Saturday, November 1, 2014
Forward Manny Malhotra of the Montreal Canadiens has risen above his naysayers.
Hockey is a fast, hard-hitting sport. It is a fun game to play, and a majority of Canadians have a strong passion for it.
That being said, it can be a dangerous game, one that is capable of changing someone's life in a second.
Malhotra was playing for the Vancouver Canucks when his life changed.
There had been debate on whether visors should be mandatory. However, Malhotra wasn't a fan of wearing a visor and wouldn’t wear one, which meant his eyes were left unprotected.
On March 16, 2011, Malhotra, in the second season of a three-year, US$7.5-million contract, learned the consequences of not wearing one.
Vancouver was leading the visiting Colorado Avalanche 2-0 when, at 15:54 of the second period, Canucks defenceman Christian Ehrhoff made what looked like a harmless pass to Malhotra. However, the pass wasn't a clean one, and deflected off Malhotra's stick and struck him on the left eye. With blood gushing from the wound, Malhotra headed for the locker room. His season was over.
Malhotra underwent two surgeries, and was determined to be in the Canucks' lineup for the 2012-13 season, which was shortened to 48 games due to a lockout.
Vancouver management gave him a chance to do so, but with caution. After dressing for nine games, the Canucks decided it wasn’t safe for him to be on the ice. After all, it was believed that he had only regained 70 per cent of his vision.
Vancouver officially announced that Malhotra was placed on the team's injury reserve on Feb. 14 and he was shut down for the season again.
“For me, it's the hardest thing I've done in this job,” Mike Gillis, then the Canucks' general manager, said that day. “Watching what he did to try and recover from that and the difficulty of it, it was a very difficult decision for me to make and one that has been thought about for some time. It wasn't done in the spur of the moment at all. We came to the conclusion that for his long-term health and his long-term safety that it was the best thing we can do.
“I spoke to him at the end of the (2011-12) season, and he felt very strongly that if he had a full summer of training, that there would be improvement in a variety of ways, but most importantly, that he would elevate my fear of his vulnerability on the ice. I agreed that I was going to give him a period of time this season and if things didn't change we would have this conversation with him. I observed and watched. We watched him every day. I didn't feel that there had been a change and I felt that he was at risk.”
This led many observers to believe that Malhotra's career was over.
He would have none of it.
Malhotra signed a 25-game professional tryout contract with the Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, on Oct. 3, 2013.
It was the start of a comeback.
Four weeks later, he had only played eight games with the Checkers, but the Carolina Hurricanes were happy enough with what they saw to offer him a one-year contract.
He gladly accepted.
The deal would pay him $600,000 if he stayed with the team, and $125,000 if he was sent back to the Checkers.
This time, though, he would need to wear a visor whether he liked it or not. And understandably so.
He played 69 games with the Hurricanes, scoring seven goals, drawing six assists and winning 59.4 per cent of his faceoffs. He was No. 2 in the NHL in the latter category.
Throughout his career, he has been known as one of the best players at taking the draws.
Malhotra's journey earned him the honour of being one of three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy that season. The trophy is awarded "to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
Despite having interest in re-signing with the Hurricanes, both sides couldn't get a deal done.
Instead, on July 1, Malhotra signed a one-year contract with the Canadiens. The deal was similar to the one he had signed with Carolina.
Just 10 games into this season, he had proven to be more than a feel-good story.
He was No. 1 in faceoffs, at 63.6 per cent. As well, the Canadiens were 8-2-0, which put them at No. 1 in not just the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.
The Anaheim Ducks were tied with 16 points, but Montreal had played one less game.
However, Malhotra's faceoff percentage would be trimmed after he was 43 per cent in a 3-2 overtime loss to the host Canucks on Thursday. The game-winning goal came from forward Daniel Sedin, whose Canucks watched a 2-0 lead disappear late in the third period.
“You shouldn't give up a 2-0 lead at home,” said Sedin. “It happened, but I think we stuck with our game plan. No panic, nothing. We stayed with our game and it paid off.”
Malhotra, on the other hand, wasn't able to get on the scoresheet, but he did what he does best: take faceoffs.
Despite his vision not being what it once was, it has been apparent that Malhotra has returned to being the player people are accustomed to watching.
His return to the league was no fluke.
NOTES: The Canucks are on a three-game winning streak for the second time this season. . . . Sedin has 310 career goals. . . . The Canucks visit the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Vancouver will be without F Alex Burrows, who was suspended for three games after a late hit on Montreal D Alexei Emelin.
(Dickson Liong is Taking Note’s Vancouver correspondent. Follow him on Twitter at @DLLiong.)