Rookie Laroque learning the ropes
CRASH CAMERON, QMI Agency
|Oil Kings forward Mike Piluso bounces Prince George Cougars’ forward Alex Rodgers into the boards during the first period of Saturday’s Western Hockey League clash at Rexall Place. (AMBER BRACKEN/EDMONTON SUN)
Almost everything changes when you make the jump from midget hockey to major junior.
On the ice, everyone is bigger, better, quicker, smarter ...
"It was all of the above," Braeden Laroque smiled when asked what was the toughest adjustment he had to face as a 17-year-old rookie in the Western Hockey League.
"Guys are a lot bigger, stronger and faster, of course.
"The way the game plays, you can tell everyone in major junior is just so much smarter than in midget. They're able to make the extra play, the fancy play, the play that needs to be made.
"You've got to adapt to it and do your best to fit smoothly within the league. It takes extra strength and a litle more mental toughness."
Laroque wouldn't have expected to receive the kind of ice time he has as a rookie in the Dub.
But the Edmonton Oil Kings couldn't have anticipated having quite this many holes on their blueline.
"Coming into the season, I wasn't sure how it would turn out for me," said the six-foot, 171-pound Saskatoon kid.
"With the injuries, it's given me the chance to step in and help out."
Laroque has played in 54 games. He got his first WHL point in January, setting up Klarc Wilson's first WHL goal.
"Creating opportunities for other players" is often the cliche used by teams when the disabled list threatens to be the longest one on the depth chart.
Laroque benefitted from an early-season stretch when both injury and flu bugs swept through the roster.
There were nights when he and fellow rookie Keegan Lowe were two of just four able-bodied D-men, pairing with veterans Adrian Van de Mosselaer and Drew Nichol.
Now, Van de Mosselaer and Mark Pysyk are both up in the stands, each with a plastic boot on one foot.
"You pretty much have to stick to your game," said Laroque, whose game appears to be more of a safety-first defensive style.
"It's tough to fill Mark Pysyk's boots, but you have to stick to your game.
"I try to do my best when I go out there; do my best to put the team in a winning situation."
That hasn't really happened for Edmonton this season, with mind-numbing losing streaks adding up even through nights when the team had better efforts.
"The thing about this season, it's definitely something to learn from, learn what the team's got to do, what it takes to win.
"Sometimes they score a goal and you want to get down on yourself and get down on the team, but you've got to go back to playing your game.
"The team is definitely working hard. It's just sometimes we have little brain farts, shut down for a little bit and other teams capitalize on us."