The Vancouver Canucks forward, injured in a game on March 16 when a puck hit him in the left eye, has been cleared to return to ice and he could suit up for the Canucks as early as Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Coach Alain Vigneault was first to confirm that Malhotra has been cleared to play, before Malhotra personally addressed the media for the first time since the incident.
“It’s obviously a very exciting prospect for me at this point,” said Malhotra, of the possibility of returning to the line-up, which coach Vigneault did not speak to.
“Coming from where I was two months ago and making the statement that the season was over to potentially having a chance to play in the NHL Stanley Cup Final is obviously incredibly exciting for me.”
Malhotra said there is still healing that needs to take place with the eye, but after some very in-depth conversations with his doctors, who have monitored the situation daily for the last two months, he knew a few days ago a return could be possible.
Going forward Malhotra, who will wear a full shield if/when he returns, will continue to be monitored daily and if at any time his doctors don’t like what they see, he’ll back away from on-ice contributions. Don’t expect the 31-year-old to shy away from the responsibilities he’s acquired since being injured, however.
Malhotra has been a major part of the Canucks throughout their quest to the Stanley Cup Final and while it was helpful and uplifting to teammates, it was therapeutic for his recovery.
“Being able to be around the guys throughout this whole run and being able to break down tapes and go over things with different guys, that was huge just for my confidence and my sanity just to be around the guys and have a certain level of normal life.”
Sitting at the podium in front of 30-some members of the media Saturday in the Norm Jewison Media Room at Rogers Arena was the “high point of the ride” for Malhotra, who remains in disbelief at how far he’s come in a mere 74 days.
He said he recognizes the difference between taking two months off in the middle of the season and two months off heading into June and while he won’t know if he’ll physically be ready to perform on the ice until he’s actually out there doing it, Malhotra knows the support he’s had throughout this journey will continue to be strong.
Malhotra was visibly emotional when discussing how caring the Vancouver Canucks have been as a team, an organization and a family.
“We talk about our team concept all the time, we have a real family environment around here…and…obviously we’re here to win and we’re here to play hockey, but…more importantly, the level of care that we have for each other in the room…and…the importance we put on our personal health and the health and well being of our families really came out first and foremost.
“We’re here to play hockey, we’re hockey players, but at the end of the day the level of respect that we have for each other as friends, husbands, brothers and fathers, that really came to the forefront over the last couple of months.”
Support is one thing, but insight from those who have been in Malhotra’s shoes is quite another.
Malhotra spoke with former Canucks defenceman Mattias Ohlund, who was struck in the right eye by a puck during an exhibition game in 1999, two days after his incident. He also leaned on Bryan Berard, a former teammate in Columbus and New York, for advice. A stick clipped Berard’s right eye during a game in early 2000.
“He was a big part of my recovery in terms answering any questions I had,” said Malhotra of Berard. “He assured me of a lot of things, just the lingo that the doctors were talking and understanding where I was as each step went on, so he was a real friend to me through this whole process.”
The Canucks have Sunday off before hitting the ice Monday and Tuesday in preparation for Game 1 Wednesday. Full updates on Malhotra’s playing status will be available on Canucks.com.