Playing soccer underneath the arena stands prior to a game has become a standard pre-game ritual for most professional hockey teams.
And it’s one that has thrown two teams -- the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks -- into a bit of an upheaval this morning.
Canucks forward Michael Grabner, who’s been in exceptional in Vancouver since getting called up from the Moose last month, severely injured his ankle Sunday night while playing soccer with Canucks teammates prior to Vancouver’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.
An MRI or x-ray is expected to be conducted today, but it is feared Grabner may have broken the ankle and could be out at least a month.
Virtually every pro hockey team has at least a few players these days who kick a soccer ball around prior to games in an exercise that’s believed to enhance coordination, serve as a good physical warm-up and work at team-building. Not surprisingly, the practice is particularly popular among European hockey players. Grabner, who was leading the Moose in scoring when he was called up, is Austrian.
It’s a devastating blow to Grabner, who’d been making the most of his first ever NHL stint. Grabner had two goals and three assists in nine games prior to the injury.
And it’s also thrown both the Moose and Canucks -- two clubs already decimated by injury -- into further disarray. With Grabner now out indefinitely, the Canucks announced this morning that they have signed Moose forward Matt Pettinger, who’s already on a plane to Vancouver this morning.
The loss of Pettinger is a big blow to the Moose, who have struggled offensively lately -- netting just six non-shootout goals in their last six games.
Pettinger, who played with Tampa Bay last season after a brief stint with the Moose, was one of the lone offensive bright spots for the Moose and the loss of him and forward Guillaume Desbiens -- who injured his foot in a game last Friday and is out for tonight’s game at MTS Centre against the Norfolk Admirals -- had Moose head coach Scott Arniel shaking his head at the pre-game skate this morning.
At one point last week, Arniel had nine regulars out of the Moose lineup and he was hopeful that his club -- with five games scheduled in the next six nights -- was finally going to get back to some normalcy this week.
Instead, Arniel starts a new work week having lost two reliable forwards on a team that was already struggling to put the puck in the net and doesn’t have any time right now to put in place much of a Plan B.
"This started at about 12:35 last night when I got a call," Arniel said. "My head started shaking about that time at night and I didn’t sleep very well. And then I came here this morning and found out Dezzie (Desbiens) wasn’t doing so well. It’s just been a wacky first 14 or 15 games of the year. What we’ve been doing is just keeping our head above water and we’ll have to continue to do that....
"A little bit of smoke and mirrors, but we’ll try and get her done."
With Pettinger up, Desbiens out and forward Matt Pope and defenceman Lawrence Nycholat still nursing injuries, the Moose re-signed Olivier Latendresse this morning. Latendresse, a 23-year-old left-winger from La Salle, Quebec, played the first game of the season with the Moose and has been playing in the East Coast Hockey League ever since, where he’s been leading Victoria in scoring.
"He’s a small dynamic guy who can really move out there," Arniel said. "He’s not big-bodied but he can play in traffic."
All the injury havoc is forcing the Moose and Canucks to accelerate their search for an offensive-minded veteran player for the AHL club. "They’ve been trying to swing a deal," said Arniel, "and we’ve been trying to turn over every stone possible...There’s just not a lot of players available right now."
Asked what his ideal veteran would look like, Arniel was blunt. "I’ll take anything -- anything with two legs and can handle a stick right now."
Moose captain Mike Keane acknowledged the current adversity, but said there’s no point in complaining. "At this level, you can’t have a ‘woe is me’ attitude," Keane said this morning, "or you’re going to find yourself at the bottom of the heap."