Bliz blazes trail west

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Mario Bliznak has grown into Mr. Reliable.

The second-year centre has transformed into one of the more dependable two-way players in the Manitoba Moose lineup and that's part of what's allowed him to make his NHL debut for the Vancouver Canucks last night against the Anaheim Ducks.

With call-up Alexandre Bolduc out with a shoulder injury, the Canucks recalled Bliznak yesterday morning.

"Last year we weren't even sure he was going to make our team," Moose head coach Scott Arniel said before last night's game with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. "He came in here and proved to people why he was a favourite of Don Hay out with the Vancouver Giants, why he won a Memorial Cup and why he was a pretty consistent player in the Western Hockey League.

"He's a guy that at both ends of the rink, you know he's going to be an honest player every night. Bliz is a guy that when you look down at the end of the bench, you know he's going to be pretty steady."

Arniel believes a strong showing in an NHL pre-season game for the Canucks against the Calgary Flames left a positive impression on Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault.

"(Flames head coach) Brent Sutter kept playing the (Jarome) Iginla and (Olli) Jokinen line against (Bliznak) and he helped shut them down," said Arniel. "Alain spoke extremely high of Bliz that next day and I'm sure he has that good memory in his head and that's why he's giving him that opportunity.

"In saying that, Bliz has also earned it with his steady play (for the Moose)."

Bliznak, a seventh round draft choice of the Canucks in 2005, was at the Moose training camp in 2007, but returned to the Giants for a final year of seasoning. That decision paid off as the Slovak centre was one of the more pleasant surprises last season.

Important role

Not only did Bliznak earn a spot on the Moose roster, he played an important role and was anchoring the energy line into the Calder Cup playoffs.

The smooth skater picked up two goals and five points in 13 AHL games this season prior to his promotion.

Moose captain Mike Keane has often played on a line with Bliznak the past two seasons.

"He's worked hard at his trade and become one of our better two-way centremen that can play both ends of the ice," said Keane. "He's a solid defensive centre and he has offensive skills that he can bring to the table.

"What you have to learn when you come to the AHL is that you find different things to make yourself better and he's done that."

As Bliznak made his way up for his NHL debut, the Moose got Russian rookie Sergei Shirokov back from the Canucks.

Shirokov has been dynamic at times for the Moose, posting five goals and 11 points in 11 games going into last night's contest.

That offensive flair hasn't translated into success at the NHL level just yet as Shirokov has been held off the score sheet in six games with the Canucks.

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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