by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Manitoba rookie forward Michael Grabner wanted a hobby in the middle of the season. Well, maybe “wanted” is over-stating it. He really needed it.
He had a lot of free time since Moose coach Scott Arniel was cutting into his minutes. He had to find something to stimulate some growth, since he had wasted down to 171 pounds from his normal weight of 185.
This is the part of the tale where your typical hotshot prospect invests in a good video game system, or maybe buys a new car.
Grabner took a different route. He joined a gym near his Winnipeg residence. After all, what could be better after a regular practice and lifting session than doing a couple more hours of cardio and weights?
"I go, get some food, take a nap, then around 5 or 6 o’clock, I go there (to the health club)," said Grabner, a 20-year-old from Austria. "There’s not too much to do here anyways. I was just sitting around, playing video games. I like working out, being in shape. I think I’m going to have a head start for this summer (training)."
Even the young, speedy Grabner might want to take a little rest first. He’s closing his season on a rush.
Grabner, the No. 14 overall pick by Vancouver in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, scraped together a 22-goal, 22-assist season despite a nightmare goal drought of 20 games.
In the first four games of the Moose’s playoff series against Syracuse, he cracked sizzling Crunch goalie Karl Goehring for three scores.
Hobbies are meant to be fun. This one could be career-changing.
"I realized in my head I have to keep (training), not stop," Grabner said. "I was making stupid mistakes. I decided to do something about it."
Grabner can, at times, be practical like that. Talk to him on the phone, and you’re likely to hear some yipping in the background. It’s his new dog.
A retriever? A bulldog? A lab? Some other rugged hockey player-type companion?
Hardly. It’s his 3½-pound Teacup Yorkie, Buddy. Grabner wanted a pet that he could easily pack up when he went back to Austria, and what makes more sense than a dog you can slip into your pocket?
"I love the little Yorkie," Grabner beamed. "He sleeps on you when you go to bed. When we fly home this summer, it will be easy. He will go in the carry-on."
Other times, Grabner’s potential greatness is revealed by how he can play it fast and loose.
In Game 2 of the playoffs, he toasted Goehring by capping a breakaway with a magnificent shot over the goalie’s glove hand.
"He scores some goals where you say, ‘Wow,"’ said teammate Greg Classen.
In Game 3, Grabner crashed the net, gathered a rebound that had bounced back over from behind the net, and shoveled it in before three Syracuse players surrounding him could get to it.
"It’s good to get both of them. I think I can score in different ways," Grabner said. "I think I can score on breakaways, but I try to get to the net. It (playoffs) is a lot different than the regular season. You will be punished if you take nights off. When you get chances, you have to score on them."
Ah yes, taking nights off. Here, too, is something that fits into Grabner’s rookie education.
Grabner scored against the Crunch on Jan. 24 for his 15th goal of the season. The next time he hit twine was March 9, when he scored two against Hamilton.
In-between was wilting stamina, too much passing, bad giveaways and a couple of healthy scratches.
"I wasn’t playing very good. As a result, I got not too much ice time. The coach didn’t have too much faith in me," Grabner said. "I was thinking why nothing will go in. I was scoring everywhere I played before. I was getting really frustrated."
So was Arniel, who said Grabner was getting too comfortable dangling on the perimeter.
"The big thing about him is when he plays in traffic, holds on to the puck to make plays, that’s when he’s at his best," Arniel said. "He’s found consistency in his game."
The 6-foot-1 Grabner’s insurance policy is that he has a couple of things that stick with you through thick and thin — a long reach and gamebreaking elusiveness.
His need for speed dates back to his childhood, when he didn’t even require skates to leave everyone else in his fumes.
"I was a good sprinter, too. I think I’m a competitive guy. When we had seven guys sprinting, I always wanted to be first," he said. "I never trained for (skating speed). I never worked out for it. Every time I went for skating sessions, I wanted to be first."
That’s the drive that got him a higher-than-expected draft selection, although Grabner said he’s never felt pressure to quickly justify the Canucks’ belief in him.
"They know what I can do. I stick to my own game," he said. "They are good about it, Vancouver. They don’t say; ‘You have to score 40 goals.’"
The way Grabner passes his free time these days, you get the impression that eventually that might not be too heavy a burden for him.
"For right now, I have to train to where I want to be. That’s the NHL," he said. "Right now, it’s all about working on yourself, getting better. It’s worked so far, I’ll try to keep it up."