Christensen steps back to move ahead

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

You know you're in hockey limbo when you've been an NHL regular for the past three-plus seasons and a trip to the minors represents a step in the right direction.

But so it has gone for Erik Christensen, the newest member of the Manitoba Moose.

Christensen, who was lent to the Moose by the Anaheim Ducks on a conditioning assignment that will last up to two weeks, played his first American Hockey League game since the 2006-07 season last night against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

With no points in nine NHL games this season, the Ducks (who don't have an AHL affiliate of their own) and Christensen agreed a stint with the Moose would be best for all parties involved.

"I was in limbo," said Christensen, a 25-year-old from Edmonton who scored in his Moose debut last night, a ?-? win over the Hamilton Bulldogs. "It's the first time in about three or four weeks, I know I'm going to be in one place for at least two weeks and I can just focus on playing hockey.

"Manitoba is pretty close to home and being back in Canada is nice. I'm happy it worked out to be here."

Christensen was placed on waivers by the Ducks about two weeks ago and the experience was less than enjoyable.

Inserted

Just when it looked like he might be assigned to the Moose, Duck centre Saku Koivu had to sit out with a "lower-body" injury and Christensen was inserted on the second line for a game against the New Jersey Devils.

"It's tough, at one point the team is willing to lose you and the next, they need you and they're willing to put you in the lineup," said Christensen, who had 18 goals and 33 points in 61 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006-07. "I thought I played well in the three games I was in (after clearing waivers) but Anaheim is at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Changes are probably inevitable down there."

Christensen was a prolific scorer in the Western Hockey League, putting up 133 goals and 286 points in 338 games with the Kamloops Blazers and Brandon Wheat Kings.

He was close to a point-per-game player in parts of three seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and he took some of that offensive success to the NHL, where he put up 42 goals and 98 points in 226 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers and Ducks.

After a slow start this season with the struggling Ducks, Christensen isn't concerned about being thrust into the role of a No. 1 centre that is expected to produce offensively for the Moose.

"I don't feel pressure, I don't think I have anything to lose," said Christensen. "I wouldn't say this is rock bottom, but it's a sobering experience. I'm glad to be here and it's necessary for me to come down and work on some things that will make me a better player in the long run."

Christensen believes it's important to work on more than just his strengths.

"I came in (this season) wanting to be a little more physical," he said. "I want to use the size I have and win more battles on the wall. I'm a quiet guy off the ice and maybe I bring that personality on the ice too much. I have to play with a chip on my shoulder, which I know I can do.

"I know I can score goals. That stuff doesn't go away, when you've been doing it most of your life."

Moose head coach Scott Arniel is excited to bring another experienced centre into his lineup.

"He has great skill, good vision and he has a nose for the net as well," said Arniel. "He can score goals. He's been used by most of his coaches in offensive situations. We'll try to take advantage of all his assets."

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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