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Former Panthers defenceman could not pass up chance to play for hometown club

Jason Garrison signs autographs for fans at an NHL hockey practice, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Minchillo

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Jason Garrison signs autographs for fans at an NHL hockey practice, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Minchillo

VANCOUVER - The chance to play at home was too good for Jason Garrison to pass up.

The new Vancouver Canucks defenceman had a chance to sign for bigger dollars elsewhere, but he opted to join the NHL club that he grew up watching instead.

"I don't think you should take anything for granted," Garrison said Monday on a conference call. "I really look forward to playing in Vancouver. That's where I'm from, and it's definitely something I'm really excited about, and I can't wait for it to start."

Garrison was speaking a day after the Canucks signed the former Florida Panther to a six-year contract worth an average of US$4.6 million a season. Garrison hails from the oceanside Vancouver-area community of White Rock, B.C. He joins the Canucks after four seasons with the Panthers organization, where he emerged as a 23-minutes-per-game defenceman.

Garrison, 27, recorded 16 goals—a new Panthers club record for defencemen—and 17 assists for 33 points in 77 games with Florida last season. He also compiled a modest 32 penalty minutes.

The six-foot-two, 220-pound former University of Minnesota-Duluth rearguard added a goal and two assists in the playoffs.

Garrison was viewed as a prime candidate to join the Canucks before free agency opened due to his Vancouver ties. He appeared to become expendable in Florida after the Panthers signed defenceman Filip Kuba away from the Ottawa Senators.

General manager Mike Gillis has indicated Garrison's deal was less than he could have earned elsewhere. Garrison said he had a handful of offers.

"There was definitely a pretty big handful of teams. ... But at the end of the day, this is where I wanted to be," Garrison said, adding his priority was to play for a Stanley Cup contender.

"Financially, that part of it was never going to be my No. 1 thing. I think fit and being on a winning team was the most important. They've got very strong goaltending and, on the defensive part of things, they have, I think, a lot of good two-way players."

The Canucks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2011-12 after reaching the Stanley Cup final a year earlier.

Garrison was viewed as a prime candidate to join the Canucks before free agency opened due to his Vancouver ties. He appeared to become expendable in Florida after the Panthers signed defenceman Filip Kuba away from the Ottawa Senators.

Gillis is looking to him to help shore up an inconsistent power play. Garrison has a chance to strengthen the left side, where Alex Edler has shouldered much of the responsibility, but the new Canuck said he is also comfortable playing on the right.

Garrison, who was not drafted and describes himself as very strong two-way player and a late bloomer, said his phone has not stopped ringing since news of his signing broke. Friends and family, happy about his homecoming, have called with their good wishes.

Now, Garrison just needs to adjust to playing in a hockey-mad market after toiling in a non-traditional one.

"I'm learning right now," Garrison said. "It's definitely going to be different, and it's going to be a learning experience, but I really look forward to it."

Meanwhile, the Canucks re-signed forwards Andrew Ebbett and Steve Pinizzotto on Monday.

Ebbett, 29, produced five goals and one assist in a season limited to 18 games due to a fractured foot and broken collarbone. Pinizzotto missed the entire campaign after suffering a shoulder injury in the pre-season. He has yet to play for Vancouver after signing as a free agent last summer.

Terms for Ebbett and Pinizzotto were not disclosed.

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