The latest member of the Vancouver Canucks is settling into life in his new hockey home. But a couple of weeks after the fact, Matt Pettinger admits that being traded for the first time in his professional career was unsettling, to say the least. The 27-year-old, who was born in Edmonton but raised in Victoria, thinks the February 26 trade-deadline move from the Washington Capitals to the Canucks in exchange for Matt Cooke will likely be good for his career in the long run. But in the short term, it’s been tough leaving his previous life—and his wife—behind.
“My wife, Chelsea, is still in D.C., packing up and just kind of taking her time getting out here,” he says. “She’s got lots of good friends back there and we’ve got a townhouse back there. So she’s packing up a bit before she moves out here. She’s coming out here in the middle of March, and since we’re on the road so much this month, there was really no point in her coming out much sooner. She’ll be here when we return.”
When Pettinger got word that he was being shipped cross-continent, he threw the things he’d need in a suitcase, got down to the rink to grab his gear, and then headed to the airport to start his life as a Canuck. Sure, there’s fame and fortune for the select few who make it to the National Hockey League. But there’s also that chance your life will be uprooted at the whim of a general manager who feels you no longer fit into a team’s plans. And that was the case with Pettinger in Washington, where his playing time had dwindled and, not surprisingly, so had his production.
“It’s tough,” he says. “You’re comfortable in a city; you know people and you know the system, the coaches, and the players. But I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now and I feel comfortable here too. The guys have been great. And being from Victoria, I’ve got lots of support here and my parents and friends have come over a lot. So I’m in a pretty unique situation where I get to come home, back to the West Coast.”
And Pettinger needed that support early on. He says the first 48 hours after receiving the news of his trade remain a murky memory. From landing in the middle of the night, to catching a few hours of sleep, to a morning skate with his new teammates and making his debut at home against Colorado the night after the deal, the 6-1, 205-pound left winger was overwhelmed by it all.
And it wasn’t until the Canucks headed out on the road two days later that he felt like things started to make sense.
“It was good to get on the road. I had the two games here and it was just a whirlwind with lots of calls and lots of media,” he says. “Then it was good to get out on the road and settle down. Obviously, we weren’t too successful out on the road, but for me, personally, just to kind of get away and get to know the guys, that was good.”
Even when the Canucks came home from the road, Pettinger was hardly at home. For the rest of the season, he’ll live out of a suitcase in a downtown hotel and use the off-season to look for a more permanent place to live. Basically, for however long the Canucks are playing this year, it’s going to feel like one never-ending road trip for Pettinger.
“It’s not that bad,” he says of hotel living. “It’s like a one-bedroom apartment, so it’s not like I’m sitting in a 400-square-foot room. It’s actually been very accommodating.”
And with each passing day, Pettinger is feeling more at home as a member of the team he grew up watching. He scored his first goal—the game winner—for the club in a 6–2 victory over Nashville on March 5, and he has looked comfortable skating with a variety of wingers and being used by the Canucks as a penalty killer.
He seems to be equally comfortable handling the media demands in this market, something he didn’t have to deal with during his seven seasons of virtual obscurity playing hockey in the United States capital.
“I wasn’t surprised [at the amount of media] because we play Canadian teams, so you see it, but you forget that it’s an everyday occurrence—after the games, after the game-day skates, and after the practices. But it’s good. People care about the Canucks in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia. I know how Canuck fans are, and we’ve got a push for the playoffs and it’s an exciting time to be playing hockey.”
As hard as he’s tried to adapt to his new surroundings, Pettinger concedes that he hasn’t cut all ties to Washington. After all, his wife is still there and so are the many good friends he left behind in the Capitals locker room—the teammates he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to as he scrambled to get out of town.
“I’ve talked to a few guys. They wished me luck and I wished them luck. They’re in a pretty big playoff drive as well,” he says admitting to still keeping a close eye on the plight of his former team. “It’s nice to sometimes come in here [the dressing room] a little early and, because of the time change, you can watch their games and see how they’re doing. I’m still following them a little bit.”
But his days of pulling for the Capitals are now in the past. That chapter of Pettinger’s life came to an abrupt end last month. And now that things have settled down a little after the trade, he’s pouring all of his energy into making the playoffs. That’s something he never did in his time in Washington, but it’s something he’s hoping will be an annual occurrence as long as he’s a Canuck.
Jeff Paterson is a sportscaster and talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio, Team 1040. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.