Free agent tryout Dan LaCouture made the most of his opportunity at the Red/White game Sunday afternoon, scoring two goals and an assist to take first-star honors in the red team's 6-3 victory.
LaCouture, one of five players in camp currently without a contract at the NHL or AHL level or whose rights aren't owned by the team, is trying to play his way back into the league after a brief stint last year with Lugano of the Swiss league. The 31-year-old left wing has 326 NHL games under his belt, although is last full season came with the Boston Bruins in 2005-06.
"I want back in the worst way," he said. "I've been out for a year and a half, and now I'm having to prove myself all over again."
So far, so good.
"Dan looked good," said Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette, who watched the game as a spectator rather than from behind the bench. "I thought he looked strong on his skates and strong on the puck. You could tell he was an experienced player - he's played games in the NHL. It's an opportunity for him, and he did real well."
LaCouture, who has scored 43 points and racked up 338 penalty minutes in his career, set up linemate Dwight Helminen for the game's opening goal on a centering pass from behind the net. He scored himself seven minutes later by batting a Dennis Seidenberg rebound out of mid-air, and struck again on a nice wrist shot over the shoulder of white team goaltender David Leggio in the second.
"I'm not trying to think too far ahead," LaCouture said after the game. "When you're younger you think too much and you get your head full of all sorts of crazy thoughts. For me, I'm just trying to have a clear head, just live for today, give it all I've got and see what happens."
Hurricanes defenseman Dennis Seidenberg also had a three-point night, picking up the primary assist on both of LaCouture's goals and on Ryan Bayda's tally late in the third period that iced the game for the red team.
Another free-agent tryout, Jeff O'Neill, got on the board four minutes into the third period after finding the puck in a goalmouth scramble, waiting for an open look and depositing it in the net to put the red team up 5-2.
"I'm close," said O'Neill, who is working his way back into game shape after a year off from hockey. "Once I get a couple of exhibition games under my belt, it will only get better."
"He's come into camp with a serious approach like he's trying to make this team," said Laviolette. "Tonight was his first opportunity back in a game situation, and to be honest I thought he got better as the game went on. It's a starting point for him, and now he'll get some exhibition games to showcase it even more."
Team white defenseman Anton Babchuk left the game after the first period, but Laviolette said after the game that the team was mostly being cautious about his knee.
"He has a chance to be on the ice tomorrow," said Laviolette.
According to the rules of the scrimmage, each penalty automatically resulted in a penalty shot. There were four in the game, with the red team's Joe Jensen getting three all to himself. Goaltender Daniel Manzato saved the first, Jensen scored on a forehand-to-backhand move on the second and hit the post on the same move on his third attempt.
Robert Slaney of the white team beat Justin Peters
for the other, while Stefan Chaput and Jakub Petruzalek scored the other goals for team white.