Now that Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks defenseman (and fan favorite) Kevin Bieksa has retired, he is getting started on a career in media, which has included working for Sportsnet in Canada and — while in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic — doing TikTok videos with his daughter.
In an appearance on the ESPN On Ice podcast this week, Bieksa looks back at the infamous 2011 Stanley Cup Final, shares insights on the Sedin twins and Canucks superfan Michael Buble, and identifies which of his former teammates he sees being successful in their second careers in and out of hockey.
ESPN: If you were still playing, what would be your mindset right now?
Bieksa: If I was still playing, I would be working out really hard every day. Just so when things did possibly start up, I had the edge on everybody. That would be my mindset for sure. So I think I’d definitely be getting up every day — I mean, I’m not playing and I’m still getting up early every day — and eating the right things and exercising. I’ve got nothing to exercise for, but I still do.
Some of the guys that I’ve talked to in the NHL right now, actually, I’d say most of the guys that I’ve kept in contact with aren’t really doing a whole lot. And a lot of guys went back to their hometowns and home countries and didn’t even bring their hockey gear. So I think a lot of guys have already written off the season, to tell you the truth. But there’s probably some guys that have been skating and training, hoping that something is going to start up. I just don’t know. It’s such an unprecedented time. And people are approaching it in different ways.
ESPN: The NHL has talked about opening up the training facilities but also the need for a level playing field. When guys have a chance to skate, they’re going to be at the rink, right?
Bieksa: Yeah, I think so, if you start to open things up there. There’s enough private rinks around, like we have a couple of rinks in California that just opened up with private ownership, and I think they’re complying with the protocol. It’s very strict. Like, the kids are showing up already dressed and there are no parents allowed in the stands and dressing rooms and all that. So there is slowly becoming more and more ice available.
I just don’t know. I just feel like there’s too many obstacles, too many big obstacles to overcome to resume this season, with the AHL canceling their season. I know the owners want to recapture some of the lost revenue, I just don’t understand how you’re gonna come up with a solution that the players are gonna agree to, and that’s gonna be good enough for people to tune in — I guess people tune in for anything — but I don’t know, I see too many obstacles.
ESPN: Can you share the story about the time Michael Buble came to Canucks practice?
Bieksa: So we all knew that he was a big fan and he lived in the same neighborhood that I used to live in, in Yaletown. And we’d see him around a little bit, but I don’t think I realized how big of a fan he was, because he was kind of standoffish and shy. And now that you hear him talk about how he is such a big fan … He was almost intimidated to come up and say hi to us, which I think is ridiculous because this guy is one of the biggest singers in the world. And we used to go to his concerts, and he would give a shoutout in the stands and give us all this attention.
Anyways, super unbelievable guy. But eventually, somehow we figure out how to get him to practice. He comes with his grandfather. He suits up. And the way I remember the story isn’t exactly how it happened, because I ended up watching the video the other day of the replay; they have it on Canucks TV still. But he went on a breakaway, which is what I remember. And I thought he tried to deke [Roberto] Luongo, but he shot the the puck, actually hit the post. And then he toe-pegs and goes headfirst into the board. Then he got up and his helmet was sideways, and it was just a funny, funny moment. It was a hard practice, and there’s a little bit of pressure around the team at that time. And I remember seeing that afterwards. It was just unbelievable. Everybody was laughing, and he was laughing. He was super humble about the whole situation, saying “I embarrassed myself” and all that, but it was just great to have him come and skate.
Then I had him at a charity event during the last lockout, and he came and he was a part of it. But I couldn’t convince him to play. I called him, I gave him every reason in the book. I said I’ll put him on a line with the Sedins. All you have to do is stand in front of the net and get a tap-in, like [Alex] Burrows did for eight years. And he was just too nervous. Like, “No, no, I’m out of my league. I just know when I’m out of my league, I’m too nervous.” I go, “How are you nervous? You sing in front of millions and billions of people all over the world and you’re nervous to play at UBC in a charity game with the two best players in the world on your line?” He didn’t play. But he came and he matched the donation, which was awesome.
Michael Buble is used to performing his music in front of adoring fans, but lacing up the skates to practice with the Canucks made him a little nervous. Brian Killian/Getty Images
ESPN: I wanted to ask about the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Have you been able to appreciate the magnitude of that Final, or is it still a pretty nasty wound for you as a former Canuck?
Bieksa: It’s a bit of both. Looking back, you appreciate how good of a season we had and how far we came, and when we started that Final, we were a beat-up group. We had seven grueling games against Chicago where you’re traveling three time zones. We had six grueling games against Nashville where you’re traveling three time zones. And then we had a really grueling series against San Jose; even though it was only five games, they were a big, strong, physical team. Lot of hits back and forth, a couple fights.
So we were a battered bunch when we got to Boston, who we didn’t really have much of a rivalry with at the time. We didn’t play teams in the East as much back then. It wasn’t like today where you have a home-and-home with everyone. There’s teams that you wouldn’t see for like two, three years. So there wasn’t much of a rivalry, but we knew they’d be super physical. And the first two games in Vancouver, I remember they went really well for us and we were able to match it. And then in Boston, they just took it to a whole new level and beat the s— out of us.
Looking back now, I was pretty focused on trying to win, but there was the finger-biting and there was the diving and there was all these other sideshows going on, and [Brad] Marchand and [Maxim] Lapierre and Burrows and all this stuff. … Yeah, I’m sure it was entertaining from a fan’s perspective.
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ESPN: You brought up the Blackhawks; the heat you guys had with Chicago was incredible.
Bieksa: Yeah, that was probably the best rivalry, for at least a good five years, because both teams were probably the two best teams in the West. We really didn’t like each other. And there was no back-down from either side.
Back then, their third line was like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg; these are guys that all went off to their own individual teams afterwards and signed big contracts and played on the first line. That was their third line. So they had a big, strong team. Ben Eager and Adam Burish on the fourth line, they didn’t back down from anybody. [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook played hard; they had Brian Campbell back then too. But our team was good too. We were physical and we were strong and tough, and we just butted heads and we hated each other.
ESPN: What’s your favorite story about the Sedins? What were they like behind the scenes?
Bieksa: They’re pretty uneventful behind the scenes. Like, they are what they look like. They’re just the two nicest guys. Throughout the course of your career, you play with these guys so much, and you’re with them every single day, right? Every day you’re with them in the morning first thing, after skates, you’re hanging around the dressing with them, you’re traveling with them, having dinner with them. At some point, you get sick of your teammates, no matter who they are. These two guys, you never get sick of them and you never get annoyed with them because they’re just so nice and easygoing. Like, there’s times when you’re traveling on the bus and you got a long bus ride and guys are bitching and complaining. And these guys would never complain about anything. They were just so fun to be around. It was always positive. It was always fun.
We used to go cross-country skiing in the mountains there in Vancouver while we were training, at the end of the summer. And we’d have some good races up there. We’d ski around and eventually go into the Swedish hut and have some hot chocolate and coffee or whatever. Those two got pretty competitive with it. Obviously they’re known for their endurance. So I would try to add some full contact into it, to try to slow them down a little bit. But we had a lot of fun over the years and a lot of competition. And they’re awesome guys.
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ESPN: What have been your TikTok adventures so far as a member of that community?
Bieksa: Well, I’ve kind of been bullied into it a little bit by my wife and my daughter. It started off where my daughter would do this all the time, and I liked it because she’d run around the house, she’s doing all these dances. It’s really active, right? She’s breaking a sweat doing it, she’s putting all of this effort thinking about creative ideas, and I’m like, that’s pretty cool!
And then next thing you know, I get involved in one of them. And then next thing you know, that one does pretty good. Now every day she’s like, “OK, Dad, what time we do our TikTok?” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” And then it’s like, “Oh, you don’t love me anymore.” It’s just peer pressure to TikTok with her every day.
So then I did a couple on my own account by myself, and she didn’t like that. So now, like, I can’t do them on my own account, I have to wait and do them on her account. But she’s the kind of person where, we’re doing TikTok together and she’ll go and angle the phone so it’s looking at all of her and only half of my body. She just wants me to be in the background for her. She wants the full spotlight.
But you know what? It’s an unbelievable thing to do with her because to hear her laugh and giggle when I try to dance or do some sort of rap is priceless. That’s why I do it. I do it because she has so much fun. I’m not the best dancer. I do stupid stuff. And she laughs out loud. And it’s so fun to do with her.
ESPN: It seems like an outlet for some NHL players right now.
Bieksa: It’s just something fun and silly to do. There’s different things you can do — the dances, the voice-overs. There’s a lot of different things you can do. I think the quarantine has a lot to do with it because guys have so much time on their hands and you find yourself just flipping through it, and it gets addicting. But I think it’ll slow down a little bit. I think it’s kind of geared towards the younger generation. I think it’ll slow down once the quarantine is lifted. But it’s fun for now.
Might there be a future NHL GM in this picture? Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
ESPN: Which of your former teammates do you think will be the best coach?
Bieksa: Alex Burrows is coaching in the AHL right now. He’s running the power play for Laval. I think he wants to progress. Manny Malhotra, though, would be a really good coach, if you’re talking about head coach. He balances the hockey knowledge with being able to interact with players and communicate. He’s captain serious all the time.
He’s also got the face and the look for an NHL coach. I don’t know if he wants to do it. I don’t think he does. But he would be a really good head coach.
ESPN: Which of your former teammates will be the best future GM?
Bieksa: I was with him last night. I don’t know if he’d want to do it either, but Ryan Getzlaf. He’s just got the look for it. He’ll sit back with a stogie in his mouth and just make decisions and just delegate.That’s what he does best, delegates. You do this, you do that. Go grab me that guy. Go grab me this guy. I’ll just sit back with a stogie on the golf course and oversee.
ESPN: Which of your former teammates will be the most successful in his second career that has nothing to do with hockey?
Bieksa: Well, not [Ryan Kesler], because he lives in Michigan. There’s no commerce in Michigan. I’m going to say Andrew Cogliano. I just think he’s a really crafty guy and he’s going to find a way to have a pretty impactful post-hockey career. I don’t know what it’s going to be in, but I feel like he’s just a successful guy and he’s got a good attitude that’s contagious.
ESPN: And he’ll never take a vacation, obviously.
Bieksa: Yeah, he’ll work hard. He was the funniest guy to go for a dinner with on the road because he’s looking at his watch the whole time because his body is so regimented. He had to be in his room at a certain time to stretch. And you’re looking at him as dinner goes longer, longer. He’s massaging his own legs under the table, and he’s like, “How do your legs feel? Mine feel tight right now.” I’m like, “Shut up, Cogs, just relax. All right? You played 900 games in a row. Take a breather.”