Carolina forward Chad LaRose
is the first to admit he's not the biggest guy in the NHL.
At least until he hops on the ice. That's when he becomes "Big Chad."
Though LaRose checks in at 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds, he has played a much bigger game. LaRose is the kind of sparkplug that brings grit to every shift.
"He's not a big man, but he plays hard and he barks at all the big guys," Carolina coach Paul Maurice
He's also versatile. LaRose can play a third-line checking role or ride shotgun with Eric Staal
on the team's top line. Whatever the situation, he won't back down from anyone. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he challenged 6-foot-3, 195-pound Evgeni Malkin
of the Penguins during a second-period scuffle in Pittsburgh's 7-4 win.
"I have a blast playing this game, and anyone who doesn't better get a reality check because what we do for a living is just amazing," LaRose said. "To be blessed like this and come to the rink every day. I just have a ball and I don't take anything for granted, it just excites me to be on the ice all the time."
Life on the ice wasn't always a thrill ride for LaRose, especially when he went undrafted in back-to-back years.
"Not only wasn't I drafted by an NHL team, but I was never even drafted in the Ontario Hockey League and they have 30-something rounds, so I used that as motivation," LaRose said. "But that's been there my whole life; everyone has always said I wouldn't make it or I was always too small. But that was pre-lockout when the League was a lot bigger and I think the new rules played into my favor.
"Sure, it was disappointing sitting through the draft and not hearing your name -- I figured someone would take a chance in the seventh or eighth round. But it ended up working out for the best because I signed with Carolina and this is the only place I've ever played."
Actually, the only owner he's played for, it seems, has been Peter Karmanos Jr. LaRose played for Compuware, the OHL's Plymouth Whalers and the East Coast Hockey League's Florida Everblades -- all owned by Karmanos. He made it 4-for-4 when the Hurricanes signed him on August 6, 2003.
"Mr. Karmanos and ('Canes General Manager) Jimmy Rutherford have been very loyal to me and gave me an opportunity to sign a contract. That was a starting point for me, and I just knew I wasn't going to be denied," LaRose said. "I was just going to work out and work into a role where I could make it to the NHL."
Rutherford said LaRose's other attributes more than make up for a lack of size.
"He's a smart player. He knows the game and studies the game," Rutherford told NHL.com. "He's a good skater with good foot speed and he'll play in traffic. He'll do the necessary things to be successful. It took him a while at each level but, eventually, he got to the point now where he's a real good NHL player."
LaRose was a Stanley Cup champion his rookie season of 2005-06 when he played 21 of Carolina's 25 playoff games. He had more impact this season, reaching NHL career highs in goals (19) and points (31).
"When I was hired (Dec. 3, 2008), I was obviously trying to figure out these guys and I remember Chad having a couple of rough nights, so I benched him for one game (Dec. 13)," Maurice said. "He handled it perfectly though and worked his butt off in practice. He was on the fourth line the very next game and eventually the third line and then I had him killing penalties. He scored 19 goals and we never had him on the power play."
LaRose hasn't played fewer than 15 minutes in any game for Maurice since Feb. 12.
"But, really, there's so much more to Chad LaRose
; he's got a great personality and that's something every team needs," Maurice said. "He's one of the funniest guys in the room and he never lets anyone or anything bother him."
"He's a smart player. He knows the game and studies the game. He's a good skater with good foot speed and he'll play in traffic. He'll do the necessary things to be successful. It took him a while at each level but, eventually, he got to the point now where he's a real good NHL player." -- Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford on Chad LaRose
LaRose has certainly provided some added flair to Carolina's offense this postseason, scoring 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 points in 16 games. He played on a line with Staal against New Jersey on two occasions in the opening round and was back on that line for Game 2 against the Penguins.
"He's done a lot and has been a huge piece of our team," Staal said. "He provides energy and hunts the puck very well. He's a finisher around the net and when he's going, it feels like our bench and our team is going. Those are the type of guys you love to have on your side."
LaRose said he has improved "immensely" since breaking into the League during Carolina's last Cup run.
"I did a lot of off-ice stuff and working out and halfway through this season, I started getting a really good opportunity. Coach Maurice has definitely put me in all situations and that's helped me grow as a player," LaRose said. "He's let me know that mistakes will happen because I used to worry about that and try to never make mistakes. Now, I want the puck at all times and you can see a difference and I can feel a difference out there."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org