By Chris Umpierre
After three years of playing in the minor leagues, Chad LaRose’s hockeycareer finally seems stabilized.
The former Florida Everblades forward is entering his fourth season with theNHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. He’ll earn a career-high $850,000 this season.He’s slated to play on the team’s third line.
“When I have a bad day or I get down on myself, I can always think about howI came a long way,” LaRose said Thursday. “There’s been a lot of doubters, alot of people who said I wouldn’t make it. That I’m too small or I took thewrong road.”
The 5-foot-11 LaRose, whose club will play its season opener tonight againstthe Florida Panthers, was never drafted. He started his professional careerin 2003 with the Everblades.
Two years later, LaRose was called up to the Hurricanes and had 13 points(one goal) in 49 games.
His NHL point production has increased every year ‹ from 13 to 18 to 23 lastseason.
LaRose has a new aspiration.
“I’d love to get 20 goals for the first time,” he said.
Only three Hurricanes ‹ forwards Eric Stall, Ray Whitney and Erik Cole ‹registered 20 goals last season, but LaRose thinks he can do it.
A hand injury to teammate Scott Walker should give LaRose more playing time.
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who began his career in the ECHL with Wheeling, told reporters that he loves LaRose’s workethic, how he never stops moving on the ice.
“I’m an energy guy,” LaRose said.
The 26-year-old is such a hard worker that hard-core Carolina fans call him“The Chuck Norris of Hockey.” Fans claim LaRose is not intimidated by tallerand heavier opponents.
One fan posted an altered picture of LaRose, dressing him in army fatiguesriding a kangaroo, on the Internet.
The Chuck Norris of Hockey, who made $500,000 last season, had an eventfuloffseason. In addition to signing for more money, LaRose did a lot ofpublicity events for the Hurricanes.
In one, LaRose threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Durham Bulls minorleague baseball game.
His pitch went over the catcher and hit a young violinist. The musicianwasn’t seriously hurt.
The Hurricanes are happy that LaRose won’t be throwing any fastballs forthem. They just want him to energize the club.
“We’ve got a good mix of veterans and young guys,” LaRose said. “I thinkyou’re going to see a different look than in past years. We’re going to bemore of a defensive team. Not so much run and gun.”
LaRose said he hasn’t forgotten his time with the Everblades.
“Man, I had a blast in Florida,” LaRose said. “From the fan base to all theway to (general manager) Craig Brush and (former coach) Gerry Fleming.Everything down there was a class-A organization.”
What advice does he have for the 2008-09 Everblades?
“It’s always about work ethic and having a positive attitude,” LaRose said.“If you don’t think you’re going to make it, well, you’re not going to makeit.”