Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Bruce Ng: Canucks Advent Calendar: 10 days to the Season Opener

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This series of blog posts by Bruce Ng will look back on the highest highs of last season, and looks to get the Canucks faithful amped for the season to come!

With just 10 days to the start of the season, today’s memory is the horrific injury, and inspirational comeback, of the Canucks 3rd line centre, Manny Malhotra.

Although a high draft pick (7th overall by the Rangers), Malhotra was never a big time scorer, and Rangers head coach John Muckler declared that Malhotra would never be any more than a career third-liner.

After some up and down years with the Rangers, he spent time in Dallas, Columbus, and San Jose prior to coming to Vancouver, where he was gladly welcomed as a 3rd-line centre. Until that time, Ryan Kesler was the Canucks shut-down centre. Malhotra’s arrival really offered the Canucks a lot of options and versatility down the middle.

Malhotra lived up to the billing as a great defensive centre – he killed penalties, was the top face-off player in the NHL, and chipped in with a few goals as well. In addition, Kesler was having a breakout offensive season, due in part to the fact that he had fewer top defensive assignments.

Then on March 16, 2011, everything changed. Malhotra was struck under the eye by a deflected puck off of a Christian Ehrhoff clearing attempt.

He had surgery to repair the eye the next day. Who says surgery waits are too long in BC? Just be a hockey player with the Canucks. Instead of depth and all the pieces of the puzzle, the Canucks were left with a large gap at centre, and far fewer options heading into the playoffs.

Very little was said over the next few days and weeks about Malhotra’s eye, other than “we’ll see” – terrible pun intended.

The next glimpse most Canucks fans had of Malhotra was when the President’s Trophy was presented to himself and Henrik Sedin on April 7, 2011. The crowd was supercharged and emotional to see Malhotra back and smiling, even if only for a few moments. The Canucks may have been motivated by seeing Malhotra, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 5-0. Roberto Luongo posted a shutout, Ryan Kesler posted his third hat trick of the season, and Mason Raymond also scored twice.

The next several weeks very little was said about Malhotra at all. In the playoffs, Malhotra was still useful – acting as an assistant coach, and running face-off workshops with the Canucks centres. Malhotra was skating, but no gear on, no contact and with a full face shield. No timetable for a return.

But the longer and deeper the Canucks went into the playoffs (and that’s what she said), the louder the whispers of Malhotra’s possible return became.

In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Malhotra made his return to the Canucks lineup. He started the game at centre, and of course won the opening face-off.

His presence was a boost to the Canucks who won Game 2 that night. I always thought it was clever how Malhotra had been running drills with the other centres – maybe he always thought it was possible to come back, and was actually keeping himself sharp.

Malhotra will be just as important this season to the Canucks: defensively, on face-offs and killing penalties. I can’t wait to see who his new linemates will be, and how his season develops after further recovering in the summer.

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