Pancakes to prime time for Penner

Kings forward Dustin Penner celebrates a goal against the Canucks during Game 1 of their NHL...

Kings forward Dustin Penner celebrates a goal against the Canucks during Game 1 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., April 11, 2012. (ANDY CLARK/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:39 AM ET

WINNIPEG - He already lost a marriage and his confidence this season.

But Dustin Penner isn’t ready to let go of his career.

And the recent signs suggest there’s still some life left in the much-maligned pancake eater from Winkler, Man.

Penner’s year could be best described as wreckage, his seven goals and 17 points in 65 games career lows by a country mile.

Over the last several weeks, though, some of the shine has come back, as if sandblasted by the 29-year-old’s return to playoff hockey in California, where it all began so gloriously and effortlessly, six years ago.

“Maybe the hockey gods and the other gods are telling me something,” a chuckling Penner said from Los Angeles, where his Kings are getting ready to take on Phoenix in an unlikely Western Conference final.

Something about hockey in the Golden State agrees with one of the most unlikely NHL success stories Manitoba has ever produced.

Signing with the Anaheim Ducks as a late-blooming, undrafted free agent in 2004 and helping that franchise win its only Stanley Cup three years later, Penner is starting to look like his old self in Kings colours.

Nine games, seven points and a healthy plus-seven rating tells his comeback story in stats, but you have to dig way past the numbers for the explanation.

“There’s probably been a few different things,” Penner said. “I’ve been able to clear my head and really focus in on hockey.”

A midseason divorce made that a challenge.

“Because it’s who you are,” Penner explained. “There’s another person that people don’t see inside the rink. The hardest part about being professionals is being able to turn that on and off, and not letting that kind of stuff affect you. At least, while you’re working.”

When Penner’s marriage hit the rocks, it joined his confidence.

“I probably lost a lot of it in the last year,” he acknowledged. “It’s a funny thing, confidence. It seems you can have too much of it, you can have too little of it. It’s a delicate balance.

“I’m not where I want to be, yet, but I’m definitely on the way up.”

Being switched to a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter hasn’t hurt.

Bottom line: he’s come a long way since being called out for his effort by Kings head coach Darryl Sutter earlier this season.

“You can almost take that as a compliment, in the sense that they expect more of you,” Penner said, stickhandling nicely around the commitment question. “My dad always said when they stop yelling at you, that means they don’t care. I’ve probably had them yell at me too much. I don’t want that label.”

What he wants is another Cup, and this time he appreciates how close he is and how hard it is to get here.

He’s noticing different things, too, has a better pulse on his team, like sensing when it needs a big goal.

“You understand those defining moments. You can tell on the other team when you’re starting to impose your will on them — things like that.”

If Penner’s production waned, his sense of humour never did.

Who else would explain an attack of back spasms by saying it occurred as he was about to dig into a serving of his wife’s delicious pancakes, then, amid the resulting public derision, hold a pancake breakfast for charity?

“Sometimes my sarcasm is lost on people,” Penner said. “And you can’t control what people want to put in there, because they’ve determined that’ll make it a better story.”

Penner’s own story has already been a good one.

He’s not ready, though, for it to end with his expiring, $21.3 million contract.

“I’m not worried about money. I don’t live a Hollywood lifestyle. It’s more just that fear of losing something you love... having those moments you can only have when you’re on a team.”

And when it’s a winning team, there’s nothing like it.


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