With Lady Gaga taking up residence at Joe Louis Arena for the evening, the Hurricanes had to find a different practice location for today. The chosen location came with a sentimental flavor for several of those taking the ice this afternoon.
Compuware Arena, about 30 minutes from downtown
Detroit, is the home of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Owned by Peter Karmanos, Jr., the Whalers have established a fine history that dates back to when Karmanos and Jim Rutherford established the expansion Detroit Compuware Ambassadors as the first-ever, American-based OHL franchise. The Whalers have qualified for the OHL playoffs in 18 consecutive seasons, and since their establishment in
Plymouth, they have won seven divisional titles, three conference championships and two OHL titles. Paul Maurice got his first coaching gig with the franchise, leading the Detroit Jr. Wings to the OHL Championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup in 1995. More than 45 Plymouth alumni have reached the
NHL, including Justin Williams, Stephen Weiss, David Legwand, Gregory Campbell, James Neal and, of course, our own Chad LaRose.
It was a happy homecoming for LaRose, in no small part because he is back practicing with the Hurricanes and was able to fully participate on the ice today. LaRose played three seasons with the Whalers, netting 61 goals as an overage player in 2002-03 to rank second among OHL skaters. He is the only player to ever play at every level of the Peter Karmanos Compuware Hockey system, from AAA through the OHL and to the
“I had a lot of good experiences in this building and a lot of good memories,” LaRose said. “I had a lot of good coaching to help me get where I am today. It’s a great experience to come back here and see my old coaches. I know this is what I was dreaming about when I was here, so it’s pretty special to come back and practice in this rink as an NHL player.”
There are plenty of reminders for the current Whalers of the players, like LaRose, who came before them, making it clear exactly what type of opportunities they have before them. A wall as you enter the room displays the pictures of franchise alumni to play in the NHL. In each player stall, there is a list of players who have previously occupied that particular spot in the locker room. LaRose today sat in the same stall where he began his junior career, with his name and number indicated on the list of occupants.
LaRose took some time before practice to talk to members of the current Plymouth Whalers team about his time in Plymouth and his journey since. His road to the NHL is certainly one that could inspire any junior hockey player. Labeled as too small for hockey’s highest level, he went undrafted before signing with the Hurricanes as a free agent in August 2003.
“I told them that they are in the right spot and in the right organization,” he said. “They just need to keep their heads on straight and work hard and try to work towards the team goals at hand. Everything else will take care of itself. They have to do their best every night and work hard every day.”
The Whalers team that LaRose spoke to certainly has its share of players that we can expect to someday see in NHL uniforms. Michal Jordan was a fourth-round selection of the Hurricanes and recently captained the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships (he did wear number 23 in that tournament, if you’re wondering). A.J. Jenks and Philip McRae are fresh from capturing gold for the United States at the World Juniors. And Tyler Seguin is widely considered one of the top two prospects in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, to be held in Los Angeles in June.
The Whalers watched the Hurricanes practice from the stands this afternoon, and Maurice addressed the team after the skate, speaking about what has to happen for them between “here and the National Hockey League.” He stressed work ethic. Not surprisingly, Rod Brind’Amour was his shining example.
“Our guys train every day,” he told them. “They do something every single day. That’s professionalism. The guys that learn what it takes make it. The guys that don't, don't."
Even though Maurice never coached at Compuware Arena, his ties to both franchises helped remind him just how important Peter Karmanos has been to both his own career, and the sport of hockey in general.“It’s not the rink that we all started in, but I played with or roomed with everybody on the top row,” he said, pointing to the wall of
NHL alumni. “They got two coaches in the
NHL, and all those players. “Pete (Karmanos) has been a builder of hockey. He's a big part of hockey in the United States