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Grenier making strong return after bad break

For much of this season, Martin Grenier was wondering if the fog would lift and things might return to normal.

Missing 20 games will do that to you.

Grenier, a towering defenseman with the Manitoba Moose, was one of two players that were blindsided and knocked unconcious outside a Houston night club following a game against the Aeros on Nov. 2.

Although it took a little longer than he expected, Grenier was able to put the unprovoked incident behind him and get back to doing what he does best.

Little did he know he’d soon be on his way to the NHL.

After a serious shoulder injury sidelined Ed Jovanovski and a serious foot infection took replacement Jaroslav Obsut out of the mix, the call went out for Grenier, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder from Laval, Que.

“I felt bad for Obie because it was his turn, but those things happen,” said Grenier, acquired by the Canucks from the Phoenix Coyotes last summer in a deal for veteran Bryan Helmer. “I wasn’t expected to play that many games but I took advantage of the opportunity.

“Even though I missed 20 games, my game was pretty sharp and I felt more comfortable out there because I have more confidence now. I got some positive feedback.”

Most observers figured Grenier was being called up for his ability to drop the gloves and would soon be returned to the AHL.

But in his seven games with the Canucks, Grenier was used as the sixth defenseman and averaged six minutes and 49 seconds per game.

He was partnered mostly with Marek Malik or Sami Salo and actually played a career-high 13 minutes and 37 seconds in a 6-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 31.

Grenier, 23, turned a few heads by scoring his first NHL on a long point shot that snuck past a screen and beat Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders.

“I don’t know, I’m not making a big deal about it but I’ve had a bunch of friends calling because it was on the highlights back home in Quebec,” said Grenier, who returned to the Moose for two games during the NHL All-Star break but was recalled for two more games before Monday’s demotion. “It’s just another step forward in my career.”

That budding career includes a memorable trade before Grenier even turned pro.

Grenier was involved in the blockbuster deadline deal in March of 2000 that sent future Hall of Fame defenseman Raymond Bourque and Dave Andreychuk to the Colorado Avalanche for Brian Rolston, Sami Pahlsson and a first-round draft pick in June of 2000, which ended up being Martin Samuelsson.

“It was pretty exciting. As a French Canadian, I grew up watching Ray Bourque and there was a big rivalary between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins,” said Grenier. “I was shocked when it happened because I was happy in Colorado’s organization and had a good training camp. I was proud to be involved in that trade but I was more happy that Ray Bourque won the Stanley Cup.

“I’m not the reason why, but I’m kind of part of it.”

Grenier hopes to one-day earn a Stanley Cup ring of his own, but for now he’s focusing on improving his game and doing what he can to earn additional ice time.

Standing up for his teammates is important, but you must be able to play the game as well in order to earn the trust of your coach.

“I tried to be physical as I could but when you don’t play that much it’s not easy,” said Grenier. “The one thing I did do well was make a good first pass. I got some good feedback but I’ve got to keep working on my skills, like my skating.”

Before Grenier was sent back to the Moose on Monday, he did get into his first fight as a member of the Canucks, earning a lopsided decision in a bout with Cam Severson of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim during the first period of Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada telecast.

“I didn’t play the night before and I got the message – it was my second or third shift of the period and I beat him pretty bad,” said Grenier, who had been rebuffed by Reed Low of the St. Louis Blues and Chris Simon of the New York Rangers in previous games.

Moose head coach Stan Smyl knows the importance of having a player like Grenier in his lineup on a regular basis.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and he’s become a great leader in the dressing room,” said Smyl, who actually used Grenier as a forward during a stretch.

After dealing with the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome – mainly dizziness and nausea – Grenier is happy to have put the off-ice incident behind him.

“It seems like everything is under control,” said Grenier. “It was hard at the beginning because I was out of shape but my game shape is getting better and I’m playing better.

“I just want to do my job and be the sheriff.”

Ken Wiebe covers the Moose for the Winnipeg Sun