captain Mark Messier would win the first game 3-2. Anaheim would rebound to win the following night 3-2, splitting the two games.
The Vancouver Canucks, after barely missing the playoffs in 1997, were looking for a new start as they hired Mike Kennan as their new coach and signed Mark Messier on a three-year contract worth $20 million after six seasons with the New York Rangers. The loss of Messier angered fans in New York. At the same time, Messier’s arrival in Vancouver came with controversy as fan favorite Trevor Linden was forced to relinquish the captaincy and was eventually traded, angering fans in Vancouver.
The two-game series in Tokyo was the first time the National Hockey League played regular season games outside of North America. With the NHL’s top players heading to the Olympics for the first time in February, it seemed like the perfect time to begin promoting the NHL abroad. Especially with the Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
In the first game, the Canucks drew first blood on an unassisted goal by Scott Walker at the 12:10 mark in the first period. The Mighty Ducks would answer in the second period, tying the game on a power play goal from Scott Young, with assists by Sean Pronger and Tomas Sandstrom at 9:17. Two minutes later, Vancouver regained the lead with Mark Messier scoring his first goal with his new team, with assists Markus Naslund and Dave Babych. The Canucks would take a 3-1 lead at 14:41 with a goal from Pavel Bure, with Naslund getting a second assist along with Grant Ledyard. Anaheim would cut the deficit to one on a goal by Shawn Antoski with assists from Warren Rychel and Mark Janssens. It would be as close as the game would get as neither team scored in the third period, with the Canucks winning 3-2. Kirk McLean got the win, stopping 32 of 34 shots. Guy Hebert, meanwhile, stopped 29 of 32 shots for the Ducks.
The two teams would play the second game the following night. In the first period, Anaheim scored first on a goal by Teemu Selanne with assists from Sean Pronger and Darren Van Impe 7:42 into the game. Vancouver answered at 15:37 as Pavel Bure scored on a breakaway. In the second period, each team scored on the power play, with the Mighty Ducks getting a goal by Tomas Sandstrom on assists by Selanne and J.J. Daigneault at 5:19, with the Canucks getting a power play tally from Trevor Linden with assists by Grant Ledyard and Martin Gelinas. The game remained deadlocked 2-2 until Daigneault gave Anaheim the lead with 6:22 left, with Selanne and Sandstrom providing the assists. Mikhail Shtalenkov would get the win, stopping 25 of 27 shots, while Kirk McLean was hit the loss, making 21 of 24 saves,
When the teams returned to North America, it would be nothing but frustration as the teams finished with the worst two records in the Western Conference, with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim finishing with a record of 26-43-13. In contrast, the Vancouver Canucks finished dead last at 25-43-14.