Skip to Main Content

Larsen goes from ice to bench

by Lindsay Kramer
Brad Larsen has earned the right to a fresh start and an optimistic outlook.

The Columbus Blue Jackets gave it to him last week when they named him an assistant coach in Springfield fresh off his 13-year playing career.

Whatever he lacks in coaching experience, Larsen more than makes up for as an example to keep fighting through the setbacks of the sport and life.

Last spring, shortly after he finished his season playing for the Portland Pirates, Larsen, 33, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He said surgery and radiation appear to have successfully treated the problem, not that he considered the possibility of anything but a positive resolution.

"You can't focus on the negative. It will bring you down. I've always believed that in the face of adversity you find the true character of someone," Larsen said. "Everyone goes through something. You can't worry about it. I always look for the solution, not the problem."

Larsen has had far too much practice in that type of search. His last two seasons alone could have easily been spirit-breakers. Hip and abdomen ailments cost him the entire 2008-09 season, when he was with the Anaheim Ducks. Last year, he took a shot off his right foot in Portland's first home game, fracturing one bone in three places and chipping two other bones. Later in that same game he was nailed in the jaw by a stick, causing a concussion.

"It's one of those things that's unavoidable in the game. The more you deal with it, you realize you can't control it," he said. "What I realized is you can't channel your energy toward the frustration and disappointment. Looking back, it's something that helped build my character."

Larsen, a forward who played in 294 NHL games, said the one productive side to all his downtime was that it made him get a feel for what life after hockey would be like. He thought coaching could be the next step, he just didn't know when. Even after his fight with cancer this summer he still planned on playing this year, but came up with a different decision when he consulted his gut.

"I felt I had exhausted myself physically and emotionally in the game," he said. "I felt my play starting to decline. When you lose the drive and that passion is not there, it's time to move on."

Larsen sounded the starter's pistol on the next phase by firing off his resume to Columbus. Several interviews later -- and once the Blue Jackets were certain he was done playing -- Larsen had a job with the Falcons.

"My mindset was in coaching. This coaching job came out of nowhere," he said. "Learning has never scared me. I was never a high-profile guy. I had to scratch and claw. I've been up and down. I can look myself in the mirror and be proud of what I accomplished in an injury-filled career. I'm excited to start something new."
Nasreddine back with Pens -- The Pittsburgh Penguins wanted most of Alain Nasreddine to come aboard as assistant coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, but not all of him.

So early on in his interview for the job, the Penguins inquired whether his mind and body were on the same page.

"When I started the process, I was asked to make sure the hockey player (inside him) was staying behind," Nasreddine said.

Nasreddine's painful left knee, battered and screaming from years of playing, was completely supportive of him leaving the ice and working behind the bench. But what about his heart, which guided him through a long and successful playing career?

Nasreddine, who played the last two seasons in Germany and was considering overseas employment again, insisted he could walk away from the sport at age 35. Those proclamations, however, are a lot easier to make in August than in October.

"Playing hockey, that's all I've done all my life. You play hockey since you're 4-years-old, it (retiring) is not an easy thing to do," he said. "At 35, I consider myself lucky to have played 15 years (pro). The body is getting older. When I added all these things up, it only made sense to make this transition."

The move to hire Nasreddine as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant last week measures up just as perfectly for Pittsburgh. Few players in the farm team's history represent its winning tradition to the extent that Nasreddine does.

Nasreddine ranks 10th all-time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history in games played (249) and tied for seventh all-time in points by a defenseman (56). He is one of three Penguins players to be elected team captain for more than one season (2004-05 and 2005-06), and was an integral member of two of the Penguins' three runs to the Calder Cup Finals (2004 and 2008).

"Everyone wants to win. I think it's more true in Wilkes-Barre," Nasreddine said. "It's an exciting organization. They build teams to win. I consider the Pittsburgh organization the main organization I played for. Going back there as a coach, especially starting at the AHL level, is huge. At the end, I came out a winner."

Finding the real Deveaux -- The Chicago Wolves' signing of power forward Andre Deveaux earlier this week raises the question of exactly which player they are getting.

Deveaux appeared in 94 regular-season games with the Wolves from 2006 to 2008, registering 26 points and 337 penalty minutes. He was a third-liner with Kevin Doell and Colin Stuart on the Wolves' 2008 Calder Cup team. But a move to the Marlies took the wraps off his offensive game. He went 14-11 in 38 games in 2008-09, also earning 21 games with the Maple Leafs. Last season, he busted out with 16-25 for the Marlies.

Deveaux, 26, said per instructions from Wolves GM Wendell Young, he'll show up as whatever type of player is needed on any given night.

"I've been trying to become more of an all-around-player. He doesn't want me going out there fighting every game," Deveaux said. "At the same time, that's part of my job. But I have to get points, too. I have to find a happy medium."

Deveaux apparently still has some skeptics of his ability to do that. He said he was surprised to find himself on the market at this point of the summer. He had some two-way offers, but ultimately opted for the freedom of an AHL-only deal with Chicago.

"I don't have that NHL deal. I have to have a good start, prove myself," he said. "I just didn't get a good vibe (from other offers). This just seemed the right fit for me."

Hilbert on the Isles -- The way that Andy Hilbert's luck went last year, he could use friends in high places.

He has at least one in New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon.

Hilbert, a center, has inked a one-year, two-way pact with New York. The move reunites him with Gordon, who coached him two years ago in New York and also for parts of four seasons with Providence.

Hilbert will be looking to climb back from his first extended AHL action since his 2004-05 season with the P-Bruins. Last year, he went 9-16 in 33 games with Houston and got in just four games with Minnesota. In the three seasons prior to that, he played in 67, 70, and 81 games, respectively with the Islanders.

"I've had a lot of success under (Gordon) as a player. I just think I thrive under him as a player," said Hilbert, 29. "He knows me as a player and as a person. I needed an opportunity, someone who knows me."

Hilbert's pals were the unintentional source of some of his problems last year. He missed four weeks with a knee injury caused when an Aeros teammate skated into him, then, after he came back, suffered a concussion when another teammate blasted a shot off his head.

"Last year was a year that I definitely had to deal with a lot of adversity," he said. "I do have a lot to prove, a lot of questions to answer. When you have injuries and you get back and are able to play, you really appreciate the game. Sometimes that gets lost, when you are just going year after year. I have a lot of confidence going into this year."

View More