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Tracking the Storm

Guy Behind the Guy: Plymouth Homecoming

Wednesday, 01.13.2010 / 3:38 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Mike Sundheim
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Guy Behind the Guy: Plymouth Homecoming
Mike Sundheim
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With Lady Gaga taking up residence at Joe Louis Arena for the evening, the Hurricanes had to find a different practice location for today. The chosen location came with a sentimental flavor for several of those taking the ice this afternoon.

Compuware Arena, about 30 minutes from downtown Detroit, is the home of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Owned by Peter Karmanos, Jr., the Whalers have established a fine history that dates back to when Karmanos and Jim Rutherford established the expansion Detroit Compuware Ambassadors as the first-ever, American-based OHL franchise. The Whalers have qualified for the OHL playoffs in 18 consecutive seasons, and since their establishment in Plymouth, they have won seven divisional titles, three conference championships and two OHL titles. Paul Maurice got his first coaching gig with the franchise, leading the Detroit Jr. Wings to the OHL Championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup in 1995. More than 45 Plymouth alumni have reached the NHL, including Justin Williams, Stephen Weiss, David Legwand, Gregory Campbell, James Neal and, of course, our own Chad LaRose.

It was a happy homecoming for LaRose, in no small part because he is back practicing with the Hurricanes and was able to fully participate on the ice today. LaRose played three seasons with the Whalers, netting 61 goals as an overage player in 2002-03 to rank second among OHL skaters. He is the only player to ever play at every level of the Peter Karmanos Compuware Hockey system, from AAA through the OHL and to the NHL.

“I had a lot of good experiences in this building and a lot of good memories,” LaRose said. “I had a lot of good coaching to help me get where I am today. It’s a great experience to come back here and see my old coaches. I know this is what I was dreaming about when I was here, so it’s pretty special to come back and practice in this rink as an NHL player.”

There are plenty of reminders for the current Whalers of the players, like LaRose, who came before them, making it clear exactly what type of opportunities they have before them. A wall as you enter the room displays the pictures of franchise alumni to play in the NHL. In each player stall, there is a list of players who have previously occupied that particular spot in the locker room. LaRose today sat in the same stall where he began his junior career, with his name and number indicated on the list of occupants.

LaRose took some time before practice to talk to members of the current Plymouth Whalers team about his time in Plymouth and his journey since. His road to the NHL is certainly one that could inspire any junior hockey player. Labeled as too small for hockey’s highest level, he went undrafted before signing with the Hurricanes as a free agent in August 2003.

“I told them that they are in the right spot and in the right organization,” he said. “They just need to keep their heads on straight and work hard and try to work towards the team goals at hand. Everything else will take care of itself. They have to do their best every night and work hard every day.”

The Whalers team that LaRose spoke to certainly has its share of players that we can expect to someday see in NHL uniforms. Michal Jordan was a fourth-round selection of the Hurricanes and recently captained the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships (he did wear number 23 in that tournament, if you’re wondering). A.J. Jenks and Philip McRae are fresh from capturing gold for the United States at the World Juniors. And Tyler Seguin is widely considered one of the top two prospects in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, to be held in Los Angeles in June.

The Whalers watched the Hurricanes practice from the stands this afternoon, and Maurice addressed the team after the skate, speaking about what has to happen for them between “here and the National Hockey League.” He stressed work ethic. Not surprisingly, Rod Brind’Amour was his shining example.

“Our guys train every day,” he told them. “They do something every single day. That’s professionalism. The guys that learn what it takes make it. The guys that don't, don't."

Even though Maurice never coached at Compuware Arena, his ties to both franchises helped remind him just how important Peter Karmanos has been to both his own career, and the sport of hockey in general.

“It’s not the rink that we all started in, but I played with or roomed with everybody on the top row,” he said, pointing to the wall of NHL alumni. “They got two coaches in the NHL, and all those players. “Pete (Karmanos) has been a builder of hockey. He's a big part of hockey in the United States.”



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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - NYR 73 47 19 7 224 168 101
2 MTL 75 46 21 8 197 167 100
3 TBL 75 46 22 7 244 194 99
4 NYI 75 44 26 5 228 208 93
5 PIT 74 40 23 11 204 186 91
6 DET 73 39 22 12 212 201 90
7 WSH 74 40 24 10 215 182 90
8 OTT 73 37 25 11 213 195 85
9 BOS 74 36 25 13 195 193 85
10 FLA 74 34 26 14 184 202 82
11 PHI 75 30 29 16 196 216 76
12 CBJ 74 35 35 4 203 230 74
13 NJD 74 31 31 12 166 189 74
14 CAR 73 27 36 10 170 201 64
15 TOR 75 27 42 6 194 241 60
16 BUF 74 20 46 8 141 249 48

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 68 20 27 -13 47
J. Faulk 73 14 32 -18 46
E. Lindholm 72 16 20 -21 36
J. Skinner 68 18 12 -22 30
V. Rask 71 11 19 -12 30
R. Nash 67 8 17 -10 25
N. Gerbe 69 7 17 -13 24
J. McClement 73 7 13 -3 20
A. Nestrasil 45 7 13 4 20
J. Staal 37 4 15 -9 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 19 21 5 .910 2.43
A. Khudobin 8 15 5 .903 2.62