After sitting out the entire 2013-14 season, Charlotte Checkers right wing Chad LaRose is starting to look like his old self.
In the final seconds of the first period of the Checkers 3-1 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs in front of 3,459 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday afternoon, LaRose darted towards the left side of the net with the puck on his stick.
With a Bulldogs’ defenseman sliding in front of him, LaRose attempted to cross the puck, but it instead bounced right back onto his stick.
It was the 32-year-old’s quick reaction and soft hands that then stood out, as he lifted a backhand shot up and over Hamilton goalie Mike Condon (26 saves on 27 shots) for his second goal of the season.
The point was LaRose’s third in as many games, after posting a clean sheet in his first five regular-season games.
“He’s getting his legs and timing back,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said of LaRose. “He missed a year last year, so we knew it was going to take some time and I think you’re starting to see some flashes of what LaRose is capable of doing.”
LaRose’s hard-nose style of play made him a fan-favorite in Raleigh, where he netted at least 10 goals for five-straight seasons from 2007-08 to 2011-12. But a down season in 2012-13 (two goals and two assists in 35 games) led him to question his commitment to the game.
A free agent to be, LaRose, skipped his exit interview with the Hurricanes and fell off the grid. Calls and text messages from NHL clubs interested in his services simply went unanswered.
“I wasn’t into the game anymore and I didn’t think it was fair to give anybody 60 or 70 percent of me,” he told the Checkers’ Paul Branecky back in September. “I built up a lot of anger towards the game and wanted to get away. I didn’t know if I’d ever play again, to be honest with you.”
It took until this past spring for LaRose’s passion for the game to return. When it did, he reached out to the Hurricanes, who have offered him a chance to earn his way back to the NHL by showing what he can do with the Checkers.
“(LaRose is) a high-energy guy,” Daniels said on Friday. “He’s good down on the cycle with protecting the puck and he’s capable of scoring goals.”
With the Canes’ historically slow start to the season – they failed to secure a single win in the month of October – there’s a very real chance fans in Raleigh will be able to dust off their LaRose jerseys at some point this season.
Notes: Defenseman Ryan Murphy – who was assigned to Charlotte on Wednesday -- played his first game with the Checkers and failed to record a shot on goal, finishing the game a minus-2.
“I thought he was ok,” said Daniels when asked about Murphy’s debut. “He showed his ability to skate up the ice with the puck. He sees the ice well and can make a play, but he’ll get better.”
Murphy was caught out of position on the Bulldogs’ first goal, allowing Christian Thomas a free run at Drew MacIntyre (20 saves on 22 shots), but also showed the ability to skate the puck into the offensive zone – something the Checkers have struggled with this season.
Asked what the Hurricanes want to see from him in Charlotte, Murphy didn’t make any excuses.
“I need to get better at defensive zone coverage, (improve my) strength, and work on the power play,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that I need to get better at to get myself back in the big leagues.
“(Carolina) Coach (Bill) Peters has a game plan and he likes to stick to it,” Murphy continued. “He’s probably the most prepared coach I’ve ever played for. He knows what he wants and he wants the best for his players and he wants his players to play hard for him.”
Friday’s loss dropped the Checkers to 2-6-0 on the season. They’ll take on the Bulldogs again this Sunday at 1 p.m.
Injuries: Checkers assistant captain Ben Holmstrom hit the boards hard during the third period on Friday and went straight to the locker room holding his left shoulder. Daniels did not have any update on Holmstrom’s condition following the game, but its likely he’ll miss this Sunday’s game. … Forward Justin Shugg (upper body injury) missed his fifth straight game.