RALEIGH — Manny Malhotra has played many an NHL game in his career but likely never one like the one Friday.
Malhotra was making his first start with the Carolina Hurricanes, playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning. For Malhotra, it was also a restart to his career.
Many believed Malhotra had played his last hockey game, that a serious eye injury had made it too dangerous for him to be on the ice. But Malhotra, at 33, wasn’t ready to give it up.
“I always believed,” Malhotra said Friday. “I believed in myself and my family believed in me. I knew that I still had the ability to contribute something to a team.”
Malhotra played just nine games for the Vancouver Canucks last season. There were questions about his vision and how much he had recovered from the horrific March 2011 injury, when a deflected puck went flying into his left eye.
“Through free agency nothing came up,” Malhotra said of the offseason. “It was a long summer from that standpoint. Even as the season began things began to get a little bit dimmer. But I always believed that it was going to happen, that there was an opportunity for me somewhere.”
The opportunity came in Charlotte. Malhotra signed a professional tryout with the Checkers in early October and played effectively in eight games in the AHL, earning him a one-year contract with the Canes.
Malhotra said he had no problems with his vision when playing, saying, “It’s not what it was, it never will be, but it’s fine. I’m accustomed to what I do have.”
Malhotra said he consulted with Dr. Stanley Chang, a renowned ophthalmologist and surgeon at Columbia University, and said Chang told him “there’s no reason I shouldn’t be playing.”
Malhotra, in his 865th regular-season game in the NHL, was to center the fourth line for the Canes with Brett Sutter and Drayson Bowman against the Lightning. Always one of the NHL’s best face-off men, he figured to be used on key draws in the game and on the penalty kill.
“You can never have enough experience,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said before the game. “Just being a mentor to the young guys in our lineup. … Manny has been involved with some good teams and his experience I believe will be huge on and off the ice with our group.”
Malhotra and Muller once were teammates and linemates with the Dallas Stars in the early 2000s, at the end of Muller’s playing career. Malhotra was at center and Muller was moved to left wing.
“He was awesome, always in a good mood, happy to be at the rink,” Malhotra said of Muller. “He was always a very intelligent player. He was an example of what a great teammate should be.”
Malhotra now hopes to be that same example for the Canes.
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