By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – There is one vital characteristic for success in any endeavor, especially in sports.
Self confidence can take a player to a whole new level, and Christian Larrivee has finally found it.
“He is playing with an extreme amount of confidence,” Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron said. “We knew he was good last year, but he wasn’t confident enough to do what he is doing offensively now. He has that confidence now.”
It’s easy to see that confidence emanate from his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame on and off the ice.
Heading into Friday’s game against Idaho at the Long Beach Arena, Larrivee has four goals and four assists for eight points in just the first six games. It took him until Jan. 30 to accomplish that last season.
And in the locker room, he is no longer the introvert, but more like the life of the party.
Larrivee’s confidence is a byproduct of the sense of comfort he now feels. A self-described “shy guy,” he is playing for a team and coach that he believes in, playing with players he knows and playing in a city he enjoys.
The lack of that comfort level was a main reason why his breakout year took three seasons.
“I always need some time to adapt,” said the former fourth-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2000 in his heavy French-Canadian accent.
Cameron saw the potential in Larrivee last year, when he spent most of the year in Long Beach (2-4-0) after being assigned by Hamilton, the AHL affiliate of the Canadiens. Used predominantly as a third-line winger, Larrivee recorded just nine goals and 20 assists in 53 games, finishing seventh on the team with 29 points.
Despite the low numbers, there were signs that Larrivee was more than a grinder. When given the chance, he showed he had speed, tenacity and puckhandling skills to be more of a factor.
But Cameron felt Larrivee, who was moved to center to take advantage of his skills this season, was missing one small, but important, ingredient to his game confidence. And now that he’s found it, he is a whole new player.
“He’s doing everything,” Cameron said. “He hit a guy from Stockton the other night and I thought he was going to send him to the hospital. He’s scored short-handed (twice), scored on the power play and he’s winning faceoffs. He’s doing it all, and then some.
“Right now, he’s our best player, far and away our best player. This is what I envisioned the day I found out he was not re-signed (by the Canadiens). When I found out at 12 o’clock on Aug. 1, I called him at 12:01 and signed him on Aug. 2. We wanted him back and he wanted to come back.”
Larrivee is also a whole new person.
“There’s been a personality switch off ice,” Cameron said. “Last year, he was quiet, reserved, shy. Now he’s the jokester, the life of the team. He’s a totally different person, and that came from confidence. One year has made a huge difference.”
Some of Larrivee’s change has come from expectations. He is no longer expected to be just a third-line player with defense-first responsibilities. He is playing on the top line between Chris Kenady and Max Birbraer.
He is now the go-to guy, and he’s feeding off it.
“It’s good for my confidence,” said Larrivee, who had a 100-point season with the Chicoutmimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2001-02 but had just 67 points in his first two years as a pro. “Last year, the coach didn’t know me and I played on the second and third lines. This year, my role is to score every game to support the team. I’m also playing on the power play, penalty kill and 4 on 4.
“I’m playing the same way I did last year, but the points are just coming easier. I said to myself all summer that I needed to score more. Nine or 10 wasn’t enough. I know I can get 25 to 30. I didn’t get lucky the last couple of years, but now that’s starting to switch.”
Not only is Larrivee putting up better numbers, he’s becoming a leader. That too is from confidence.
“His mindset is not the same,” Cameron said. “Before, his mindset was more of being part of the group instead of the leader of the group. Now he is the leader of the group.”
Larrivee’s transformation and production haven’t been lost on his teammates.
“It’s more confidence than anything else,” Kenady said. “He’s always worked hard, but last year he never got a chance. It helps that he’s in a new role, and now that he’s got a spot on the first line, it makes it easier for him. Good things should happen for him because he does work hard.”