Vince Laise spent last season teaching hockey to kids 15 and younger, and the more he preached certain fundamentals, the more he realized there were deficiencies in his own game.
As it turns out, a year away from playing hockey made him a more complete player.
I learned a lot from coaching others, said Laise, a forward vying for a spot on the Fort Wayne Komets roster. I was teaching them the things that I didnt do well. So, I think Ive improved from that.
A native of Brampton, Ontario, Laise played for the University of Maine from 2005 to 2008, scoring three goals and nine points in 56 games. He thought he had a job lined up last season in Reading of the ECHL but lost his spot when players were sent down from higher levels.
After failing to catch on elsewhere in North America or Europe, he opted to go to Toronto, coach and evaluate his options. Along the way, he stayed in touch with Rick Varone, with whom he skated alongside for about six years in youth and junior hockey. Varone was tearing it up in his rookie season with the Komets, scoring 23 goals and 55 points in 75 games en route to winning their second straight Turner Cup championship.
Coincidentally, Varone had taken a year off before joining the Komets, too.
We stayed in contact over the year, and hed keep saying how great the organization was and also the city, Laise said. He loved the support here. It was exciting to hear his excitement to get back in the game, after (the Komets) gave him a chance. One of the reasons Im here is because of Rick Varone. He believed in me and helped get me in here.
Laise, 5-foot-11, 163 pounds, had one goal, one assist and a team-leading 10 shots in three preseason games. But the Komets still need to cut a player or two before Fridays season opener at Dayton, and Laise could be on the bubble.
Theres a lot of flash there, and hes got good speed, decent hands, coach Al Sims said. But he overhandles the puck at times. He took the last year off, and its a big change coming to this league and trying to get things going in a week. He needs some more time and to show us he can be consistent.
Laise, 24, said hes been leaning on some of the veterans and that there have been some adjustments in returning to playing every day.
Mentally, every day, you have to be up, he said. Coming to the rink, you cant be tired. You have to have a positive attitude. When youre not in the game for a while, mentally you forget what thats all about.
But hes reinvigorated and hoping he sticks with the Komets.