ROCKFORD – When the Rockford IceHogs traded for Michael Latta in January, Twitter mentions went a little crazy for what was a minor-league deal. Latta earned some social-media darling status a few seasons ago with the Washington Capitals on "Road to the Winter Classic," when he and then teammate/roommate never had anything but ketchup in their fridge.
Good news is, when he was traded here for defenseman Cameron Schilling, Latta's lack of food wasn't an issue.
"Yeah, I took Schilling's place so he left me a bunch," Latta said with a laugh. "So thank God."
All kidding and Costco levels of condiments aside, Latta is in a good place these days. Coming from the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), where things didn't go so well, Latta is now playing a lot of minutes, getting a lot of responsibility and recording a lot of assists. Coming off a three-point game on Saturday, Latta now has seven assists since making his Rockford debut on Jan. 25.
The change of scenery was a welcome one for the 25-year-old, who's been playing with Tyler Motte and Mark McNeill.
"It's been great," Latta said following the IceHogs' practice on Tuesday. "They've given me a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities. And this last weekend I started feeling really comfortable. I get along with the guys and [I'm learning] the system so it's been good. It's going well so far."
The IceHogs were happy to take Latta; Rockford coach Ted Dent said Latta was a thorn in the IceHogs' side when he played with the Milwaukee Admirals from 2010-13.
"He's the type of guy you hate to play against but you love to have him on your team. We lived through the not having him on our team for two years and he was very effective against us, scrappy and in your face and he shows up to play. All coaches respect that and want guys like that on your team," Dent said. "He has a little skill as well that some people may not know about, but if you give him an opportunity he's definitely showing he can play with some high-end players as well."
Latta started the season at the Los Angeles Kings' training camp but was assigned to the Reign in early October. Not much was happening there, so Latta was thrilled at the trade.
Sometimes players go and you think it's going to be a good fit but it doesn't work out," he said. "But I'm happy here, I think I'm a good fit here and I hope they think so, too."
Naturally, Latta would love an opportunity with the Blackhawks. He knows there's plenty of competition for whatever chance there would be but he keeps it in the back of his mind.
"They don't know me very well so it'd be nice to go up there and get a shot," he said. "Just get a chance to show the and see what they think."
If or when that happens, who knows. Right now, however, Latta is happy to get more playing time and more of a chance to get his game back.
"I know he wasn't playing a lot in Ontario, it wasn't going well," Dent said. "He wanted an opportunity. The fact we know him and have seen him play helps out. I've seen him, management's seen him, everyone liked him and [know] the intangibles he brought to the table. Right away he's playing with our top-nine forwards, between 14-17 minutes of ice time a night. I think he's like, 'wow this is fun,'" Dent said. "We just brought the fun back into the game for him at the beginning and now he's getting to know the guys and feels a lot more comfortable."