Ponikarovsky lovin' life in L.A.

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

LOS ANGELES — At first, Alexei Ponikarovsky found it hard to say goodbye to Toronto.

When he hit the unrestricted free agent market last July 1, there was a call to Maple Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke, just in case the road back to the NHL team that drafted him and kept him a decade had second thoughts about dealing him at the trade deadline, a move that brought the Leafs’ Luca Caputi from Pittsburgh.

But Ponikarovsky eventually realized it was time to turn the page and eventually settled about as far from the “centre of the hockey universe” as a player could get. He’s the one doing the star-gazing out here, but the Kings were looking down on the Leafs by an 11-point spread before Monday night’s reunion game.

“Last summer was a tough one for all free agents,” said Ponikarovsky of approaching the Leafs after the Penguins didn’t re-sign him. “That’s the way it goes. The (Leafs) were rebuilding with new guys. We were trying to see what’s available.

“We called (the Kings) to see what the interest was.”

Having just lost Alex Frolov, the Kings were in the market for a big winger, though it was almost a month of uncertainty for Ponikarovsky before landing here July 27 on a one-year deal.

The adjustment was made more difficult by finger and ankle injuries that have limited Ponikarovsky to 23 games in the first half, with seven points. He won’t be reaching the 20-goal average of his last five seasons as a Leaf.

“I spent a few seasons in Toronto with no injuries, but that’s the way it goes,” he said. “It’s been good so far here, a pretty motivated group of young guys. They made the playoffs last year and we know we have a good team.”

But coach Terry Murray had the same kind of stern advice that Leafs coaches Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice and Ron Wilson have imparted to the Ukrainian through the years.

“He’s a big guy, but he needs to call on himself and use that asset more than he does,” Murray said. “Instinctively, it’s not there for him, so I’m pushing him to take advantage of his trump cards.

“I thought his game was going pretty good about six games before he got injured the second time. We liked his game then, he was being heavy and hard on the puck and very physical. He just started to get on the power play and then the injury happened. It’s time to re-group.”

Off the ice, Ponikarovsky, his wife and three children are loving California.

“It was our first Christmas without snow,” Ponikarovsky said with a laugh. “They like that you don’t have to wear snow pants every morning and go through the same (bundling up) routine every day, hats and mittens and all this stuff. They throw whatever is in the closet on and go to school.”

There are more perqs for the kids to being in Hollywood.

“At (Saturday’s game) my daughter met one of the stars from that Disney show, Wizards of Waverly Place (David Henrie),” Ponikarovsky said. “He comes to a lot of games and she was very excited to get a picture. The stars don’t really come to our dressing room, but you see them around town.”


Videos

Photos