Penguins

Wheeling Watch: Lacroix amps up offense

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Cedric Lacroix. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Cedric Lacroix hasn't ever been the biggest producer offensively. That's not his role.

The 24-year-old rookie is a pesky, hard-working, physical center who brings energy to the Nailers' lineup. But with three goals and two assists in his last five games, he's chipping in on the scoresheet now as well. He scored this shorthanded goal Saturday in Toledo:

"It feels good to help out offensively," Lacroix said. "Anytime I can help the team on that side it helps. Usually I'm known for just faceoffs or my physicality, but it's a nice little cherry on top when I can contribute offensively with goals."

Lacroix, a product of the University of Maine, now has seven goals and nine assists through 34 games. Not quite numbers to fawn over, but as a first-year pro on a new team, Lacroix needed time to find his footing. As he becomes for comfortable, his role on the team grows.

"I think I underproduced a little bit," Lacroix said of his start to the season. "I know what I'm capable of. I would have liked to produce more offensively at the start of the season, but I always start a little slow offensively. I think just confidence with the puck down low, reading where guys are as well as just getting used to the league. Obviously it's my first year in pro hockey, so the speed of the game and reading off of guys, learning other guys' tendencies, where they'll be, that's helped a lot too."

Lacroix has become a bit of a fan favorite in Wheeling this season, and it's no surprise. Nailers fans in the blue-collar town love gritty, hard-working players like the 6-feet-1, 185 pound Lacroix, and they love their fighters.

Lacroix's eight fights lead the team, and rank sixth in the league. He gets the job done, and he makes it fun. In this bout, a rematch from earlier in the season with Cincinnati's Arvin Atwal, Lacroix mocks Atwal's celebration from their first matchup when Lacroix gets the takedown:

As a college hockey product, Lacroix wasn't dropping the gloves at all the past four years. It was, however, a part of his game during his two years in the USHL. While he didn't make the jump to the ECHL looking to become a fighter, he knew that it would come with the territory.

"I knew with my play style, playing on the edge a little bit, I was going to have to answer the bell for my own actions at times, which I'm okay with doing," said Lacroix. "I'm not going to cower away from that. But also if one of my teammates gets run or something dirty happens, I'll be the first one to help them out. I'm going to fight if I have a reason to -- to change the momentum of a game, to protect a teammate, to protect myself -- these are all good reasons for me to fight."

It's no surprise that Lacroix is the one standing up for his teammates, he grew up seeing it. His father, Daniel, had a 13-year professional career. He primarily played in the AHL, but played 188 NHL games with the Rangers, Bruins, Flyers, Oilers, and Islanders. The elder Lacroix dropped the gloves 214 times in his career, dating back to juniors.

After retiring in 2002, Daniel began his coaching career, starting as an assistant coach in the QMJHL. He's been an assistant coach in the NHL for the Islanders, Lightning, Rangers, and most recently the Canadiens. After a coaching shakeup in Montreal in April 2018, he took on the head coaching role for the Lithuanian men's national team.

"My dad, the only things he's always demanded of me is that I play hard and play the right way, that I don't cut corners," said Cedric. "It's helped me in the fact that he's always made sure of my intensity and playing the right way, it was never about scoring goals. ... Having someone to be able to dissect my game in that sense helps me because it's playing the right way that matters. That's how you help your team win games."

Through the first half of his first professional season, Lacroix has followed the advice of his father. While it took some time for the goals to start to come, he's been playing hard and helping his team win.

MORE FROM WHEELING

• Dec. 31: vs. Reading, 4-0 win
• Jan 3: vs. Toledo, 6-2 loss
• Jan 4: at Indy, 3-2 loss
• Jan 5: at Toledo, 8-2 win

Troy Josephs and John Muse were reassigned to Wheeling from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Dec. 30. Cam Brown and Kevin Spinozzi were recalled to Wilkes-Barre. Nick Saracino earned a tryout with the Binghamton Devils. Forward Mark Petaccio was signed out of the SPHL's Evansville Thunderbolts, where he amassed 11 points in 12 games.

• Despite being in the AHL for a week, Saracino's 17 goals and 37 points still lead the team, and Brown leads with 26 assists.

• Lines and defense pairings from Saturday:

Renars Krastenbergs - Zac Lynch - Mark Petaccio
Troy Josephs - Michael Phillips - Yushiroh Hirano
Craig Skudalski - Cedric Lacroix - Alex Rauter
Frank Schumacher

Josh Couturier - Danny Fick
Johnny Austin - Dane Birks
Brien Diffley - Aaron Titcomb

• After this week, the Nailers rank fifth in the six-team Central Division with a record of 17-15-2, but are only three points out of third place. The Nailers’ power play rose to 4th place in the league at 21.5 percent, and the penalty kill sits 15th in the league at 83.4 percent.

• The Nailers will have a three-in-three this weekend. They'll host the Utah Grizzlies (20-8-3-1) on Friday, and the Indy Fuel (18-16) on Saturday and Sunday.

GOALS OF THE WEEK

Renars Krastenbergs scored this goal on Friday after a great individual effort. He's riding a six-game point streak where he's registered three goals and five assists:

Alex Rauter scored twice Saturday, bringing his season totals to nine goals and 16 assists in 27 games:

Yushiroh Hirano also scored twice on Saturday:

WHEELING FUN THING

Lacroix took Krastenbergs and Hirano home with him for the holidays, since they couldn't travel back to their own countries over the short break:

[caption id="attachment_756763" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Yushiroh Hirano, Renars Krastenbergs, and Cedric Lacroix. -- 9YUSHI0/AMEBLO[/caption]

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