Following his game in Philadelphia Saturday night, Hurricanes forward Zac Dalpe arrived at his family’s home in Paris, Ontario, around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday. With Carolina set to take on the Maple Leafs just down the road in Toronto, the next day was going to be the first time that members of his extended family would get to see him play an NHL game in person.
As is turned out, those family members will have to wait a little longer.
Dalpe did head to Toronto as planned, but it wasn’t to the Air Canada Center. Soon after waking up that morning, the 23-year-old forward received the always-dreaded phone call - after playing six games to start the NHL season, he was to go straight to the airport to catch a flight back to Charlotte.
“My mom was upset about it,” said Dalpe after Tuesday’s Checkers practice. “It’s the side of the game that the fans don’t see.”
That’s one of the reasons Sunday’s transaction was among the toughest for Dalpe, who estimates that he’s been involved in 19 recalls to or reassignments from the NHL over the course of his three professional seasons.
“It gets a little bit easier, but you’re usually not at home with 10 tickets out for people to come and watch you play,” he said.
Though he’s learned to temper his surprise upon getting the bad news, the first instance of the season is always the toughest, even without the particularly excruciating timing of his latest reassignment.
“I still want to be a full-time NHL player,” said Dalpe, who has started each of the last three seasons with Carolina. “I thought this was the year, but obviously there are things that need to be worked on.”
“Just consistency at the NHL level, even though that’s obviously a hard thing to work on in the AHL,” said Dalpe, whose two points, both assists, came in the same game against Buffalo on Jan. 24. “I break my games down period by period, and I thought I played 15 good periods out of 18 (in the NHL), but that’s not enough.”
Disappointment aside, Dalpe returned to Charlotte, where he started the season by scoring 28 points (13g, 15a) in 38 games, with no hard feelings. Given the way he responded to the Hurricanes not putting him on their initial list of training invites on Jan. 12 (he scored three points in his next two games to earn a belated tryout), that should come as no surprise.
“I’m not going to pout,” he said.
“His attitude has been great,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who had Dalpe on a line with Riley Nash and David Rutherford on Tuesday until an injury cut Rutherford’s practice short. “He brings a lot of energy to our practices and skates hard. He’s got a lot of confidence right now.”
Though the team will miss the grit provided by Tim Wallace, who left Charlotte on Sunday to make his Hurricanes debut in Dalpe’s stead, the Checkers should get an immediate offensive boost. Dalpe returns with an active five-point streak (5g, 4a) that ran from Jan. 4-13 and marked his most productive stretch of the season.
If he can keep that up, it won’t be long until he gets another shot with the Hurricanes. Who knows - after the ups and downs of the last few seasons, some more extreme than others, it’s always possible that the next one might be permanent.
“It’s everyone’s goal to be a full-time player,” said Daniels. “He understands it’s a process, and he’s close.”