By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – Florida Everblades coach Gerry Fleming (pictured) couldn’t stop smiling as he watched Monday’s Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals from his Estero home.
The Carolina Hurricanes, the Blades’ primary parent organization, beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup but that just one reason why Fleming was smiling.
Forward Chad LaRose, who played for Fleming on the 2003-04 Blades, was on Carolina’s third line Monday and nearly scored a goal in the second period. Two other ex-Blades — forward Keith Aucoin and goalie Craig Kowalski — were on Carolina’s inactive playoff roster. And to top it all off, NBC broadcaster Mike Emrick mentioned the Everblades during Monday’s telecast in reference to LaRose.
“That was nice,” Fleming said about NBC’s mention. “(Carolina’s title) is great for the whole organization from top to bottom. It was great to see not just Chad but guys like K-Wal and Aucoin celebrating on the ice.”
Carolina’s victory was a historic one for Southwest Florida’s ECHL club. LaRose, 24, is the first former Everblade to win a Stanley Cup. He will be the 11th former ECHL player to have his name engraved on the historic trophy.
LaRose, who was a healthy scratch in Game 6, was reinserted into the lineup for Game 7. The NHL rookie played a little over nine minutes and posted two shots on 12 shifts while posting an even plus/minus rating and two hits.
“He got the opportunity to play and he played great,” Fleming said about LaRose, who had an assist in Game 1 of the Cup Finals. “He kept his game simple and he was quick. He almost scored a goal from a difficult angle in the second period.”
NBC highlighted LaRose during Monday’s telecast. LaRose wore a microphone during the game and NBC showed a snippet of LaRose’s comments during the third period. Emrick introduced the clip by mentioning LaRose previous minor-league teams — the Lowell Lock Monsters and Everblades.
Watching LaRose play in the Cup Finals, Blades general manager Craig Brush marveled at how far the 24-year-old has come. Brush can remember when LaRose was struggling about the direction of his career in 2004.
“He was down in the dumps about being with us. He was getting called up and being sent down and he was wondering where his career was going,” Brush said. “Through a lot of hard work and some breaks he’s proven that he can play in the NHL. I think he’ll become more of an offensive threat as time goes on. I’m sure he’ll be a long time NHLer.”
Kowalski, who played for the Blades from 2004-06, and Aucoin, who played two games for Florida in 2001-02, were non-roster practice players for Carolina in the playoffs. If Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward or Martin Gerber got injured, Kowalski — who split time between the Lock Monsters and Blades in 2005-06— would’ve moved into the backup role.
LaRose and Kowalski didn’t return messages Tuesday. The two were expected to take part in Carolina’s celebration and parade at the RBC Center on Tuesday. The Blades, meanwhile, plan to use their parent organization’s championship to market their club.
Brush said: “It will give Gerry and I another thing we can talk about when we’re recruiting college or junior hockey players.”
Fleming said: “It’s another feather in our cap. It’s definitely a selling feature.”