Change of fortune

KEN WIEBE

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

It's not that Maxime Fortunus isn't feeling festive or doesn't want to spend a few days away from the rink with his family.

But after returning from a seven-game absence on Saturday night, the Manitoba Moose blue-liner would prefer to stay on the comeback trail.

"(Being able to play) was a great Christmas gift for me, that's for sure," Fortunus said following Manitoba's 3-2 overtime win over the Hamilton Bulldogs. "I haven't played enough and I was in a hurry to play. I didn't want to wait until after Christmas.

"It will be nice to get away for three days, but it's a short break and you know there are games coming so you can't put it all behind you. It's all about coming back ready to play."

Although Fortunus is in just his third full American Hockey League season, head coach Scott Arniel often talks about him as a stabilizing force on the back end.

That was true on Saturday as Fortunus took 30 shifts for a team-high 26:15 of ice time.

"Max played a really strong game, he was a calming influence back there," said Arniel.

Fortunus, 24, was more than happy to be used in all situations.

"I knew I was ready to get thrown in right away," said Fortunus, who had an assist on the power play to give him four helpers in 14 games this season. "I didn't really want to come back and just have a couple of shifts here and there. The coaches threw me in there and had a lot of confidence in me. That gives me self-confidence too, to know I can go out there and make my plays.

"I felt really good on the ice and that's the main thing. It felt just like I had played all season long and that's a big plus for me. The last time I came back, I didn't feel as good."

Ah yes, the last time.

In hindsight, Fortunus admits he may have come back from his previous "upper-body" injury a tad soon.

Fortunus was hurt again in his third game back and his absence from the lineup was noticeable.

One positive for Fortunus was that he stepped behind the bench for one game (a win, no less) to serve as an assistant coach when Brad Berry had to head home to deal with a family issue.

That was an interesting experience for Fortunus, who helped run the defence corps, but the product of La Prairie, Que., prefers to be on the ice rather than behind the bench or in the press box for the remainder of the season.

"We hope so, but we never know what's going to happen," said Fortunus. "I guess everything happens for a reason, so we'll just knock on wood and hope everything goes well the rest of the season."


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