Following the 2004-05 season lost to the NHL lockout, the Carolina Hurricanes entered training camp with a bunch of new players on the radar. Literally half of the NHL level players had changed over between the two off seasons. And there were a few big name rookies and young players including Eric Staal who had played the 2003-04 season at the NHL level and also Andrew Ladd who was drafted #4 overall in 2004. Had one made a pecking order list of players to watch in training camp in September of 2005, Chad LaRose would have been nowhere on that list.
He was an undersized skill player who was signed as an undrafted free agent as a 20-year old before the 2003-04 season. He had put up a ton of points the previous season in the OHL, but that was as a 20-year old playing mostly against younger players. Without a ton of expectations from the scouts who had passed on him, his professional hockey career started quietly at the ECHL level that higher prospects never see. From there he steadily improved and became an AHL regular in the 2004-05 season but was nowhere to be found on the list of players expect to compete for an NHL spot for the 2005-06 season.
For me, he burst onto the scene at the annual Red-White scrimmage game. In that game, he stood out for his simple puck tenacity. He seemed to spend the entirety of every shift either with the puck or pestering the heck out of the opposition whenever they had it. If I had to point to a definition of “hounding the puck,” Chad LaRose in preseason of 2005-06 would be it. He did not score much in that preseason, but the same intensity and dogged determination was a standard each and every time he stepped on the ice. When training camp ended, he ultimately lost out to a numbers game and was sent back to Charlotte. But he had made a strong impression on me, and it became apparent soon thereafter that he had made the same impression on the coaching staff.
When a roster spot opened up about two months into the season, Chad LaRose was recalled. He made his Hurricanes debut on December 6, 2005. LaRose immediately brought the same use of quickness and tenacity that impressed in training camp, and his pace, hustle and quickness were a tremendous fit for the more open NHL that took away previously allowed obstruction and empowered smaller, faster players. Fairly quickly, LaRose found his way to a third line that included veterans Matt Cullen and Ray Whitney. As the third line to defend against, the line saw its share share of third pairing immobile defenders and pretty much ate them up. LaRose’s scoring totals (one goal and 12 assists in 49 games) were modest, but his role as the puck hound, battle winner and forechecker extraordinaire was a key part of the line’s success. That line (plus power play ice time) generated 17 goals for Ray Whitney and 25 goals for Matt Cullen and provided solid depth scoring.
When the Canes added veteran depth for the 2006 playoff run, his pesky energy fit nicely on a high-energy fourth line that included Craig and Kevyn Adams.
Despite the volume of newly-minted heroes and bigger stars from the Stanley Cup victory, Chad LaRose became one of the fan favorites. Amidst the star jerseys like Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Rod Brind’Amour, Ray Whitney, etc. there was also a significant part of the Caniac nation that claimed Chad LaRose as a favorite player and proudly wore his #59 to the RBC Center (later changed to PNC Arena). He was the little kid who would poke at the big kid, make them mad and somehow always get away with it. He was the underdog who was an everyman’s hero. He was a locker room jokester who had no problem verbally jousting with Mike Commodore and whoever else would engage him. And he was a solid contributor as a depth forward on the ice.
‘Rosey’ had his best season as a Carolina Hurricane player in the 2008-09. In that season, he had a career-high 19 goals (he matched that in 2011-12) and provided key depth scoring helping the team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006. In that stunning march to the third round of the playoffs, Chad LaRose factored heavily. Against New Jersey in the first round, he was elevated to the first line with Eric Staal and Ray Whitney. The trio combined to score 10 of the team’s 17 goals and provided the majority of the team’s offense in the back and forth series that the Canes won in seven games. After some line juggling in the next round, LaRose went on to score two more goals and two assists and finished with 11 points total in those playoffs.
He went on to play four more seasons for the Hurricanes. What started as a fill in position for a player not expected to ever make the NHL level turned into a seven-year run with the Hurricanes. In those seven years, LaRose played 508 games in a Carolina Hurricanes uniform (good for eighth all-time as of August 2015) and collected 85 goals and 95 assists.
For those who look at Chad LaRose’s run with the Canes in its entirety, he will be remembered as a long-shot underdog who burst onto the NHL scene against all odds through sheer effort. He will also be remembered as a long-time fan favorite depth player who hoisted the Cup in 2006 and took an even bigger role in the magical playoff run of 2009.