One of the most telling things about Vinny Prospal is his family: wherever he goes, his wife and three children follow. They are a unit, a team and a tight-knit support group.
When he signed a one-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets today, the 36-year-old Prospal had a chance to think and reflect first about his children, who would be able to stay enrolled in their local Columbus schools and continue to become part of their community. That was one of the most important implications for Prospal, who immediately became a symbol of pride and professionalism both on and off the ice when he joined the Blue Jackets in July.
Anyone who has crossed paths with the exuberant left winger will say his passion for hockey has enabled him to play at a high level for so long, and it has been evident this season. Despite undergoing knee surgery last season and enduring a tenuous waiting period for a new contract, Prospal rebounded in 2011-12 and is currently the Blue Jackets’ second-leading scorer.
“It’s a great opportunity, and even after my playing days are over, this gives me a chance to remain with the game and do what I’ve been doing most of my time,” Prospal said. “This is also a great feeling that I have a job for next year.
“For me, I’m very happy for myself and for my family that we don’t have to move anywhere. Sure, it’s tough at time with the way our season has been going, but I believe we’re going to do just fine next year.”
Prospal acknowledged the questions about his decision to return to the Blue Jackets for another season, when he may have had an opportunity to play for a playoff-contending team or compete for the Stanley Cup championship that has eluded him in his career.
Opportunities to play in the National Hockey League can become few and far between for players as they grow older, he said, but one part of his being remains constant: he still loves waking up in the morning, driving to the rink and playing hockey.
“I didn’t make that decision in five minutes or anything like that,” Prospal said. “I’m still a player, I still want to play. I know we have a little less than 30 games left, so we’re going to finish strong here and then I’ll get ready for next year.
“My kids are going to be able to go to the same schools here next year, and I’m going to be back with the club after the summer. That’s the most important thing and gives me peace of mind to get ready for the next season.”
|PROSPAL CELEBRATES WITH TEAMMATES AT MONTREAL. |
Prospal’s affable personality and joy for the game have become infectious inside the Blue Jackets locker room. He celebrates goals in practice with bursts of youthful vigor and only briefly laments his mistakes before putting in the work to correct them.
It has not fallen on deaf ears, although some ears may be younger than others.
“He’s so competitive,” center Derick Brassard told BlueJackets.com. “His work ethic is remarkable, and that explains why they wanted him here for another season. He’s been really good for us. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with and uses his hockey sense and skills so well.
“I’m so happy we’re going to have him for another year. He shows the younger guys the right way, and that’s what we need here.”
Count rookie center Ryan Johansen among those who have become students in Prospal’s lead-by-example classroom.
“Just to see his love and passion for the game and the emotion he shows, I’ve learned so much from him personally,” Johansen said. “It’s as simple as hard work – everything he does is at a high level because he loves the game so much. Sometimes the guys give him a hard time for (celebrating) too hard in practice, but he loves it and that’s the way he is. We love him for that.”
The Blue Jackets are Prospal’s seventh different NHL club and in his 17th professional season, and he is no hurry to be referred to as a player heading toward retirement. There are items of business to attend to in Columbus, and in the final 30 games of this season, he wants the Blue Jackets to play like a team eager to shrug the disappointment that surrounded the start of the year.
“Nobody has a crystal ball and you don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Prospal said. “Now I have peace of mind and security for the upcoming season. For any unrestricted free agent that’s up there in age, you just don’t know where you’re going to be.
“I really believe that we have underachieved big-time this year. There are better players and our record should have been a lot better than what we’ve shown. We should be higher in the standings and have a lot more wins than we have now. Sure, there might be some changes, but there always are. We’re just going to be a lot better than we are right now. If I didn’t believe that, there’s no point in signing.”