Health Comes First

Manny Malhotra, Vancouver Canucks

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Canucks fans have been on a rollercoaster lately when it comes to third line center Manny Malhotra. After a devastating freak accident where a puck deflected up into Malhotra’s eye ended his season, Canucks fans breathed a sigh of relief when we heard he would be okay, the surgeries were successful and there was a good chance he would return next season. Manny’s return to practice raised a few eyebrows but none of us realistically expected a man who nearly lost his vision to be back in time for the playoffs. Then we saw him in full gear, skating around like nothing was different apart from his droopy left eyelid and the full face shield attached to his helmet so you will have to forgive us fans for our outburst of happiness. This was not only because we would get our best faceoff man and penalty killer back when we need him the most but also because we could now be sure that Manny was going to be just fine. Actually, probably more so the latter. Yes, while Manny’s return would give the Canucks another weapon against the Boston Bruins in the final, just knowing that one of our own is doing well is a huge boost to the franchise and its fans.

In an era where professional athletes are irresponsible millionaires carrying guns in their sweatpants or climbing in windows, snatching your people up, Manny seems like a genuinely awesome guy. You can’t open a webpage or read the paper these days without someone telling a great story about Malhotra. Whether it’s the team talking about how he was a leader from day one or Torres talking last night about how much Malhotra has meant to his game, it’s quite clear that Manny is one of the good guys. How many other injured players in the NHL did a team insist on having close by for leadership and insight? I can only think of one other guy this post-season. You may have heard of him… he plays in Pittsburgh.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the comments section. I don’t mean our comments since probably everyone here is pulling for Malhotra to make a safe and full recovery. I mean from the message boards of opposing teams or even the comments on Yahoo! Sports, which I’ve long thought to be a cesspool entirely void of human intelligence. Yes, even in the middle of comments about how much the Canucks suck and where Bruins fans have met our mothers, anytime there’s mention of Manny Malhotra, the comments are across the board “Get well soon, Manny.” or “We miss you in New York/Columbus/San Jose.”. Yes, even Sharks fans who have every reason to hate us right now are going out of their way to wish Manny well. The trash talk was abundant in that series but I enjoy the fact that once in awhile, real hockey fans can put all the rivalry and hatred aside when there’s something a bit more important than who can stuff the most black rubber into some twine.

It’s rare that a player is loved even after he leaves a city, especially when he doesn’t spend all that much time there. I have no doubt that someone like Mattias Ohlund would get some love from Vancouver even though he plays in Tampa Bay now but this case is more like Willie Mitchell, who I and I’m sure many Canucks fans still have enormous respect for. It’s not just because these guys are heart and soul players that skate, sweat and bleed for their teams but because they’re just good as people. Guys who you would be proud to have as part of your city.

So with Malhotra not on the ice in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals and doctors recommending he take the day off, Canucks fans everywhere worry that Malhotra has suffered some kind of setback. Personally, I hope he isn’t pushing himself too hard, thinking that he has to get back on the ice as soon as possible. In a town as hockey mad as this one, I wouldn’t be surprised if he feels getting in the Finals, especially when the fourth line is not performing very well, is his duty.

I sincerely hope this isn’t the case as the wave of support for Malhotra is for his health, not his speedy return. If there’s any danger or any doctor telling Manny not to play, he should take their advice. The fact that Manny will require additional surgeries when the playoffs end just scares me. I hope he plays since few things would inspire both the players and fans as hearing Rogers Arena chant “MANNY! MANNY! MANNY!” for five minutes when he hits the ice but at the end of the day, hockey is a game. We all love the entertainment but that’s just what it is. It isn’t worth a man’s long term health, especially something as important as his vision. Winning requires sacrifice but a bruise or a broken bone will heal. An eye, on the other hand, is a whole other matter. If we are all indeed Canucks, we wouldn’t put one of our own in danger for any trophy. If the positions were reversed? Well, I’m sure Manny would put your health first as well.

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