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After five years in Anaheim, Luca Sbisa adjusting to life with Canucks

10/09/2014 02:58 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Luca Sbisa's life has changed drastically both on and off the ice since joining the Vancouver Canucks.

He's not only had to get accustomed to a new team and a vastly different style of play, but the anonymity he enjoyed in Southern California as a member of the Anaheim Ducks is also long gone.

"There's positives and negatives," the 24-year-old defenceman said this week. "You have a good game, people love you. You have a bad game, people don't love you as much — and they tell you."

Sbisa experienced the latter in the Canucks' final exhibition matchup when a pass up the middle in front of his own net ended up as a goal against.

It was one noticeable hiccup in an otherwise steady pre-season performance for Sbisa, who came to Vancouver with Nick Bonino this summer in the trade that sent Ryan Kesler to Anaheim.

He said he's adjusting well to the increased scrutiny of playing in a Canadian market.

"It's fun. The rink is always packed. You're always on TV. Hockey is clearly the No. 1 sport here," he said. "I had a little bit of a taste of that in Philadelphia for year, and then I went to Anaheim where it's the opposite. People care about hockey but it's obviously not even close to how it is here.

"I loved it in Anaheim (but) you can make a bad play and no one really cares, you can make a lot of good plays and no one really knows."

But the Italian-born Sbisa said an even bigger with the Canucks has been the system implemented by rookie head coach Willie Desjardins.

"There's some things I've never done, not only at the pro level but even in junior hockey. If you do his things I think you can play in a very effective way, but it's hard, especially as a defenceman," said Sbisa, who represents Switzerland at the international level. "He wants us to be really aggressive on the offensive blue-line and things like that. Whereas usually on the strong side coaches want you to back off.

"Here we play more the other way around. If all five guys do their job it will work out and we will put a lot of pressure on their wingers and turn a lot of pucks over. It's just getting comfortable doing that."

Sbisa played just 30 games for the Ducks last season because of various injuries and has never scored more than five goals in an NHL campaign, but the former first-round pick said he's being encouraged to be more forward-thinking with the Canucks.

"In Anaheim they kind of told me 'We don't want you to be too offensive. Just sit back. We know you have the skills to do it, but we just don't need it out of you with the guys we have here,'" said Sbisa. "(In Vancouver) they've said just play your game. It's great to know the coaches don't restrict you in any which way. They just want you to play your game and that's the only thing a player can ask for."

Desjardins knew the former member of the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes from his days coaching the Medicine Hat Tigers and has been impressed by Sbisa since his arrival.

"He was a real good player (in junior). He was real mobile. I watched him a little bit in Anaheim," said Desjardins. "Once the trade was made I had a couple guys call me that knew him and said what a good defenceman he was. Since he's been here I've liked him. I think he has a physical element to his game that we like. He's not afraid to get hit."

That willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice is something that has also been noticed by Sbisa's teammates, including his new defence partner.

"He's very physical. I didn't realize how physical he was, and he moves the puck well," said Dan Hamhuis. "He's great to play with. He talks a lot and makes the game easy."

Sbisa had nine goals and 47 assists in 266 games with the Flyers and Ducks before making his debut with Vancouver on Wednesday in a 4-2 opening-night road victory over the Calgary Flames.

He chewed up 18 minutes 34 seconds of ice time and played 2:11 on the penalty kill, including a key 5-on-3 in the first period.

"Hockey's a game of instincts and all that, but you've got to play the system," Sbisa said prior to the game. "About 75 per cent is system and the rest is read the play and go from there, but you've got to play the way the coach wants."

Sbisa's girlfriend is from nearby Ladner, B.C., and he wondered before the trade to Vancouver what it would be like playing under a microscope in Canada.

Now he's living it.

"I always thought to myself it would be kind of fun to play in a big market and experience the whole thing and it doesn't get any bigger than here," said Sbisa. "Even just walking around the city. I love the place.

"I've already been recognized way more than in Anaheim the last five years."

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