By Matt Malinowski
READING, Pa. – He is the lone player on the Reading Royals roster who has lit the lamp at the highest level. And when asked about his one National Hockey League goal, Larry Courville spits out the details as if it happened a mere shift ago.
It was the 1995-96 season, and Courville was playing in his second game with the Vancouver Canucks, against the Ottawa Senators.
The puck went back to the point and defenseman Adrian Aucoin uncorked a shot. Courville was there for the rebound.
Score. Not just a goal, but an everlasting memory.
“It was my kind of goal, just going to the net,” Courville said.
That special puck rests on a plaque at his parents’ house in Timmons, Ontario. And it symbolizes one of the many special moments in Courville’s career.
There are plenty more. Such as being a teammate of Mark Messier while in Vancouver.
Such as winning the World Junior Championships 10 years ago with arguably the best squad in Team Canada history, one that included Todd Harvey, Jeff Friesen, Ed Jovanovski, Bryan McCabe and Alexander Daigle.
But you learn something quickly about Larry Courville when you sit down and chat with him for a few minutes.
It’s the game itself he most cherishes.
It’s the game itself he appreciates as much as any glorious highlight in his long career, which began with Cornwall of the Ontario Hockey League in 1991-92.
Walking away from the game for a while will change your perspective pretty quickly.
After playing 47 games for the Hershey Bears and eight with the Royals in 2001-02, Courville hung up his skates.
“It was something I felt I had to do,” Courville said. “My last year basically was in Hershey, and things just weren’t working out so I decided to call it quits.
“I met my wife, we got married, and we were tired of moving around.”
Courville, who lives in Lebanon, had several jobs in his time off the ice, and none satisfied him.
He worked in landscaping. He drove a tractor trailer for almost a year.
“I just wasn’t able to find anything I enjoyed,” Courville said.
Courville played a little bit of hockey on the side in what he called a semi-pro league out of York. While there, Johnstown Chiefs coach Toby O’Brien read an article about Courville and gave him a call.
Courville was offered another chance to play, which he jumped on like a loose puck in the crease.
“I thought about the game almost every day,” Courville said. “My wife knew how much I missed it, too, and she was really supportive of me playing again.”
Courville moved to Johnstown for a few months and had 12 goals and 20 assists in 38 games for the Chiefs last season.
But what Courville really was hoping for was a chance to play in Reading, a chance to play while living at home and spending as much time with his wife, who is expecting the family’s first child in a few months.
He got that chance when Royals coach Derek Clancey, who was seeking a veteran in a locker room full of deep, but young, talent, gave him a ring shortly before this season.
“I knew he was a good team guy who worked hard,” Clancey said. “I asked a couple of guys about him and he wanted to play here. I called him up, he was sitting at home, and he said he was hoping to get a chance in Reading.
“He seemed really excited about the opportunity. He told me straight out that if he wasn’t going to play in Reading, he didn’t think he was going to play at all.”
Entering Sunday, Courville had seven points and was a minus-5 in 22 games for the Royals. Those numbers could be better, but they’re not the most important things he brings to the table.
He is a popular and likable guy in the locker room.
He serves as a go-between for Clancey and the players, a guy who helps resolve issues that might arise.
He has the experience to help answer younger players’ questions about what it is like at the highest level and what it takes to get there.
He also has the experience of knowing what life was like when he was away from the sport he loves.
“I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss it until I actually left the game,” Courville said. “Just being here every day, just being around the guys . . . I definitely cherish it so much more now.”