Ex-Canuck Malhotra pushing to extend career

The Vancouver Canucks thought his career was over, and cut him loose. But Manny Malhotra has proven that in sports, as in life, perseverance can overcome tragedy.

VANCOUVER — Manny Malhotra is used to proving people wrong.

As a free agent four years ago, no team in the NHL would offer him a deal, so the best he could do was to accept a tryout offer from the San Jose Sharks.

The Mississauga born and raised player made the most of that opportunity, earning a contract and putting up career high numbers in a shutdown third-line centre role — the following season he parlayed that into a three-year $7.5-million deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

Now, at age 33, Malhotra is again on the lookout for a team after the Canucks sidelined him nine games into the 2012-13 season, citing concerns about his personal safety.

The likeable centreman wants to play, and feels he still can — but the challenges are greater than ever before.

The left eye injury Malhotra suffered near the end of the 2010-11 season means he will likely never have the same range of vision as someone with two healthy eyes.

He insists testing indicates his vision still continues to progress, but acknowledges there will always be questions about just how much that injury affects his ability to see the ice.

Malhotra didn’t say it outright, but conceded that he may have to settle for a tryout once again given the circumstances.

“I’d love to go into a situation where you know you have a job and it’s not based on a tryout,” Malhotra said at the University of British Columbia on Tuesday, after participating as a guest in a training session with Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps. “But I said from the get-go that I realize that I’m going to have to prove myself again — answer a lot of questions verbally, but most importantly on the ice.

“I’m just making sure I’m in the best shape possible, so when that opportunity does arise, I can show my best stuff.”

Part of that process of staying fit included a run out with the Whitecaps on Tuesday, after a chance meeting with the soccer team’s coach Martin Rennie at a UBC parking lot on Monday.

Malhotra came out for a training session last summer and happily took up Rennie’s offer to come out again this week — the player has connections with the soccer club as his wife Joann is the sister of NBA star and minority Whitecaps owner Steve Nash and Martin Nash, a former Whitecaps captain.

“It’s definitely a lot of fun,” Malhotra said. “These guys are incredible athletes in terms of their stamina and their cardiovascular conditioning … I’m drenched out there, they’re barely dripping. So it’s really a good cross-training day to get that cardio in.”

As for what’s next, Malhotra said it’s been quiet but he holds out hope a team out there is interested — not that it makes the waiting game particularly enjoyable.

“It’s not fun,” Malhotra said. “It’s not fun to say the least, but again, part of the territory of being a pro athlete. Not everything is black and white and wrapped up perfect in a bow for you. A lot of patience is needed and we’ll get through this.”

The faceoff maestro — he won 58.5 per cent of his draws in his final full season with the club in 2011-12 while playing with the injury — states he still takes issue with Canucks general manager Mike Gillis’s view that he’s at risk on the ice due to his injury.

“It was based on his perception, not my feeling,” Malhotra said. “I understand where he’s coming from and appreciate his genuine concern for my well-being, but as far as my career goes, I definitely want to continue and was disappointed that it had to end the way it did here.”

And while the Vancouver leg of his hockey journey is all but wrapped up as he continues to live in the city while he looks for a team, Malhotra takes solace in the knowledge that he’s experienced similarly uncertain circumstances previously and fought his way out.

“We’ve gone through this before,” Malhotra said. “It’s obviously very frustrating. I would love to get the family settled and the kids enrolled in school and all that stuff. But it’s very similar to the situation I had four years ago in San Jose where I had to wait until training camp to find an opportunity.

“But we’re willing to do that. I definitely still do feel there’s an opportunity out there and I’m excited for the new challenge.”

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