Chicago Wolves forward Jordan LaVallee
still plays for his father. Speaks to him, too, especially during games.
''When I go out and make a good play, I think, 'Oh, that would have made him proud,''' the third-year pro said.
Many players who are separated from their loved ones probably motivate themselves with the same mindset. What makes LaVallee's case more poignant is that he unexpectedly lost his dad, William Smotherman, to a blood clot last December. Since then, LaVallee has fought through his grief to play some of the best hockey of his career and honor him in his most familiar way.
''Just knowing my dad, the kind of guy he was, he'd want me to succeed,'' LaVallee said. ''I always wanted to succeed at this sport for him. Making it to the next level would make him proud. That's something I need to do.''
LaVallee took another step toward that mission when he received his second career recall to the Atlanta Thrashers
in February. Back in Chicago, he's found comfort on the ice and even greater solace in the locker room.
At the time of his father's death, LaVallee had 5 goals and 6 assists in 27 games. Since returning from his time off, he's posted 12 goals and 4 assists in 31 games. He's playing with both a stronger resolve and a greater peace of mind.
''Being around the guys in the room is obviously a distraction from the painful things I'm dealing with,'' he said. ''With all the support I've had, it makes it easier for me to focus on hockey. Being on the ice and being in the room is my place to be free from everything. It's like my safe zone.''
Perhaps even more than hockey, LaVallee pays tribute to his father by creating a comfortable haven for others. LaVallee was recently named his team's Man of the Year for his community work, which has included campaigns that encourage youngsters to learn French and making hospital visits.
''Going to hospitals now is a little harder in the short term," LaVallee said. "There are very few moments in the day when I don't run a thought through my head about my dad. Going through something that was hard like that, anything I can do to make that easier on (patients) is awesome.''
A yo-yo season for Helenius
-- Norfolk rookie goalie Riku Helenius
is getting a lot more than just a taste of the pro life this season. It's been a buffet, with sweet and sour samples from a variety of platters.
Helenius began the season as the third goalie with the Admirals before going down to Augusta of the ECHL. When that team folded, he became the No. 3 in Norfolk again.
He then spent a few games with Mississippi of the ECHL, getting a brief call-up to Norfolk in early January. He was promoted to Tampa Bay Jan. 30 and made his NHL debut that night in relief.
Helenius came back to Norfolk and made his first AHL start -- a 41-save shutout -- on Feb. 6 against Bridgeport. Since then, he's been the Admirals' No. 1 goalie with Mike McKenna
and Karri Ramo
in Tampa. Overall, he has a 2.69 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage with Norfolk.
''It's been a weird year, but something you can learn from,'' he said. ''It's always a little bit tougher when you have to change teams a lot, get used to new cities, new guys. Even when it's tough, you can't give up. Try to stay positive all the time.''
Wherever he goes, Helenius, 21, is worth tracking because Tampa Bay used the 15th pick of the 2006 Entry Draft to select him. He doesn't think his AHL/ECHL shuffling is a statement about how far he has to go to finally settle in somewhere.
''Obviously, you want to play at as high a level as possible," Helenius said. "It didn't make a lot of sense to be in the American Hockey League and just practice with the team, not get in any games. I'm a young guy. The biggest thing is you need a lot of games. Someone might think it's a step back if you go there (the ECHL), but I don't know. I think it's just a good experience.''
Dineen reflects on record
-- At this point in his career, the wins and losses all tend to blur together for Portland coach Kevin Dineen
"Just knowing my dad, the kind of guy he was, he'd want me to succeed. I always wanted to succeed at this sport for him. Making it to the next level would make him proud. That's something I need to do." -- Wolves forward Jordan LaVallee
He had a few of both while chasing down some important personal and team goals in the past several days.
On March 18, the fourth-year coach earned his 189th win with the Pirates, tying Barry Trotz
for the franchise record. After three straight losses, Portland beat Lowell, 3-2, on March 27 to give Dineen the mark by himself.
That victory started a run of three straight to vault Portland from fifth place in the Atlantic -- and out of the playoffs -- to third place in 48 hours.
''It's a unique year, to say the least," Dineen said. "You put yourself in a position where you're going to scratch and claw. It's certainly a heck of a record to set. For me, it's a chance to reflect on all the people I worked with. It's an odd feeling, a quick little snapshot that you enjoy all the moments that go along with it. But boy, we live in such a here and now.''
The honor is the latest pearl in the family coaching history. Dineen's father, Bill, coached in the AHL for six seasons, compiling a record of 282-209-52 for the Adirondack Red Wings from 1983-89. Bill also spent six years at the helm of the Houston Aeros of the WHA, where he coached Gordie Howe
and won two league championships. Kevin's older brother, Gord, is in his first season as coach of the AHL's Iowa Chops.
''My dad's number is 2. That's the number of Calder Cups (he won),'' Kevin said. ''That's the measuring stick for all of us. I've got a long way to go.''
Around the AHL
-- Rob Sirianni
and Jonathan Matsumoto each scored three goals to lift Philadelphia to a win against Grand Rapids on March 28, the first time in franchise history that two Phantoms players posted a hat trick in the same game. ... Alexandre Giroux
scored twice in Hershey's 7-2 win against Bridgeport on March 28, giving him the Bears' single-season franchise record with 54 goals. ... Hartford's 5-1 win against Albany on March 27 was the Pack's 13th consecutive win against the Rats, adding to what already was a franchise record for the longest winning streak against an opponent. ... Hartford has clinched a berth in the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the AHL. ... Steve Regier
had gone 22 games without a goal before scoring in each of Peoria's three contests last week. ... Bridgeport will play the first two home games of its opening-round playoff series at the Islanders' Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum because of the unavailability of the team's home rink, the Arena at Harbor Yard. ... Milwaukee drew 15,602 fans to its game against Iowa at the Bradley Center on March 28, the largest AHL crowd this season ... Iowa was 0-8 in shootouts before scratching out its first win against Milwaukee in that contest.