Larsen goes from ice to bench

by Lindsay Kramer ||

Brad Larsen has earned the right to a fresh start and an optimistic outlook.

The Columbus Blue Jackets gave it to him last week when they named him an assistant coach in Springfield fresh off his 13-year playing career.

Whatever he lacks in coaching experience, Larsen more than makes up for as an example to keep fighting through the setbacks of the sport and life.

Last spring, shortly after he finished his season playing for the Portland Pirates, Larsen, 33, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He said surgery and radiation appear to have successfully treated the problem, not that he considered the possibility of anything but a positive resolution.

"You can’t focus on the negative. It will bring you down. I’ve always believed that in the face of adversity you find the true character of someone," Larsen said. "Everyone goes through something. You can’t worry about it. I always look for the solution, not the problem."

Larsen has had far too much practice in that type of search. His last two seasons alone could have easily been spirit-breakers. Hip and abdomen ailments cost him the entire 2008-09 season, when he was with the Anaheim Ducks. Last year, he took a shot off his right foot in Portland’s first home game, fracturing one bone in three places and chipping two other bones. Later in that same game he was nailed in the jaw by a stick, causing a concussion.

"It’s one of those things that’s unavoidable in the game. The more you deal with it, you realize you can’t control it," he said. "What I realized is you can’t channel your energy toward the frustration and disappointment. Looking back, it’s something that helped build my character."

Larsen, a forward who played in 294 NHL games, said the one productive side to all his downtime was that it made him get a feel for what life after hockey would be like. He thought coaching could be the next step, he just didn’t know when. Even after his fight with cancer this summer he still planned on playing this year, but came up with a different decision when he consulted his gut.

"I felt I had exhausted myself physically and emotionally in the game," he said. "I felt my play starting to decline. When you lose the drive and that passion is not there, it’s time to move on."

Larsen sounded the starter’s pistol on the next phase by firing off his resume to Columbus. Several interviews later — and once the Blue Jackets were certain he was done playing — Larsen had a job with the Falcons.

"My mindset was in coaching. This coaching job came out of nowhere," he said. "Learning has never scared me. I was never a high-profile guy. I had to scratch and claw. I’ve been up and down. I can look myself in the mirror and be proud of what I accomplished in an injury-filled career. I’m excited to start something new."

Lindsay Kramer is the AHL correspondent for Read today’s complete column here.