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Welcome to Vancouver

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Manny Malhotra is adjusting.

Not to being in Vancouver, he’s been in Victoria for most of the summer and would frequent Vancouver, and not to skating this early, he’s made a habit lacing up his skates towards the end of summer to get back in his groove.

Malhotra’s adjusting comes once off the ice when two unfamiliar things happen: throngs of reporters are waiting for him and a handful of young fans are screaming his name.

Welcome to Vancouver Manny.

“It wasn’t quite like this in Columbus or San Jose,” joked Malhotra, who skated alongside Alex Edler, Kevin Connauton, Prab Rai, Taylor Ellington, Aaron Volpatti and Chris Tanev at UBC Wednesday afternoon.

“The media is something you have to get used to playing in a Canadian city. You guys have always been nice to me, so I’ve got no complaints.”

Malhotra was all smiles when he was met with four TV and two print reporters following a 45 minute skate at Father Bauer Arena. It was just a taste of the media blitz that is to come, but he admitted it was nice to be eased into it.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound product of Mississauga, Ontario, is actually a familiar face despite this being his first time skating with the Canucks as a Canuck, he frequented ice sessions at UBC last summer before putting pen to paper with the San Jose Sharks.

You don’t have to tell Malhotra, 30, who signed a three-year deal with Vancouver on July 1, what a difference a year can make.

“It seems like not too long ago, but I guess that’s the way hockey goes, funny things happen and a year later I find myself in the same surroundings and a much different situation and I’m very happy to be here.

“The more we analyze the situation and see what could have happened, this is definitely the best fit for myself, my family and I’m really looking forward to being a part of this team.”

Words are one thing, actually experiencing the madness that comes with playing in a hockey hotbed like Vancouver is quite another. Despite having played 10 seasons in the NHL, Malhotra’s only experience on Canadian soil came when he cut his teeth with the Guelph Storm.

Malhotra made a name for himself with the OHL’s Storm beginning in 1996-97 when he scored 16 goals and added 28 assists to an impressive rookie campaign. A year later he was back at it with 16 goals and 35 assists to help Guelph storm to an OHL championship. The crowning achievement for Malhotra was receiving the Bobby Smith Trophy as the OHL Scholastic Player of the Year, awarded to a player who best combines high standards of play and academic excellence.

Drafted by the New York Rangers seventh overall in 1998 (the Canucks took Bryan Allen fourth overall), Malhotra was in the Big Apple past Y2K, but in 2001 he was dealt to the Dallas Stars, a team he played with for three seasons. The Columbus Blue Jackets were next and Malhotra played the best hockey of his career for the swarm before signing a one-year deal with the Sharks a week before the 2009 season began.

Since the Canucks snagged him hours after free agency opened, Malhotra has gotten himself pretty excited about playing in Canada again.

“It’s definitely going to be a very fun experience, there are so many aspects that go into it that make it an exciting challenge. Playing in front of fans that are so knowledgeable and so passionate about the game definitely makes you stay on your toes on a nightly basis.

“It’s something you learn to block out and not think about,” Malhotra added on the increased pressure of a Canadian spotlight. “I think every player realizes the expectation that goes along with playing in a city like this and being on a roster like this. I think the biggest thing is I enjoy that; it’s more motivation to push yourself to get to that next level, to meet expectations and surpass them.”

To help the Canucks get to that next level, meet expectations and surpass them, Malhotra will be called upon on a regular basis for the physical, hardnosed, gruff play that allows him to knock others off their game and contribute in timely situations. Of Malhotra’s 90 NHL goals, 20 have counted as game-winners putting him behind only Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Sami Salo in that category.

It’s that flexibility as a forward that had Canucks general manager Mike Gillis biting at the chomp to land Malhotra.

“In conversations that I had with both Mike and Alain, that’s pretty much how they saw me being a versatile player, moving to centre, moving to the wing on whatever line may be and I definitely enjoy that challenge of perhaps every night playing with different guys in different situations. That’s something I have to be ready for.”

Forget Malhotra’s adjustment, fans are the ones who will need to get used to having the versatile forward in the line-up this coming season.

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