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Handzus’ possible Monday return would make Hawks happy

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Updated: November 24, 2013 11:47PM



EDMONTON, Alberta — Michal Handzus was smiling. Joking, even. By the typically serious and stoic Handzus’ standards, he was downright giddy. Simply taking part in a mundane morning skate with his teammates Saturday meant an awful lot to the 36-year-old veteran. You could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.

He spent all summer rehabbing from wrist and knee surgeries, healing slowly from the battle wounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then, after missing the preseason and struggling to get back into game shape through the first nine games, he found himself shelved again, for 14 games so far, with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He had been relegated to a rehab regimen of skating alone, of long sessions of ice and massage, of solitary work in the gym.

So after what seemed like months on that infernal trainer’s table, flying out to Vancouver and being on the ice and in the dressing room was a big moment for Handzus, who could return Monday in Edmonton or Wednesday in Calgary.

“I’ve been on the table too long,” Handzus said. “Hopefully, this is over and I can have fun in the locker room. I haven’t had fun in the locker room for a long time because I’ve been in the training room too long.”

Handzus’ return couldn’t come at a better time for the Hawks. With Bryan Bickell out for at least a couple more weeks with a left leg injury, and Marian Hossa’s status uncertain as he tends to a family matter (the Hawks had no official update Sunday), Handzus’ versatility can be invaluable. He has proven he can play on a scoring line, centering the Hawks’ second unit during the playoffs and early this season, but he also can play a checking-line role and any forward position. He’s also an experienced penalty killer who can ease some of the ice-time burden on Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews.

“You’re comfortable with him in a lot of different places,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’ll be easy to slot on a line.”

Handzus is a logical choice to fill Bickell’s usual spot on the third line. The Hawks have been using defenseman Sheldon Brookbank at forward for much of the past couple of weeks.

“It’ll be nice,” Toews said. “It’s hard throughout a season to [keep] your lineup intact the way you want it. At any given time, you’re going to have to deal with some injuries. But with Zeus taking his time to slowly get back and make sure he’s healthy when he does come back, having an extra centerman with his experience is definitely going to help us.”

Handzus knows that when he does come back, it could take a few games for his timing and conditioning to return. Even nine games into the season after his summer-long rehab, he still wasn’t at his best, struggling to keep up with linemates Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane while posting a goal and two assists.

He also knows that he likely won’t get that second-line center spot back now that Brandon Pirri is a fixture there. But that’s fine with Handzus. After so much time off the ice, he just wants back on — in any role.

“I play wherever they ask me to, and I’ve always been like that,” he said. “I love to play anywhere. I just love to play. I don’t care where.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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