|Laperriere notched eight goals and 21 assists in 2006-07 |
This isn’t Ian Laperriere’s first go ‘round.
But as the veteran right winger prepares for his third season in a Colorado uniform, the excitement in his eyes is evident when he discusses the Avalanche’s busy summer.
The signings of free agents Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan - combined with the emergence of young talent in Colorado’s system - gives the Avalanche organization and its fans plenty to be excited about for the 2007-08 campaign. Add in the club’s 15-2-2 record during last season’s stretch run, and it's easy to see why Laperriere is so optimistic.
Suddenly, the 13-year NHL veteran seems to have the spark of a fresh-faced rookie.
“For veterans, when you see the organization take that path and sign huge free agents to improve the team right away, it gives you motivation to work hard and make sure you come into camp in great shape,” said Laperriere. “That’s why I came here three years ago. They do whatever it takes to win and they proved that once again this summer.”
Laperriere admits that he was thrilled when the signings of Smyth and Hannan were announced on July 1st, knowing that the presence of the two high-profile free agents will bring an elevated feel to the Avalanche’s upcoming training camp.
In Smyth, the Avs picked up one of the most revered leaders in the game today, a player whose actions and demeanor will serve as a great model for the entire club.
“I think he was the best all-around free agent out there. Defensively, offensively, on the ice, off the ice, everything,” said Laperriere. “I’ve played against him for years and he’s a tough player. That’s what this organization is all about. He works hard on the ice and sets a great example off the ice. He’s one of the best in the league for sure.”
One area that Avalanche general manager Francois Giguere was looking to address in the offseason was to add a physical presence to the blue line while also bringing in a player who fits the club’s profile of high-character athletes. In Hannan, the club obtained one of the best in those regards; a solid defenseman who brings an element of size and strength to the defensive corps.
“They wanted another physical presence on the blue line and they went out and got one of the best guys to do that,” said Laperriere. “He shuts down the best line on the other team and he’s a physical player. He’s going to bring good experience to our team.”
Laperriere himself has enjoyed his two best offensive seasons in the NHL since joining the Avalanche prior to the 2005-06 season. After setting career-highs with 21 goals and 45 points in 2005-06, Laperriere followed that up with a 29-point effort – including 21 assists – during the 2006-07 campaign.
In his typical, selfless fashion, Laperriere is quick to pass out credit for his own accomplishments.
First, he mentions how comfortable everyone in the organization has made him feel since his first day in Colorado. Next, he credits the offensive system implemented by head coach Joel Quenneville, which led to the Avs being ranked as the top-scoring team in the Western Conference a season ago.
The final reason he cites for his own accomplishments and level of comfort? Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, who Laperriere also believes is a big reason for the success of the club’s youngsters.
“When he’s your hardest worker on the ice and in the gym, it forces you to follow him and do the same,” said Laperriere. “Who are we not to do what he does when he’s a Hall of Famer? That’s the best learning experience they can have, the best learning tool, to have Joe to look up to. I know they do, because I do and I’m 33 years old. I think it’s great for them.”
While Laperriere is quick to credit others in the Avs organization, his peers and coaches don’t hesitate to shift praise back in his direction just as swiftly.
“Lappy is a great competitor,” said Avalanche assistant coach Tony Granato, who played one season with Laperriere in Los Angeles. “He shows up to play every night. His teammates love him because they can always rely on him for energy and support.”
A player who has become a fan favorite in Denver with his workman-like game on the ice and endeared himself to the community through his charitable contributions off the ice, Laperriere is seemingly tireless when it comes to giving back to the community.
|The gritty forward quickly became a fan favorite upon his arrival in Colorado |
Among his many endeavors, Laperriere visits youth hockey practices as part of Colorado Avalanche Player Clinics, helps give young students their first skating experience through the Break the Ice program, and spends time with Colorado Special Hockey, where mentally and physically challenged individuals make up the teams in the league.
But perhaps his greatest passion is working with the Ronald McDonald House, which provides temporary lodging and support services to families with seriously ill or injured children receiving treatment at Denver area hospitals. Laperriere frequently visits the Ronald McDonald House on his own time to talk, sign autographs or play games with the residents.
“I feel like I have a great life, a great family, great kids and a great job. I know I have the power to give back to the community,” said Laperriere. “I’m grateful for the life I live and everything I have because of the game, so I try to give back to the game in those ways.”
In recognition of his work in the community, Laperriere was named the Avalanche’s 2007 recipient of the Chopper Travaglini Award, which is handed out annually to the player who best exemplifies Chopper’s spirit of dedication and generosity and understands the importance of giving back to the community. In addition, Laperriere was Colorado’s nominee for the NHL’s King Clancy Award in 2007, which is bestowed upon the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
While Laperriere gets quite a reaction off the ice due to his charity work, he receives an even bigger response on the ice as a result of his physical, high-energy game. The gritty forward led the Avalanche with 133 penalty minutes a season ago after posting a team-high 116 PIM in 2005-06.
As for the upcoming season, Laperriere thinks that Avalanche fans know what to expect out of him.
“I won’t change after 13 years in the league. I’ll play physical; I’ll give myself up, stick up for my teammates and do whatever the coaches ask me to do. I’m past that age where you want to prove to the world that you’re tough or prove that you can score. I want to win and I’ll do whatever it takes.”