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It wasn't easy for Conor Garland to suddenly leave the Arizona Coyotes and his longtime friends and former teammates in the organization when he was traded over the summer to the Vancouver Canucks.
Garland on Friday admitted as much. He said he was on board with the team's plan to rebuild, given how invested he was in the franchise. But the trade of he and longtime Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver happened, and since then, the Canucks, too, have gone through sweeping changes.
Saying goodbye to the players, including forward Clayton Keller and others still with the Coyotes, was tough. A few ex-teammates will be in Garland's wedding next summer.
"I have a pretty strong relationship with those guys. 'Kells' is like a little brother to me and I stay in touch with him, probably talk to him every other day," Garland said. "It was pretty emotional when I got traded, because you realize then how fortunate you were to be on a team with your best friends and go out to dinner and be in the same rink and work with them each and every day, and have the same goal as them."
Garland is excited to compete against the Coyotes, but it will have to wait. Sunday's scheduled game between the two teams in British Columbia was postponed by the NHL due to the number of Canucks players entering COVID protocol.
Vancouver's game on Saturday at home against Toronto was also called off.
Garland has 22 points in 31 games (nine goals) with the Canucks after 2½ seasons with the Coyotes, and 2½ with the AHL Tucson Roadrunners.
"It's a game I've had on my calendar for a while," he said.
"That logo and that city (Phoenix) meant a lot to me. I didn't know where I was going to get traded to in the summer. There was a bunch of teams we had heard about, and I knew I was being shopped, pretty much since the (last season's) deadline," Garland said. "When I get moved, it's now focusing on winning a Stanley Cup. We have a really, really good team over here, and that's our goal. It was kind of a shift in direction from my point of view, so it's been nice to have that, to know going into the season that you've got a real chance at the Cup."
The Canucks might believe that much more now, having won six in a row as of Friday under new head coach Bruce Boudreau. But earlier this month in a major shakeup, head coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning were fired, along with assistant GM John Weisbrod and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner.
At that point, the Canucks were 8-15-2 and mired at the bottom of the NHL's Pacific Division standings. Garland liked Green's coaching and wished the team had played harder for him.
"Sometimes it's necessary. But for me, I was just starting to get our system and feel comfortable playing. I was playing late into games and a lot more down a goal, and I liked (Green) a lot. I was starting to get familiar with 'Greener' and then all of a sudden we have a change. It almost feels like everything has re-started."
Garland said it takes a while to get used to a new team and a new city and the adjustment continues, but hockey rules the sports scene in Canada, and it's exciting for him to be in such a market as Vancouver.
With fan passion comes angry reactions to losing and negativity, but on the ice, Garland is just trying to pick up Boudreau's system.
"Obviously a lot better when you're winning, which we are now, then it was with our start," Garland said. "It's fun. There's challenges with it. I think the biggest challenge is just ignoring it and you embrace it when you're there at the rink and how passionate they are and how loud they are and it's sold out every night. That's a lot of fun to be a part of."
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Former Arizona Coyote Conor Garland, Vancouver Canucks on winning track