WINNIPEG – Michael Grabner didn’t feel any pain in his first game action since breaking his ankle almost two months ago.
The Manitoba Moose winger rejoined the American Hockey League team Sunday night and led a three-goal assault in the second period of a 4-1 victory over the Abbotsford Heat.
“The first period was a little tough on the lungs and the legs, but after I got it going pretty good and the ankle feels fine,” Grabner said.
The 22-year-old Austrian was called up by the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 14 after scoring four goals and two assists in five games with the Moose.
On Nov. 1, he broke his ankle playing soccer while warming up before a Canucks’ game and was reassigned to Manitoba on Dec. 19.
Grabner has put his soccer warmup on hold for a few weeks, but won’t stop his pre-game tradition.
“It’s a good warmup and it’s just a fluke accident that happens,” Grabner said.
“You can go outside and you might get hit by a bus, so who knows? I’m going to keep playing.”
Up 1-0 after the first, Grabner doubled the lead early in the second when he flipped the puck over Abbotsford goalie Matt Keetley off a pass from Sergei Shirokov at 2:08.
Shirokov also set up the goal that gave Manitoba at 3-0 lead when he went behind Abbotsford’s net and fed a pass to defenceman Nathan McIver, who scored his first goal of the season at 6:38 of the second.
Moose defenceman Evan Oberg made it 4-0 less than two minutes later, also with his first of the season.
Oberg’s goal saw Keetley replaced by Leland Irving.
Kris Chucko broke Moose goalie Cory Schneider’s shutout bid off a rebound on the power play at 16:18 of the third period.
The Moose scored the only goal in the first period six seconds after Heat defenceman Keith Seabrook was sent to the penalty box for holding.
Brian Salcido scored at 2:05 with a low shot that beat Keetley.
The victory bumped Manitoba’s record to 18-14-4 while Abbotsford dropped to 16-15-4.
Moose head coach Scott Arniel said the game was “real close” to being his team’s best performance of the season, and he was especially encouraged to have three defencemen score.
“For consistency, three periods, all four lines and all the D-men and obviously strong goaltending, it was probably right up there with one of the best,” Arniel said.
Abbotsford, the farm club of the Calgary Flames, is 0-11-0 this season when trailing after two periods.
Heat head coach Jim Playfair wasn’t impressed with his team’s lack of energy and emotion in the first two periods.
“I didn’t think we were near physical enough to be a hard team to play,” he said.
“And I thought our defence was really ineffective at being a hard group to play against. They didn’t move the puck up the ice quick, they weren’t strong defending the rush and we spent way too much time in our own zone.”
The Heat were coming off a win against Peoria, but now have only two wins in their last six games. The Moose have won four of their last six and host the Heat again Monday night.
Manitoba went into the game with the dubious distinction of being the lowest scoring team in the league, recording only 80 goals through 35 games.
Manitoba outshot Abbotsford 32-25 on the night.