Photo Credit: Norm Hall
Last season, there were too many times when an opposing team would take liberties against the Phoenix Coyotes. No one will argue that fact. So in the off-season, General Manager Michael Barnett and Head Coach Wayne Gretzky vowed to make the Coyotes a tougher team on the ice so that the Coyotes would intimidate and not be intimidated in the 2006-07 season.
Over the summer, the Coyotes began the transition of getting tougher when they traded for defenseman Nick Boynton and signed Ed Jovanovski on the first day of free agency. Then, four days later, the Coyotes made a big acquisition that would improve the club's overall toughness with the signing of free agent right wing Georges Laraque.
Laraque spent nine seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, before leaving Canada to play in the desert. When he arrived in Phoenix, he realized would take him a little while to adjust to a new city and a new team.
"I had never played with any other team (in my professional career) so that's even harder than some guys who have moved around once or twice," said Laraque. "You feel like a rookie again because everything is new to me and I've never seen anything else."
Over the course of his first handful of regular season games, Laraque wasn't producing the results Gretzky knew he could and as a result, his ice time dwindled. That was a message that the Coyotes big man received very clearly.
"I'm a man and when the greatest player tells you to step it up you have to do it and I did," said Laraque.
Laraque's game immediately improved and with a strong work ethic, the Coyotes' coaching staff took notice and rewarded Laraque with more ice-time and he is making the most of it. Over the last four games, Laraque has recorded seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) and played exactly how the Coyotes had envisioned when he was signed over the summer.
"We know he's one of the best tough guys in hockey, but his work ethic and hockey ability has been really fun to watch the last five games, six games," said Gretzky. "He's really brought an enthusiasm and enjoyment to the bench and locker room. It's really nice to see a guy like that get rewarded, and (his) whole line has been good."
"It all has to do with confidence, especially when you get to a new team," said Laraque. "You get to a new team and kind of feel your way around, how the coaches are, the practices, the system and everything. It was a totally different atmosphere for me."
Just as rewarding as the points and ice-time are, is the trust the Coyotes have shown in Laraque, and he is taking it to heart.
"Now that I've been here for a while and the more and more I was around the guys and the practices, I started feeling more comfortable about the situation that I was in," said Laraque. "The coach trusts me by giving me more ice time and it really helps your confidence because when the coach gives you ice-time you want to reward them and show that they did the right thing."
Laraque understands that while the "New NHL" benefits the smaller, faster players, he also feels that it lend itself to his game as well.
"I'm a big guy and with the new rules, the (defense) can't hold you up with their stick, (or) their body and my 250-pounds (can) go to the net, I'll create space for my linemates because there are usually two guys on me and that leaves one guy open."
That is exactly what has been happening lately and linemates Oleg Saprykin and Mike Zigomanis have benefited, combining for five goals and 2 assists over the last four games.
Laraque's passion for the game is never more evident that when he scores. Whether it is smothering a teammate in celebration or plastering himself against the lass to share his excitement with the fans, there is certainly nothing dull about his celebrations.
"I get so excited that raising my arms sometimes doesn't contain my emotions enough and I have to release some of my emotion into the glass or something because I get so excited when I get a goal," said Laraque.
Based on his track record and recent play, it appears Coyotes fans will have plenty to celebrate with Laraque for the foreseeable future.