Zac Dalpe is back in the big league.
The Paris native recently was recalled to the NHL by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I’m still getting called up going on 32 years old, so I must be doing something right,” said Dalpe, who turned 31 on Nov. 1.
“It’s nice to still be in the conversation at this point in my career.”
Dalpe started the hockey season with Columbus’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters.
He was drafted in the second round (45th overall) of the 2008 NHL draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. Since then, he has played in 141 NHL games over 10 seasons, scoring 12 goals while adding 13 assists with the Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild and Blue Jackets.
Dalpe has spent the bulk of his career in the AHL, with 151 goals and 134 assists while playing 383 games over 12 years for six teams.
The six-foot-two, 195-pound forward has had his share of injuries, including a knee injury last season that forced him to miss the majority of the AHL campaign. He also didn’t get an NHL call-up during a season for the first time since making his NHL debut during the 2010-11 season.
During a summer of rehab in the basement at his home, Dalpe was still suffering from soreness and wondered if he’d be ready for the start of the 2021 season. But, with the season pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t have to have his knee in game shape until Blue Jackets’ training camp in January.
He said the extra time off meant he was ready for the NHL camp.
“I felt like I had a really good (NHL) camp. I think they were happy with everything but, at the end of the day, they wanted me to play games. I hadn’t played in over a year so I get where their thinking was.”
Dalpe was returned to Cleveland. After being a co-captain for the Monsters last season, he was named the team’s sole captain for the 2021 season.
“I’m a guy that likes to work hard when no one is watching and then, when you get that opportunity when people are watching, you hope to lead by example,” he said.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been a leader. It’s nice to get the recognition and it’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
In his first AHL game of the season on Feb. 12 – and his first since Nov. 21, 2019 – he scored a goal and got in a fight with Dalton Smith of the Rochester Americans.
“I didn’t really ease my way into things,” he said. “The Dalpe way is to dive in headfirst into the shallow end. That’s what I did.”
Dalpe said it felt great to score after so much time off.
As for the fight, he said he “ate a couple” before rebounding to score a split decision.
“The guy was a lefty and I wasn’t aware of that until he hit me with it.”
Dalpe joined the Blue Jackets taxi squad on Friday for the team’s morning skate.
This season the NHL has allowed each team to carry up to six players on a taxi squad because of the pandemic. Those players practise and travel with the team and, if needed, can play on short notice.
Dalpe said he must “stay ready” if called on.
“I just show up and go to work every day. It sounds pretty simple but that’s really all it is at the end of the day.”
Dalpe was with the team in Nashville on Saturday for a game against the Predators. The team announced he would be returning to Cleveland, however, a couple of hours later, it was announced that he would be staying with the Blue Jackets.
Columbus’ next game is Tuesday at home against Detroit.
After battling through his latest injury, Dalpe has taken satisfaction in his return. But it’s not just about him anymore.
“I’m so happy because my kids are super involved now,” he said of young sons, Brooks and Beau.
“They see me actually playing now. When I was hurt they kind of forgot what I did for a living and now it’s Cleveland Monsters this and Cleveland Monsters that.
“At this point in my career, when your kids can watch you play, it’s huge. It brings a smile to my face.”
Dalpe said he has no plans to slow down.
“I really only know one way and that’s the harder you work the luckier you get,” he said. “I like to think I’ve created my own luck.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s been rewarded with the hard work I’ve put in. I get to play hockey for a living and it’s not something I’ll ever take for granted.”