For the first time since April 25, 2013, Chad LaRose
will dress in a Carolina Hurricanes sweater at PNC Arena.
The familiar No. 59 will return to the ice tonight as the Canes host the Buffalo Sabres in their preseason finale.
“I’ve got good butterflies,” LaRose said. “I’m just excited to get back.”
Tonight, due to Patrick Dwyer’s lower-body concern, LaRose slots in on the wing with Nathan Gerbe on a line centered by Jay McClement.
“I’ve got to get back into game-shape, and I’ve got to start playing to do that, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
LaRose, 32, did not play professional hockey in 2013-14 following eight seasons and 508 career games with the Hurricanes, who signed the undrafted Plymouth Whalers product in 2003. He is currently in training camp on a professional tryout, though he has already signed an AHL contract with the Charlotte Checkers.
Having not skated in an NHL game in 524 days, LaRose knows the challenge in front of him.
“It’s going to be tough, I’m sure,” he said, cracking a smile. “But you’ve got to get your feet wet and get back out there.”
Whether LaRose is still in Raleigh a week from now remains to be seen; he’d have to be signed to an NHL contract for that to happen. But, first thing’s first: getting back to actually playing hockey.
“I’m excited to play,” he said. “It’ll be good to play here for the first one back. I’m looking forward to it.”
Elsewhere, the Canes will ice their most NHL-experienced lineup to-date.
Eric Staal will center Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin on the first line, marking the second exhibition game-action for that trio.
“They should be better with timing. Their game-shape should be a little bit better,” head coach Bill Peters said. “All in all, they’ll probably get a few more minutes and hopefully some power play time for them as a unit. I expect them to take a step as a line.”
Twenty-one-year-old Victor Rask, surrounded by Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, will center the second line.
“I’d like to give Victor the whole game there, but we know if we had to we could put Nasher (Nash) right in there and not miss a beat,” Peters said.
With the competition for the starting job in net still ongoing, these final two preseason games seem to figure in heavily into the decision of who will start on Opening Night come Oct. 10. Cam Ward will man the crease tonight, and Anton Khudobin will be between the pipes on Sunday afternoon in Washington.
Exciting news for those in the Hurricanes viewing area that can’t make it to tonight’s game: CarolinaHurricanes.com will be live streaming with John Forslund and Tripp Tracy on the call. As always, you can listen to the game on 99.9 FM The Fan and follow along on Twitter with these accounts: @NHLCanes, @Canes_Gameday and @MSmithCanes.