VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Even though Manny Malhotra still can’t play for the Canucks, his surprise return to the ice yesterday provide a pick-me-up to his teammates.
Out with a career-threatening eye injury since being hit by a deflected puck March 16, Malhotra skated with the team for the first time since being hurt as the Canucks began to prepare for the Western Conference finals.
Associate coach Rick Bowness said there was “no chance’’ Malhotra, who already had at least two surgeries on his injured left eye, was coming back during these playoffs. Still, the Canucks were happy to see him.
“It was a thrill for all of us to see him on the ice,’’ Bowness said. “Getting back in the room and getting ready for practice, there’s always excitement back in the air — we’re getting back at, we’re getting ready for the next round — but when Manny walks in and goes on the ice with them . . . it just gave everyone an extra boost.’’
Wearing a tracksuit and full-face shield on his helmet, Malhotra skated before practice. He even joined the team for warm-up drills and took part in a few line rushes.
“It was nice to see him out,’’ goalie Roberto Luongo said. “To be on the ice with the boys like that, it was really special.’’
It’s not like Malhotra hasn’t been around during the playoffs.
Named an assistant captain in the first season of a three-year, $7.5 million deal he signed as a free agent, the 12-year veteran has become an extra coach.
He’s in penalty-killing meetings for a unit he helped lead the league, and dishes advice on everything from shooting to faceoffs, which he was second in the NHL at 61.7 percent.
“He’s helping out a lot,’’ said Daniel Sedin. “Everyone respects his opinion and he’s been around this league for a long time so guys are going to listen when he talks. He’s being a good, positive impact on a lot of guys.’’
Malhotra, 30, still hasn’t addressed the media other than releasing an April 6 statement thanking the surgeons, organization, and fans for their support. His teammates are thankful for his support in the postseason.
“It is tough, especially when the team is in the playoffs right now,’’ Sami Salo said, “but he’s been really positive and supportive and it’s been good to have him in the locker room. That shows you what kind of a great character he is.’’
And why he was such a good candidate to be an assistant captain so soon.
Bowness said Malhotra won’t need the A for his jersey any time soon. The team announced Malhotra’s season was over just a few days after a hard pass glanced off a stick and struck him in the left eye, and that hasn’t changed.
“Unless there is a complete miracle, no chance,’’ Bowness said of a playoff return. “He’s getting a little workout with the guys, it’s a big thrill for all of us to see him back on the ice, but nothing has changed.’’