While Elias Pettersson’s first NHL goal was undoubtedly the highlight of Wednesday’s season opener for the Canucks, a certain portion of the fanbase was eagerly anticipating the first goal of the season for another first round pick: Jake Virtanen.
When Virtanen burst past Mark Giordano in the third period and slid home the 4-1 goal, Canucks fans across the province celebrated by cracking open a cold one, speed-drinking style. They posted videos of themselves shotgunning a beer to Twitter with the hashtag #ShotgunJake. By the end of the game, the hashtag was trending across Canada.
Did Virtanen see the hashtag make the rounds on social media?
“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “Yeah I did.”
The 22-year-old winger couldn’t help but grin. The hashtag caught him completely off-guard when he saw it that night and the next day.
“It was pretty funny,” he said. “Obviously it exploded after I scored...I think it just gets the fans involved and stuff, so I think it’s something funny that we all loved. I was showing the guys last night at our event and they all thought it was pretty funny.”
As a nickname, however, “Shotgun Jake” probably won’t last in the locker room.
“I don’t know, I think they like ‘Big Tuna,’ so I think ‘Big Tuna’ will stick in here, but if people wanna call me ‘Shotgun Jake,’ it is what it is,” he said, laughing and shrugging to indicate that he wouldn’t mind at all.
#ShotgunJake seems like a tradition this season that could really take off. Of course, for that to happen, Virtanen will have to keep scoring goals.
“Obviously getting that first one out of the way quick is nice,” he said, “but I’ve got to keep the pressure on and keep my foot on the pedal.”
While Virtanen is playing on a more defensively-oriented line with Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte, he still sees the opportunity to create offence out of that role.
“Motter and Suttsy are very good defensively,” he said, “so that gives me a little opportunity when they get the puck and I can use my speed and go.”
When asked if having two speedy players like Virtanen and Motte on a checking line provides chances to counter-attack and create offence off the rush, head coach Travis Green is quick to agree.
“For sure,” he said, then added, “You want that throughout your lineup. The game is definitely trending that way where it doesn’t matter if you’re first, second, third, or fourth lines...players can skate now.”
“Jake’s got a lot of speed, he’s also physical...when he’s on his game, he’s not easy to play against,” said Green. “We’re trying to teach Jake a lot of the little details as far as play away from the puck and how to play against top lines.”
For a pure north-south player like Virtanen, who tends to score more goals off the rush then off the cycle in the offensive zone, a defensive, checking-line role might, counter-intuitively, be his best chance at producing offence. Virtanen is already among the best in the league at entering the offensive zone with possession of the puck; if he can use that ability to counter-attack against the opposition’s top lines, then Virtanen might have found his niche.
At the very least, he’ll hopefully give Canucks fans many more opportunities to shotgun a beer this season.