Dalpe lives in the moment of the Stanley Cup race (2023)

📝 by Patrick Williams

Zach Dalpedescribes himself in his Twitter bio as a "frequent U-Haul tenant" and that would be a fair description.

Years of packing and moving around North America brought him back to North Carolina, a place where he put down some of his early professional hockey roots.

Call it a postponed dream for Dalpe, whose career is at a very different point today than it was 12 years ago. This week he spends time in Tar Heel State in Raleigh where his Florida Panthers will face the Carolina Hurricanes in the National Hockey League Eastern Conference Finals.

This is for all the AHL veterans who have been chasing their NHL dreams for years.

"I really don't know how to describe it," Dalpe said from his hotel room in Florida this week.

"I don't want to sound too cliché. It was very… surreal,” he added after a long pause. “I know it's not a groundbreaking term, but it's all I have. Life in the fast lane.

In 2011, Dalpe was a rookie stationed in North Carolina with the Charlotte Checkers en route to the AHL Eastern Conference Finals. Dalpe was selected in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft, was 21 years old and had just secured a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team. That season's Calder Cup bid failed, but Dalpe laid the foundation for a long career as a key organizational player, someone who could steer the club's AHL prospects while completing the NHL roster.

Today, Dalpe, 33, is a respected figure in the AHL, captain of the Checkers, married with children and a home in Charlotte. The Checkers are now tied with Florida.

But not everything is different.

Paul MauriceThen he quickly fell in love with Dalpe's industrious game. Hurricanes head coaches Maurice and Dalpe have made winding journeys over the last 12 years and have teamed up with the Panthers again this season.

"I feel as a group he brings out the best in us," Dalpe said of Maurice. “He knows what drives us. He knows what makes us laugh. He knows what calms us down in times when the situation is tense. He is the coach who trains you. It sounds strange, but some trainers are motivators. He is a motivator and coach.

“I'm definitely looking forward to his speeches and words. They're really fun... There are some good ones."

Dalpe played 14 games for Florida in the regular season, the most in the NHL since the 2014–15 season when he played for Buffalo. In April, he returned to the Checkers as they prepared to start the Calder Cup playoffs.

Then the phone came. The Panthers needed him back.

"There was really no indication that I was going to play right away," Dalpe said. "You're kind of an add-on again, which is fine. But you're also a little torn because your teammates played for Charlotte in the playoffs, so you didn't know how to feel, but you sort of got caught up in the struggles of both teams.

Then the Panthers got injured. Dalpe dressed for Game 4 of his first game against Boston in the first round.

He has not left the Florida roster since then.

At the start of Game 6 of the series against the record-breaking Bruins, the Panthers held out longer than many expected, although they were still down three games to two. Boston came close to breaking the series with a 4–3 lead in the third period when Dalpe scored his first career Stanley Cup goal.

Swipe to Dalpe's@NHLOff-season mood ➡️#AHLGradZac Dalpe scored his first Stanley Cup playoffs goal last night, tying the scoreline and allowing the Panthers to play Game 7.

🎥:@flapanteri pic.twitter.com/lpdLHSnPSK

– American Hockey League (@TheAHL)April 29, 2023

The Panthers won Game 6 and completed the inning by winning Game 7 in Boston.

"That belief in the group is always there," Dalpe said. "The outside world probably didn't believe it, but we have a fucking room and I'll be honest with you. I've been to many locker rooms. It's a hell of a room.

After beating Toronto in the second round, the Panthers are in the conference finals for the first time in 27 years. And although he played over 700 professional games, this spring was a learning time for Dalpe.

"I feel weird in a good way," said Dalpe, who only saw three games against Minnesota in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. "I feel like I'm still learning... how to approach the game the way I need to. to how to approach as a team."

You will always have a good bank in good times, a lively, chatty bank, right? How important it is to keep the same attitude even when times are not so good. [Maurice] is really good at it and the whole team is into it. Nothing negative was said. And it's not like it spoils us. He gives you confidence."

That feeling came over Dalpe in the second game against the Maple Leafs. He scored the first goal for Toronto 2:20 in the competition. Then a traveling penalty in his second inning resulted in another score just 2:50 later.

"I thought the first two goals were my fault," said Dalpe. “It was almost like every guy came up to me and told me not to worry about it and just put me at ease. Then Mo told me to breathe. He calls everything "baby". So he said, "Breathe, baby."

“You feel like you have a lot of self-respect in the band. Like everyone else, I have high expectations of myself and everyone approached me. And it was no ordinary saying. Everyone took the time to say something sincere.

"After that, I called my dad and said, 'I'd run through concrete for these guys.'

A native of Paris, Ontario, near Toronto, Dalpe heard a lot from his hometown friends while running the Panthers Leafs.

"They all wear Core Four jerseys," Dalpe said, referring to the Maple Leafs.Austin Matthews,Mitcha Marnera,William NylanderIJohn Tavares. - You're not wearing Dalpe's shirt.

Dalpe lived in the hotel the entire time his wife livedCassandraShe returned to Charlotte with three children. However, his family traveled to Florida to attend and experience these playoffs together, and their presence was a welcome respite from constantly thinking about hockey.

"She did a really good job of showing the kids what a big moment it was," said Dalpe. “Of course they are dad fans. Of course they know I'm playing in the NHL, but my wife keeps insisting it's the NHL playoffs. To see them, she flies with her three children. You take children out of their element and they get sick. He doesn't protest at all. She just wants you to be here and see me play. I feel connected to her forever.

"It was really special to see them in the stands and watch me score points. I took that penalty in Toronto and the first thing the kids said to me after the game was, 'That wasn't a good penalty, Dad.'

Dalpe also has several Checkers teammates with him after they went on defense after Charlotte's playoffs ended. They serve as extras on the Florida team and watch their captain go to the Stanley Cup.

“I love facial hair,” Dalpe said, “but it's carefree. I'm not a loud guy in Florida, but I have a gift for speaking, so I watch all my words if I see them in a hotel."

No matter how long the playoffs last, Dalpe will bring back many memories.

"Just a reaction, everyone was so supportive of me that it opened my eyes," Dalpe said. “I like to think it takes a whole village to raise a hockey player. In this case, I feel like in the city. I'm just working on my career… it's a good reward."

Dalpe lives in the moment of the Stanley Cup race (1)

Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams has been in the American Hockey League for nearly two decades with media like NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sport and is currently a co-hostDie Hockey-News w „A“-Podcast. Received the AHL's James H. Ellery Memorial Award for outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.

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