Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund 'excited' for return to Vancouver

EDMONTON — There is something poetic about Lightning D Mattias Ohlund for the first time tonight facing the Canucks in Vancouver on a day Canucks great Markus Naslund will be honored.

Had he stayed in Vancouver, Ohlund, too, might one day have been honored. As it is, he is happy Naslund will get the spotlight.

"He's a great friend," Ohlund said. "The whole day and night is going to be a lot of fun."

Ohlund, 34, tried to downplay his return but admitted, "It's not going to be just another game because I played there so long. I'm excited about it."

He returns a different player.

A step slower, Ohlund, who in July 2009 signed a seven-year, $26.25 million contract with Tampa Bay, also has had knee and ankle injuries.

And after getting 93 goals and 325 points in 11 seasons for the Canucks, the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Swede no longer gets power-play time and has morphed into a defensive specialist, though he still is a ferocious hitter.

"I'm happy with the role I have," said Ohlund, who has not scored since April 7, 2009, for Vancouver, a stretch of 90 games, and has just three assists this season. "Whether I'm scoring goals or not doesn't bother me a bit."

"We need him badly," coach Guy Boucher said. "He brings some consistency and poise to our defensemen."

What does Ohlund miss most about Vancouver?

"Our fans are fantastic," he said of the Tampa Bay area. "But you miss a little bit of a hockey market.

"When you go to Atlanta or Florida, you'd like to play in front of a few more people and have a little bit more atmosphere. That would be the only thing."

RITOLA OUT: A flare-up of Mattias Ritola's Meniere's disease, which causes dizziness and ringing in his right ear, kept the forward out of Friday's game.

Ritola was held out of Thursday's practice because his condition worsened after the team's plane ride from Calgary. He said there was no improvement.

SUPPORT SYSTEM: F Marc-Antoine Pouliot, called up from AHL Norfolk because of Ritola's situation, said he left the Admirals last month, with permission, to spend two days in Chile with a friend who needed surgery for injuries sustained in a rock slide.

Pouliot identified the friend only as Jenessa, whom he said was spending a year in Chile and was hurt while changing buses in a small town.

"Hockey is important to me," Pouliot said. "But there are other things more important."

Jenessa returned to Canada and is expected to make a full recovery, Pouliot said.

BUDDY SYSTEM: Edmonton's Linus Omark and Lightning LW Johan Harju grew up in the small Swedish town of Overtornea and played together in junior, on the Swedish national team and last season in Russia.

Friday, for the first time, they faced off as opponents.

"We both want to win," Harju said, "so we're not going to be friends out there."

ODDS AND ENDS: Top Lightning prospect Carter Ashton was traded from Regina of the Western junior league to Tri-City. … D Matt Smaby also was scratched.

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund 'excited' for return to Vancouver 12/10/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 12:42am]

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