VANCOUVER – Aaron Volpatti has had to wait longer than the lockout for a chance to resume his NHL career.
After missing more than a year of game action due to a shoulder injury, the Vancouver Canucks winger is expected to suit up in Saturday’s season-opener against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
“It’ll be awesome,” Volpatti said Friday. “I’ve been working hard in the last while here, so it’ll be good to get back out there.”
While his teammates waited out a summer and a four-month lockout for Saturday’s game, Volpatti began his hiatus in December 2011, when he was sidelined with torn labrum. The long respite came a day after the 27-year-old Revelstoke, B.C., native scored his only goal of the season, in a 6-5 home loss to Nashville.
Volpatti, who was never drafted, signed as a free agent with Vancouver in March 2010, and spent most of his first season in the minors. He initially hurt the shoulder Nov. 10, 2011 in a game at Los Angeles, but was unable to play through the injury.
The surgery entailed drilling holes in his shoulder bone and anchoring the labrum through them.
“The first six weeks (of recovery) is not really anything,” said Volpatti. “I just kind of healed up a bit. It was just baby steps, a lot of strengthening the muscles around it and stuff like that. It was a slow process. You don’t realize the soft tissue, how much time it needs to strengthen and heal.”
Volpatti returned to his home in Vernon, B.C., where he played tier II junior with the Vipers of the B.C. Hockey League before earning a scholarship at Brown University. He spent two months in Vernon, and rehbilitated with someone arranged by the Canucks.
He then returned to Vancouver for more rehab work that included light shooting. But he was not cleared to play until about a week after Vancouver was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings.
He returned to Vernon for the summer and remained there for the lockout, working out with the Vipers. Since he was on a two-way contract, the Canucks could have sent him down to minors during the labour dispute, but the club chose not to do so, because he would have had to clear NHL waivers first.
Still, there was no guarantee that Volpatti would stick with Vancouver.
“He comes back from a serious injury and he’s got to make our team. It’s as simple as that,” coach Alain Vigneault said earlier this week.
Volpatti’s place on the roster was confirmed Friday as the Canucks reduced their roster to the 23-player limit about four hours in advance of the NHL deadline. The confirmation came as the Canucks sent centre Jordan Schroeder back to Chicago of the AHL. Schroeder, who was vying to fill in at centre on the injury-riddled second line, was the most notable of nine players released.
His departure gave journeyman Andrew Ebbett the second-line centre spot and left the Canucks with just 12 forwards.
Vigneault’s only other option on wing is defenceman Jim Vandermeer, who has moved up on occasion during training camp and played 15 games as a forward last season with San Jose.
Volpatti, six-foot-two and 215 pounds, will be wanted for his physical skills and toughness. He has proved himself to be a capable fighter, racking up 115 penalty minutes in his fourth and final season at Brown and 53 in just 38 NHL career games.
But he is looking to do more in order to stay in the lineup.
“I try and get better every day and I’m just working hard on the skill stuff and stuff like that,” he said. “Everyone has to be able to play the game today. I think I’m an all-round player.
“I think I’ve got to continue to grow and get better. I try and work on the fundamentals and the skill stuff and the skating. That’s the most important at the end of the day.”