by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
Chicago Wolves forward Jordan LaVallee still plays for his father.
Speaks to him, too, especially during games.
“When I go out and make a good play, I think, ‘Oh, that would have made him proud,”’ the third-year pro said.
Many players who are separated from their loved ones probably motivate themselves with the same mindset.
What makes LaVallee’s case more poignant is that he unexpectedly lost his dad, William Smotherman, to a blood clot last December. Since then, LaVallee has fought through his grief to play some of the best hockey of his career and honor him in his most familiar way.
“Just knowing my dad, the kind of guy he was, he’d want me to succeed,” LaVallee said. “I always wanted to succeed at this sport for him. Making it to the next level would make him proud. That’s something I need to do.”
LaVallee took another step toward that mission when he received his second career recall to the Atlanta Thrashers in February. Back in Chicago, he’s found comfort on the ice and even greater solace in the locker room.
At the time of his father’s death, LaVallee had five goals and six assists in 27 games. Since returning from his time off, he’s posted 12 goals and four assists in 31 games. He’s playing with both a stronger resolve and a greater peace of mind.
“Being around the guys in the room is obviously a distraction from the painful things I’m dealing with,” he said. “With all the support I’ve had, it makes it easier for me to focus on hockey. Being on the ice and being in the room is my place to be free from everything. It’s like my safe zone.”
Perhaps even more than hockey, LaVallee pays tribute to his father by creating a comfortable haven for others. LaVallee was recently named his team’s American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year for his community work, which has included campaigns that encourage youngsters to learn French and making hospital visits.
“Going to hospitals now is a little harder in the short term," LaVallee said. "There are very few moments in the day when I don’t run a thought through my head about my dad. Going through something that was hard like that, anything I can do to make that easier on (patients) is awesome.”