For years, Chad LaRose was among those counted on to energize the Carolina Hurricanes.
The winger was a chatterbox, during practices and games, always chirping as he buzzed about the ice. It started during training camp and never ended.
But LaRose was not heard from last season. He abruptly left the Hurricanes after the 2012-13 season, angrily skipping his exit interview, disappearing from the sport.
“I had just built up a lot of anger towards the game,” LaRose said. “I wanted to get away. I didn’t know I would ever play again, to be honest.
“I kind of fell out of love with the sport and didn’t have much passion for it anymore. But sometimes you have to lose what you have to realize what you had.”
While LaRose was out of hockey, he continued to train in Michigan. He said he has the rekindled the passion to play, that physically and mentally he feels refreshed at 32.
LaRose has been signed to a one-year American Hockey League contract and will attend the Charlotte Checkers’ training camp. He has skated at PNC Arena after Canes’ camp practices, often being pushed by Rod Brind’Amour, a former teammate and Canes assistant coach.
On Tuesday, LaRose took the ice with Checkers coach Jeff Daniels.
“I think we’re getting a very determined player,” Daniels said. “He took a year off, and he’s focused and ready to go. I think right away we’re going to get a guy out to prove something.
“On top of that he’s got experience. He’s been at the next level and he wants to get to the next level again. He can also teach the young guys what it takes to get to the next level.”
LaRose, undrafted by NHL teams, worked his way through the ECHL and AHL to get to the Hurricanes. Just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, he played more than 500 games for the Canes, putting his name on the 2006 Stanley Cup, and No. 59 was a crowd favorite.
But frustration began to build as the Canes failed to reach the playoffs – with the exception of 2009 – each year after the Cup run. LaRose dealt with some injuries. He said he began to question himself as a player, a contributor.
“You get mad at yourself and build up doubt in your own head if you’re even good enough to play anymore,” LaRose said.
LaRose tied his career high with 19 goals and had a career-best 32 points during the 2011-12 season. But in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he finished with two goals and two assists in 35 games, cleaning out his locker at PNC Arena and leaving in a huff.
LaRose said he regrets missing his scheduled exit interview. After a cooling-off period, he did meet with then-general manager Jim Rutherford.
“When you don’t make the playoffs, it’s tough,” LaRose said. “It’s tough on a lot of guys. I put a lot of pressure on myself. But you can’t go in the past anymore. If I could go back I would, but I can’t. All I can do is look forward and be grateful for the opportunity and give everything I’ve got.”
LaRose, who became a free agent in July 2013, decided not to play in Europe last season. Many assumed his career was over.
But he said he trained during the offseason with other NHL players as well as three-times-a-week sessions with power-skating coach Kim Muir, who is based in the Detroit area and works with the Canes and Checkers. A quadriceps injury kept him off the ice for eight weeks, but he said he has fully recovered.
“He’s ready to go. He’s in great shape,” Daniels said. “Now it’s a matter of getting the timing back and getting the legs back. This is kind of unique, but he’s always been a worker and he’s determined to get back.”
Can LaRose make it back to the NHL, to the Canes?
“I can bring passion and energy to a team, for sure,” he said. “I’m just grateful for this opportunity. I’m excited.”