Kuzma: No more ribbing — Burrows back from rehab

 

Canucks forward nearly back to full strength after an off-season healing a painful chest injury

 
 
 
 
Alex Burrows practices with the Vancouver Canucks at Britannia Community Centre on Tuesday.
 

Alex Burrows practices with the Vancouver Canucks at Britannia Community Centre on Tuesday.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG

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Alex Burrows is talking tennis. His punctuates points of enthusiasm with gestures of how to play a particular return because he’s got plenty of game.

The passionate link to the court is symbolic for the Vancouver Canucks winger. When he spent an hour rallying and then playing Canadian professional Philip Bester in early August at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, it was much more than another sports junkie fantasy. It successfully tested the offseason rehab of a fractured rib and dislocated rib cartilage suffered in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.

“It was probably the most pain I’ve ever felt,” Burrows recalled Tuesday following an informal team skate at the Britannia rink.

“I thought I could play through it, but when it cracked and moved, it wasn’t a good feeling. But the ambulance was there and I was given some morphine to numb the pain. I knew the rib was going to be fine, but at the end of May and into June, I couldn’t even golf because it was too sore.

“I was able to get into the gym by June 1 and do pull-downs with the weights instead of doing full pull-ups. With physio three to four times a week, I slowly progressed to where by July 1, I could pretty much do everything. And I’ve never really felt anything with the rib by skating or taking a slapshot.”

In the bizarre sequence, Burrows first appeared to be hurt in a fight with Kris Russell in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinal in Calgary on April 19, but it actually occurred after the bout when he fell to the ice with a linesman on his back. And when Burrows took a shot in the morning skate before Game 4, the cracked rib shifted and the winger left the ice in considerable distress. He was taken to hospital for observation because doctors weren’t sure if there was also something wrong with the spleen or his lungs.

Burrows required six weeks of recovery and didn’t start working out until June and didn’t start skating until a month later. However, by August, there was added confidence to push hard because any tennis forehand or backhand with authority would significantly test the rehab, especially in trying to match strokes with the hard-hitting Bester.

“He gave me three serves and we were at 2-2 in the set and it was 30-0 for me, but he then killed me 6-2,” chuckled Burrows. “Those guys, they find ways to win those tight points. I feel like I have a lot of shots and I can move, but as soon as the other guy hits, you know exactly where you’ve got to be to set and hit it back.

“Once he started putting more spin on it or coming to you at the net, that’s when you realize just how good those guys are. They paint the lines.”

The spin the Canucks are putting on this season after a sobering six-game series loss to the Flames is that they’ve addressed toughness and puck-moving concerns with the acquisitions of Brandon Prust and Matt Bartkowski, respectively, and they believe Brandon Sutter is more than capable of centring the second line. Not that everybody agrees.

Oddsmakers at Bodog.ca have the Canucks a 7-1 shot to win the Pacific Division, a 25-1 shot to top the conference and a 66-1 long shot to win it all.

They would probably settle for a playoff position because matching 101 points is going to be more difficult in a deeper and more competitive division and conference. It will also be tougher to replicate being ranked second in penalty-killing, eighth in offence, ninth on the power play and 12th in goals against and expecting Henrik and Daniel Sedin to top the 70-point plateau again. They turn 35 on Sept. 26 and whether it’s Radim Vrbata (34) or Burrows (34) on their line, time is not on their side.

“We feel we’re as good as anybody in the west, but we’ve got to stay healthy and be good on special teams,” said Burrows. “That’s pretty much the same for every team.”

What isn’t the same here is there are nine expiring contracts next summer. Burrows must build on 18 goals last season, stay healthy and contribute to the top-six mix to maximize his career with two years remaining on his contract at a $4.5 million US annual salary cap hit. The Canucks are more likely to initially experiment with their lines in Year 2 of the Willie Desjardins regime, but there will be much roster familiarity because of contractual commitments.

The intrigue will centre around if Sven Baertschi can deliver as a second-line winger, can Bo Horvat build on a strong rookie season, is Linden Vey vulnerable as a fourth-line centre, will Jake Virtanen make the club and can Ryan Miller return to form after his knee injury?

There’s probably one more good push from the veteran core — even though eight are 31 years of age or older — and experience will have to replace youthful exuberance because that switch won’t really be flipped until next fall. For Burrows, it will mean wearing padding to protect his ribs, especially near the boards where a heavy check could result in damage to the core area and curtail his campaign.

“You have to be a bit smarter,” Burrows said of turning 34.

“You understand the game better as to when you can push to do more offensively or hold back. You’re not surprised by anything and you have the confidence. But we’re going to need everybody. Training camp is going to be huge for team bonding because we’ve got so many new faces. We have to make sure we work hard on ice and get to know the guys off it so we’re comfortable for the preseason and can find ways to get better.”

bkuzma@theprovince.com

twitter.com/@benkuzma

 
 
 
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Alex Burrows practices with the Vancouver Canucks at Britannia Community Centre on Tuesday.
 

Alex Burrows practices with the Vancouver Canucks at Britannia Community Centre on Tuesday.

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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