The Laval Rocket are currently in the midst of an injury plague that has cost them four full-time roster players. Initially they lost Matt Taormina and Yannick Veilleux, and to make up for the shortfall, the team reached out to their ECHL affiliate Brampton Beast to fill out the roster, signing defenceman Matt Petgrave and forward Chris Leveille to professional tryouts.
Then in rapid succession, forwards Chris Terry and Niki Petti also were befallen, not to mention the recall of Nikita Scherbak to the Montreal Canadiens, which necessitated another call to the ECHL for reinforcement. The Rocket turned toward David Vallorani.
“I got a call from [Beast Manager of Hockey Operations Frederic Lemay] on Wednesday night [February 7] to tell me that I was going up to Laval,” said Vallorani. “I was pretty excited.”
The announcement was made by the Laval Rocket on Thursday, February 8, and Vallorani was flown from Toronto to Utica, where the Laval Rocket were getting ready to play against the Comets on Friday night. He rode with the team from the hotel to the arena, excited about the prospect of his AHL debut.
Vallorani had always been among the top scorers in the ECHL since completing a four-year stint at UMass-Lowell of the NCAA in 2012, yet never had a shot to compete at the AHL level. Players always talk about just continuously working hard, waiting for an opportunity, and this was seemingly it for Vallorani, the big break he’s been working toward. Until an obscure AHL rule brought it all crashing down.
It happened as morning skate was about to get under way on Friday. “I met all the guys in the dressing room, spoke with [Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre] briefly to go over a few things, and I was taping up my stick, about to get dressed to hit the ice. The coach called me back and says ‘Yeah, the League called, and says that you’re ineligible to play.’ I was kinda confused by that. He didn’t really know much about it either. Nobody really knew what was going on.
“I got on the phone with Beast coach Colin Chaulk, who was sort of aware of the rule, but didn’t think of it. I got back to the hotel and called the PHPA [Professional Hockey Players’ Association]. Larry Landon [Executive Director of the PHPA] called the AHL, who informed him that the cutoff deadline was February 1st [for me to sign an AHL agreement].”
The rule is as follows, explained by Jason Chaimovitch, Vice President of Communications of the American Hockey League:
“Per AHL by-laws, a player who begins the season playing in a league outside of North America may not join an AHL team after February 1. (Prior to February 1, he must clear AHL waivers before signing.)”
“Because he began the season in Sweden and did not sign or clear waivers before the deadline, David Vallorani is not eligible to play in the AHL for the remainder of this season.”
Vallorani finished 2016-17 leading the Brampton Beast with 32 goals and 51 assists for 83 points, good enough to be tied for fourth in the ECHL. It seemed like the right time to head back to Europe.
“After we played really well last year, I thought it was a really good opportunity to take. The Allsvenskan is a really good league — second division in Sweden — but it’s probably one of the top leagues in Europe to play for. I just thought I would give it a shot. I went together with my ex-teammate Luke Pither. I thought it was going to be a good fit. Unfortunately it wasn’t, for either of us. The hockey there is very defensive-minded, and it just wasn’t for me. My wife got there and saw how it was, and wasn’t really happy with the situation, so we just decided to come home and play for Brampton.”
Of course, as any level-headed person would do before quitting one job, Vallorani ensured that there was another one immediately available in Brampton. “I had to make sure I had a spot to play back home (he’s from Hamilton) before I made any choice.”
Thankfully the Beast welcomed him back with open arms, facilitated by the fact that he does not yet qualify for veteran status in the ECHL, for which the development league has limited slots. Should the Beast not have had a spot available? “I probably would have stuck it out in Sweden, or tried with a different team in Europe.”
Since returning to the Beast in early December, Vallorani has played in 24 games, scoring eight goals and adding 11 assists.
“Laval was really sympathetic,” continued Vallorani. “All the coaches came up to me, [General Manager Larry Carriere] spoke to me after and said ‘Tough break. We’ll keep an eye on you.’ Things like that. The Rocket were not aware of the rule. I was really disappointed. It was my first call-up. Hopefully I’ll get another shot next year.”
The rationale for the rule is that it prevents AHL teams from loading up on international players ahead of the playoffs, similar to the rule that the NHL has in place about bringing in players from overseas during the season. It’s also a disincentive to try and go to Europe where salaries are higher, but at the cost of the AHL safety net.
When asked, Mr. Chaimovitch said that the AHL By-Laws are not available to the public, and an internet search will confirm that they are in fact not. What is surprising is that an AHL team, with full access to these By-Laws, was caught off guard by a rule found therein.
In the meantime, Vallorani will have to settle for playing within the welcoming confines of the Powerade Centre in Brampton. On Tuesday, he opened the scoring against the Toledo Walleye, redirecting a shot right in front of the net, and playing a solid game that earned him the third star. Bittersweet, no doubt.