RALEIGH — The topic was perseverance and how Carolina Hurricanes center Manny Malhotra would define it.
“Wow, that’s a deep question,” Malhotra said, pausing to give it some thought.
“For me, it’s maintaining focus on your goal regardless of what the naysayers say or anyone says,” he said. “It’s about believing in yourself, believing in your goal and continuing to strive towards that and not allowing any outside factors to deter you from your goal.”
It’s that kind of attitude and dogged belief that helped Malhotra find a place with the Hurricanes this season when many others in the NHL thought his career was over, that a 2011 injury to his left eye had diminished his vision to the point he was no longer able to compete. His play, determination, leadership and work ethic made Malhotra the Canes’ nominee for the 2014 Masterton Memorial Trophy, as voted by members of the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
The Masterton is awarded annually by the PHWA to the NHL player who best demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Malhotra was a nominee in 2012 while with the Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s an honor and a cool feeling to be thought of in that regard,” Malhotra said. “But it’s not about look-at-me recognition and awards. It’s about continuing after my goal and wanting to win a Stanley Cup.”
Malhotra, 33, was hit in the eye by a deflected puck while playing for Vancouver and underwent numerous surgeries. Last season, the Canucks placed him on injured reserve in February, saying they considered it too dangerous for him to play.
But Malhotra refused to believe he was done. He was given a professional tryout in early October with the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate, then was given an NHL contract by Carolina.
“It was a privilege to play again,” Malhotra said.
The veteran has tried to make the most of it, playing 61 games this season, ranking among the NHL leaders in faceoffs, killing penalties, centering the fourth line and doing whatever Canes coach Kirk Muller – once Malhotra’s teammate on the Dallas Stars – has asked of him.
“The decision to be shut down last year was not my own and was the opinion of somebody else,” Malhotra said. “I feel like I’m getting stronger and better all the time, not only mentally but in the confidence I do have (in) the ability to feel myself out on the ice, the spatial awareness type things. Just confidence with the puck.
“Obviously it took a long time to get that back. Now that it’s back, I will use the term ‘normal’ again.”
Malhotra has served as an alternate captain for the Canes and said he’s not afraid to speak up when he feels the need.
“It’s a part of who I am. I’m going to say what I want to say, when I want to say it,” Malhotra said, smiling. “I’m not bashful at all.
“But that just comes along with being a veteran player. When I was younger I sort of watched and learned. As you get older it’s your responsibility to kind of bestow what you’ve learned and what you see out there.”
Muller credits Malhotra with helping to develop center Riley Nash, 24. At one point this season, Muller moved Malhotra up to third-line center and shifted Nash to the fourth line, in part to see how Nash would respond.
“I think it pushed Nash to fight for that position,” Muller said. “It challenged Nash, like, ‘Here’s Manny outplaying you.’ And (Nash), to his credit, stepped his game up. He made ‘Nasher’ a better pro.
“Manny has just been a great asset to our team. He has a lot of respect on the ice from the other players and a lot of respect in the league.”
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