VANCOUVER – Chris Higgins is happy to hear the Vancouver Canucks now have an official team donut.
“I might have to put one or two down,” he said Tuesday after his first full practice since he was sidelined for six games while battling the after-effects of foot and hand infections.
A healthier—and heavier—Higgins will return to the Vancouver lineup Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche. But he is still looking to put on a few more pounds after losing weight while recovering.
The 28-year-old was sidelined after he suffered an adverse reaction to antibiotics that created flu-like symptoms.
“I think the most (lost) was 11, 12 pounds,” said Higgins. “I’ve only got a couple more to go. A couple more desserts and it should be fine.”
The Canucks announced a new partnership with Tim Hortons whereby a long john cream-filled donut with the team’s logo will available at more than 150 of the chain’s shops within a 100-kilometre radius of Rogers Arena on game days.
Before learning of the new donut, Higgins tried to bulk up by supplementing his diet with healthy fare. He kept in shape by working out off the ice and skating with Canucks medical staff and skills coach Dale Carnegie while the team was on a recent four-game road trip.
Otherwise, Higgins spent much of his time lying on the floor in his apartment, “not shaving” and watching as many NHL games as he could on TV to keep his mind sharp and prepare for his return.
“It’s been a long rehab,” he said. “The first couple days were real rough. I didn’t leave the apartment for a good three or four days there. I’m excited just to be back moving around a little bit. I feel like myself. But I can’t overdo it. I’ve got to keep my energy up. It’s been tough losing the weight as well.”
The infections forced him to miss five games in December while also sending him to hospital for a couple of days. The foot problem first surfaced last season while he was with the Florida Panthers, and he thought he had it under control, but it came back unexpectedly.
Before he was sidelined the first time, Higgins had been enjoying a career renaissance. Between the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons, he played for Montreal, the New York Rangers, Calgary and Florida as a result of trades and a free-agent signing.
He helped the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup finals last spring and became an important part of the club’s All-American line with Detroit-area natives Ryan Kesler and David Booth this season.
When the foot infection forced his first departure from the lineup, Higgins was sitting fifth in team scoring with 10 goals and 12 assists. But he has managed a modest four assists since then while dropping to ninth.
Coach Alain Vigneault plans to use Higgins more sparingly than when the winger was healthy. Vigneault will cut back on his special-teams responsibilities and is expected to start him on a grinding line with Max Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.
“I want to pace his minutes a little bit more here, considering what he’s gone through,” said Vigneault. “He probably won’t see a lot of power-play time or penalty-killing time at the beginning. We’re going to try to ease them in.”
Higgins, who has averaged 16:28 of ice time, has not had trouble with the foot or hand. He has stopped taking the antibiotics and all other drugs after taking “a circle of medications for the past two months.” Now, he is looking forward to regaining the form that he displayed late last season.
“I’m excited for the rest of the year,” he said. “This is when play starts to pick up in the season. I just want to be a big part of this team.”
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa said Higgins brings more depth to the lineup. The Canucks (35-15-6), who are contending for first place in the Western Conference and overall in the league with the Detroit Red Wings, will be a “pretty good team” if Higgins can regain his form.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s had these problems,” said Bieksa. “But, hopefully, they’re behind him.”
Notes: Winger Dale Weise suffered a broken nose Wednesday after he took a puck in the face in practice. He is questionable for the game against the Avs. … Defenceman Keith Ballard, who has been out with a sore neck, did not practise. … Roberto Luongo will start in goal for the Canucks while Jean-Sebastien Giguere gets the call for the Colorado. … Colorado centre Matt Duchene will not play because of sprained knee.