When Prab Rai banged a dribbling puck just over the line in the second period of Vancouver’s 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks Wednesday afternoon in Young Stars action at the South Okanagan Events Centre, he held his head high in relief.
That goal seemed like it may never come.
“At first, I didn’t know I scored, I’m not going to lie,” laughed Rai, playing in his second game of the tournament. “But after that it was just relief, it’s always hard to get that first goal, especially coming off an injury and such a long injury.”
The goal was a long time coming - 363 days to be exact.
In early 2010 Rai was involved in a car accident in Port Moody where he injured his back, which left him unable to take part in Canucks Development Camp last July. Vancouver’s fifth round draft pick from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, who signed a three-year deal with the Canucks in March of 2010, worked his way back from the injury and was a standout at the 2010 Young Stars Tournament.
With a two-point showing (1-1-2) in Penticton, Rai was invited to Canucks main camp where he held his own enough with the big dogs to earn his first NHL pre-season action.
Rai played 10:29 in a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames, he was assessed one hooking penalty and didn’t look out of place with NHLers, only problem was that late in the game he jarred something in his back, the back he had worked so hard to heal.
Rai missed the entire 2010-11 season rehabbing his back. As late as this summer he wasn’t sure of his timetable for returning to action.
Now, nearly a year later since the injury, he’s back on the scoresheet and back filled with confidence that he can return to the form that had him collect 199 points over his final three seasons of junior hockey with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds.
“You never know what kind of player you’re going to be coming back from an injury like that and if you can keep up and do the same things you were doing,” admitted Rai. “This game for me definitely helped and I just wanted to keep building on that.
“In my first game I was kind of just testing the waters and seeing how I was feeling out there and just getting back into game shape, and then today I felt pretty good and I just tried to push myself and do the small things like battle in the corners and puck protection and getting my feet moving and things like that.”
Rai, Steven Janes, Darren Archibald, Adam Polasek and Anton Rodin scored for the Canucks, who trailed three times to the Sharks, but remained resilient in winning their second consecutive game.
Polasek and Kellan Tochkin had two points each to lead Vancouver and in net David Honzik bounced back from giving up six goals in his first game of the tournament to record 24 saves in the win.
There were a lot of positives for the Canucks in this game and Rai’s play was definitely one for coach Craig MacTavish.
“All you want to see is progress and definitely tonight was a better effort for him than the first game,” said MacTavish.
“I think he’s a work in progress right now. It looks like there’s a fair bit of rust, maybe not so much physically, but a bit of rust mentally on the game, as you’d expect when you’ve missed a prolonged period of time. “
Craig MacTavish on the play of Anton Roin…
"Guys get a little bit more comfortable and that helps the performance, then he got a great goal in the third period and that always helps the confidence too. He’s a young kid, but has a very high skill level, good skater. He’s not afraid to be the first guy on the puck, so those are all really good, encouraging signs for a guy of that size with that skill level that he’s got a willingness to be in there first."
MacTavish on the play of Adam Polasek…
"He was good, I loved his decision-making with the puck and just the way he passes the puck, the crispness of the passes, they’re easy for the forwards and if they’re under pressure they can deflect them in and get on it. He won a lot of battles too, he played very well and the guys played a much better game overall, big improvement in their level of control and the defence moved the puck a lot better. That’s what happens as you settle in, you start to remember what the game is all about and how to play it and support one another."
MacTavish on the play of David Honzik…
"I was really happy with the way he bounced back and that’s the first indoctrination for him into the pressures of the position. He came in and didn’t have the type of outing that he wanted by any stretch and you need a lot of mental toughness to don the gear again and go out there and compete hard. He played very well for us tonight."