METRO VANCOUVER — Vancouver Canucks centre Manny Malhotra continued his training regimen for the possibility of a National Hockey League season Friday — this time with a major change to the playing surface.
Malhotra, who is about to enter his third season with the Canucks, traded in the ice for the soccer pitch and took part in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ two-hour training session at Inter River Park in North Vancouver.
An established guru in hockey’s faceoff circles, the 32-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., took his try at midfield. Rarely, if at all, did he look out of place.
Clad in a navy blue jersey with his familiar No. 27 on the back, Malhotra took part in a number of drills and scrimmages, missing on a few good looks but scoring a hat trick during one of the prolonged mini games.
“It was fantastic, a lot of fun for me,” said Malhotra, who, during a scrimmage, spun Jun Marques Davidson around with a beautiful move through the legs of the Whitecaps’ true No. 27.
“I grew up playing soccer. I’ve always dreamed of what it would be like to train with a pro team, so it was an incredible experience. I was definitely nervous just trying to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself.”
The opportunity to train with the Whitecaps came after the Canucks community department began working on a cross promotion with the local Major League Soccer side.
Malhotra, whose wife Joann is the sister of Steve Nash, a part-owner of the Whitecaps, eagerly jumped at the training session when offered the chance.
“I thought he did very well,” said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie. “He’s an excellent athlete and obviously he’s played soccer growing up and that’s a shame for Canadian soccer that he chose to play hockey. He’s got a lot of quality and hopefully he enjoyed it.”
Once the session concluded, Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit took Malhotra aside to work on numerous fundamentals, including volleys, headers and, finally, blasting the ball home from about 15 metres out.
A veteran of 855 NHL regular season games and a first-round pick, seventh overall, of the New York Rangers in 1998, Malhotra had to choose between hockey and soccer as a teenager.
“When I was 13-years-old, I grew up playing soccer, that was my first sport,” he said. “I started getting into both soccer and hockey and playing at a competitive level, travelling quite a bit. (I) remember my father saying I had to make a decision — soccer or hockey. And I decided, being in Canada, there’s a lot more opportunity to play hockey a lot farther in life and in higher levels. So I decided to make the decision then.”
There was a running joke after training that perhaps the Canuck would be in line for a MLS contract.
“I think probably lower his wage demands first,” Rennie quipped.
“I’d take it in a heartbeat,” Malhotra added with a laugh. “I was joking with my wife about … pending a lockout, possibly changing careers. It’s always been a joke in our household, but like I said, you come out here, see these guys do it live, see what they do best, it makes those dreams when I’m playing in men’s league calm down a bit.”
It may have been fun, but it was hardly easy. Malhotra had heavy beads of sweat pouring off the side of his sun-drenched head well after the session ended. There are subtle similarities with respect to conditioning for athletes between the two sports, but there are some obvious differences, as well.
“This is such (an) aerobic sport. You look at these guys running around here like rabbits, no real slowing down in their game, hardly sweating, some of them,” said Malhotra. “For us, we’re used to 30-second, 40-second practice drills and getting your rest in, so we’re quite anaerobic, sprint-based sport. So to do these four-minute drills is … quite taxing.”
Malhotra has been skating with his Canucks teammates at UBC in preparation for training camp, although it appears more each day the NHL owners will lock out the players, as the league and players’ association have hit a stalemate in CBA talks.
“Whatever happens on (Sept. 15), we’ll continue to keep in shape and make sure we’re ready for the beginning of the season,” he said.
Just thought it was interesting, good to see Manny working out and preparing like there will be a season. Looks like the eye has gotten better and he has got some soccer skills.
Edited by Canucksbiggestfan, 07 September 2012 - 10:24 PM.