VANCOUVER, B.C. – Michael Grabner’s first stint with the Vancouver Canucks lasted just nine games after he broke his ankle during a warmup kickaround with a soccer ball.
With Mikael Samuelsson sidelined due to a shoulder injury, Grabner has been recalled from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and the Austrian says he has no intention of changing his pre-game routine.
“I played (soccer) down in Winnipeg,” he said after practice Wednesday. “It’s just a warm-up you do. It was a fluke accident.
“As soon as I got back and started playing again nothing happened. It was just bad luck.”
Several Canucks warm up for games by passing a soccer ball around in the hallway outside their dressing room.
“My leg got caught at the wall and I landed on my toes and I rolled over,” said Grabner, who was sent back to Manitoba to recover.
Samuelsson, named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday after six goals and 10 points in four games, was injured in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders.
He is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks.
He signed with Vancouver after four years with the Detroit Red Wings and reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. The injury ended a seven-game points streak that included nine goals.
“Injury is never a good thing, especially to one of our better players arguably playing the best hockey that he has all year,” said Ryan Kesler who practised with Grabner and Pavol Demitra.
Grabner said he didn’t dwell on the injury earlier this season that sent him to Winnipeg, where had 15 goals and 26 points in 38 games.
“I was just happy that I showed them that I could play here,” said Grabner. “It (the accident) could have happened on the ice.”
Kesler centred Grabner on the second line last fall when the 22-year-old, a 2006 first-round draft pick, had two goals and five points in nine games.
“The first time was pretty good until he got injured,” Kesler said. “Hopefully he brings that speed, that energy and uses his shot a lot.
“He’s a good offensive player who always seems to be at the right place at the right time and (Demitra) and I, we’re going to try to find him.”
Coach Alain Vigneault had lukewarm praise for Grabner, saying he has to get to the front of net more if he wants to extend his stay in Vancouver.
“Since he came back he’s been playing OK in Manitoba but has played better,” Vigneault said. “But lately he was starting to find his touch again.”
Tuesday’s loss saw netminder Roberto Luongo lifted for backup Andrew Raycroft for the seventh time this season. Five of Vigneault’s hooks have come in the second half of the season.
The coach said all six Canuck defencemen had bad games in front of Canada’s gold medal goalie, who could be drained from the workload and pressure of the Olympics.
“Part of that has taken its toll but we’ve rested him lately and I think he’ll be fine down the stretch,” Vigneault said.
Luongo said the Canucks are playing more of a wide-open game. Missing shutdown defenceman Willie Mitchell, out with a concussion since Jan. 16, hasn’t helped.
“Personally it’s a little bit frustrating to have a season where you’ve been pulled this many times but I don’t think it’s because I’m feeling bad in the net or a lack of confidence,” Luongo said.
“That’s the type of (offence-oriented) hockey we’ve been playing and we’ve been winning with it.”
“All that matters to me is winning games and sometimes that’s going to be a bit of an ugly line at the end of the day.”
Thursday’s game against Western Conference-leading San Jose is the first of three against the Sharks as the Canucks close out their 12 remaining regular-season games.
Vancouver is nursing a three-point lead over Colorado atop the Northwest Division but the Avalanche have a game in hand.
“It’s the kind of matchups you want going down the stretch, getting ready for the playoffs,” Alex Burrows said of San Jose.
“If we can have a good record against them we can push to get closer to them but our main goal is playing well against them and winning the Northwest.”
NOTES: Samuelsson had been playing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin until his injury … Burrows will take his spot on the top line … the Sharks beat Vancouver 4-2 here Nov. 29 … the Canucks also announced the signing of centre Jordan Schroeder, 20, of Prior Lake, Minn., their first-round selection and 22nd over-all in the 2009 entry draft.