Cory Larose had been among the most productive forwards in the AHL the past two seasons but had never translated that success into a shot at the NHL. That all changed this February, however, when he earned a recall to the New York Rangers and suited up for his first NHL game at Madison Square Garden.
"It was a dream come true for me," the Campbellton, N.B., native says of finally getting a shot at the Big Show. "It's hard to even put into words the feelings that I had being there. It's been so long and such a long road, there's so much I've gone through to get to that point. I just tried to kind of sit back and take it all in.
"If a young fellow goes up for his first time when he's 19, 20, 21 years old, he's taking for granted that he's going to be there again. For me, I'm 28, so it was super-exciting and something I'll remember forever."
It is somewhat ironic that Larose and teammate Lawrence Nycholat missed out on a Calder Cup when they were traded to the Rangers last year and left the Houston Aeros, but both got a chance to make their NHL debuts this season in New York after never getting a shot with the Minnesota Wild, their former organization.
"It's amazing, I talked to some of the guys on that Houston team and they were excited for both of us," says Larose. "Do you trade off one for the other? I think in this case I'd definitely trade a Calder Cup for an NHL game. It's something I've been striving for my whole life and to finally get there, it's just an amazing feeling. Not to diminish the Calder Cup in any way, because that's an amazing feat in itself, and both Lawrence and I would have loved to have been there last year and hopefully we can get there this year. But saying that, who knows if I would have ever gotten a shot with Minnesota, and coming to New York I got that shot and had a great time with it and hopefully will get it again."
That Aeros club that captured the big prize in the AHL last year was the pacesetter in the West Division all season and had unbeatable chemistry in the locker room. Kind of like a certain Atlantic Division team in central Connecticut this year, says Larose.
"I think there are a lot of eerie similarities as far as the makeup of the teams," he confirms. "They (the Aeros) struggled at times this year because they got rid of a core base of veterans, and this year I think we've got that core base of veterans and a lot of really eager young guys that want to do well and can excel at this level. I think that's the key. You look around the league and I think we've got a really good mix, and hopefully we can do what they did last year. There are a lot of real good similarities, good goaltending, and hopefully we can do what they did."
If that indeed occurs, it will add to what has been an impressive run of success for Larose. Dating back to his college career, during which he won an NCAA championship with the University of Maine, through his two seasons in Houston, which both saw the Aeros best the 90-point mark, Larose has experienced almost nothing but winning hockey.
"I've been fortunate," he says. "I've basically been on good teams for the last I don't know how many years. It's just a matter of guys finding their niche on each team and then kind of accepting their roles and playing hard, and I think we've adopted that system this year. Last year was kind of a tough finish, and I'm sure that for everybody who was here the whole year it was even more tough. They've adopted a different system this year, and guys have really bought into it. They've brought in a whole bunch of new guys and it's exciting to be here right now."
And far from resting on his individual laurels, Larose has continued to strive to make himself a more complete player. While his aptitude at playing a flowing, skill game takes a back seat to few in the AHL, he has made a concerted effort this year to add a more grinding element to his repertoire of attributes.
"I haven't really excelled at the down-low part of the game as much in the past and I haven't really been with teams that have played that style," the 6-foot, 192-pounder says. "But you've got to work on the parts of the game that you're not as good at, and I think I've really tried to do that this year and really get down to the corners and work a lot harder in that area. And the bottom line is when I'm more involved in the game that way, I feel like I'm a better player.
"It's what the game has evolved into over the years," he continues. "You watch some of the old-time games and it's fun to watch because it's end-to-end and all offense and it's great to watch and a lot of fun, but thatÃƒÅ½s not the game anymore. So you've got to basically adapt and I've been trying to do that and where that takes me we'll see, but it's all about trying to get better. It doesn't matter what your age is, you're never as good as you think, you're never as bad as you think. It's an exciting thing to develop that part of my game, and it's been good for me."