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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 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
K. Versteeg 63 11 22 -6 33
E. Staal 63 10 23 -3 33
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81