Lacouture's high road

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

CARY, North Carolina -- As far as comebacks go, Dan Lacouture is pulling a major victory from deep in the jaws of defeat.

And it has little to do with hockey. The former Oilers winger is salvaging his life.

Caught in an ugly downward spiral of alcohol and depression the last few years, Lacouture was on his way to losing everything -- his career, his wife and newborn daughter and everything he ever held dear.

"Things just started tail- spinning out of whack," the 31-year-old Carolina Hurricane said yesterday.

"I was doing a lot of drinking because I was depressed (about being in the minors). I just started drinking every night, a bottle, two bottles of wine every night without fail."

Lacouture, like so many hockey players, always enjoyed the odd drink, but it started taking control of his life when the New Jersey Devils demoted him two seasons ago.

His wife just had the baby and he didn't want to uproot the family and move them to a minor league city, so he made a two-hour commute, each way, every day, from his home in Cape Cod to the AHL rink in Lowell, Mass.

His answer to the fatigue, the stress and the disappointment of not playing in the NHL was to pound back a few drinks every night. Then a few more. Until it wasn't social drinking anymore.

"It was never a problem before," said Lacouture, who played for Edmonton from 1998 to 2001, before stops in Pittsburgh, New York, Providence, Davos, Boston, New Jersey, Lowell and Lugano.

"I did it all to myself. It became a habit at home."

It didn't take long before the booze caught up with him. You can't be a good player, a good husband and a good father when you're drunk and hung over all the time.

Lacouture found he was losing his grip on everything he cared about.

"(My wife) couldn't talk to me," he said. "I was so far gone, just upset and miserable every day, pretty much just torturing myself. I'd be drinking all night and the next day I'd be hung over and not myself. So I'm cranky and on edge and I'm short with her."

Finally, and probably just in time, he made the decision to pull out of it. To get help.

"This summer I said enough was enough. I was like, 'What the hell am I doing?'

"There have been some things I couldn't control the last few years, but I can control not drinking. I can control that.

"I have a two-year-old daughter. I looked at my wife and my daughter and said something has to give.

"That was four months ago. I said if I'm not going to do it for myself, do it for my daughter. I got myself back on track, got sober."

He went to counselling, trained like a fiend all summer and put out the word that he was willing to walk into anyone's camp on a tryout basis.

Carolina gave him his shot.

He scored two goals and an assist in their Red-White game and played in all six of their preseason games. He scored a goal in Washington, got in a fight in Philly, made the team and scored the winner in Carolina's home- opener.

"He's a great kid," said head coach Peter Laviolette. "Everybody enjoys having him in the locker-room because he's a hard-working guy. He sticks up for his teammates, he does whatever you ask.

"He's a good hockey player and a good person too, and those guys are easy to put in your locker-room."

Lacouture still meets with his counsellor twice a week to help him with the battle.

"Friday before every weekend to talk about how to get through the weekend, and Monday to talk about how I got through it," he said.

"I have a clear conscience coming to the rink every day. I don't come thinking I had too much to drink last night, feeling guilty. I come knowing that I took care of myself, that I'm ready to go today.

"I appreciate that they gave me the opportunity. I knew if somebody gave me an opportunity, I wasn't going to let them down."

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A strong centre and a good faceoff man could give the Oilers trouble.

COMING IN

The 4-4-1 Oilers are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators. The 5-2-2 Hurricanes are coming off a 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues.

HURT PARADE

Edmonton: D Jason Strudwick (shoulder).

Carolina: D Joni Pitkanen (knee); D Brandon Sutter (concussion); D Frantisek Kaberle (foot); D David Tanabe (concussion); RW Scott Walker (hand); RW Justin Williams (Achilles tendon).

GAME NOTES

The Oilers are reuniting the line of Shawn Horcoff between Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, along with the Kid Line (Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson) in an effort to spark their struggling offence ... The 'Canes are playing the dreaded first game back after an extended road trip (3-1-2), which, for some reason, is one of the hardest games to win. "You take that little breath and that's when you get pounded," said Carolina veteran Rod Brind'Amour ... The 'Canes have killed 24 of 27 penalties.


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