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Lappy’s Legacy: Devotion, Grit, Work Ethic

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers
There are some hockey players whose value to their teams is much better measured by their longevity than by goals and assists. Ian Laperriere’s 1,083 regular season games and 67 playoff matches in the NHL speak volumes about the worth of his contributions that could never be told by the modest 121 goals and 336 points he garnered during his 16-plus seasons.

In a conference call with the media today, the 38-year-old Laperriere officially announced his retirement as an active player. The gritty, physical forward’s career was curtailed by post-concussion issues that prevent him from playing competitive hockey. Fortunately, he is otherwise able to live a normal life free from concussion symptoms.

Although Laperierre was only physically able to play one season as a playing member of the Philadelphia Flyers, he made a lasting impression both on the team and the fan base. Over the last two years, he may not have been able to suit up in uniform but he very much remained a Flyer.

“It was my shortest time here compared to the other teams I played for, but that’s probably one of my regrets, not having a chance to play longer in this great organization,” said Laperriere. “I’m just glad I had a chance to wear the orange and black.  It’s something I would have missed, just to play for a team that cares so much about their fans and cares so much about their players.  I’m not saying that everywhere else I played, they didn’t care about their players, but nothing compared to what the Flyers are.”

Signed by the Flyers to a three-year contract in the summer of 2009, Laperriere brought the same sort of courageous play and fierce competitive spirit to Philadelphia that he previously exemplified as a member of the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche. There was no price that Laperriere would not pay to help his team win. He was the epitome of an “energy player.”

Laperriere excelled at the unglamorous but vital aspects of the game: board work, penalty killing and shot blocking. A fierce body checker, Laperriere packed surprising power on his frame. He also knew how to get under opponents’ skin verbally, and was eminently willing to drop the gloves whenever the situation called for it.

If a member of the opposing team took liberties with a teammate, Laperriere would be the first to rush to his comrade’s defense. He was not afraid to mix it up even with bigger opponents and he played with the same fervor on the road as he did in front of the home crowd.

How would Laperriere like to remembered for his playing career?

“Just to be remembered would be nice, “said Laperriere. “It’s the name of the game – the new flavors coming in the next year.  It’s fine, but at the same time, you miss that and it’s kind of hard to swallow, I guess.  But at the end of the day I’m lucky because I played close to 1,100 games and I was hoping as a little boy to play one game.  I surpassed that and I played a lot longer than I ever expected.  The way I played the game was fighting and being physical, and I was looking around and it’s tough to find guys that play my way who played that long.  It’s a matter of when you’re going to get a career-ending injury – it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.  I feel very fortunate and very proud of what I did.”

A favorite of teammates and coaches, Laperriere also gained the respect of opponents by adhering to the game’s much-ballyhooed but often-ignored unwritten “code of honor.”  He made himself as accountable for his actions on the ice and held opponents accountable as well.

“I played against Lappy when I was in Nashville. It was more fun to have him on my side than to play against him, that’s for sure,” Kimmo Timonen said during the 2009-10 season.  “He never gets outworked and he can make life pretty tough when you play against him. I really enjoy him as a teammate. Just a great work ethic, whether it’s practice or the games. Also a real good guy in the [locker] room.”

As is the case for many NHL role players, Laperriere had to make the adjustment from playing on scoring lines in junior and minor league hockey to handling checking-line duties at the top level. A seventh-round pick by St. Louis (No. 158 overall) in the 1992 Entry Draft, Montreal native Laperriere was a dominating offensive player at the junior level for the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs. He posted back-to-back seasons in which he scored at least 40 goals and 113 points, topped off by a 140-point campaign in 1992-93. At the minor league level in 1994-95, Laperriere averaged close to a point-per-game (48 points in 51 games) for the Peoria Riverman of the defunct IHL.

The NHL was a different story, as Laperriere was mostly assigned to fourth-line and penalty killing duties. He rarely received power play time and his coaches primarily expected him to make safe, smart plays with the puck because he was neither exceptionally fast nor a superior puckhandler compared to the stars at the top level. In the NHL, Laperriere only reached double-digit goals three times and only topped 27 points once. In 2005-06, Laperriere had a career year for Colorado, potting 21 goals among his 45 points.

“It’s nice to score some goals, but I never fooled myself into thinking I was going to be a big scorer,” Laperriere said in March. “I knew what my role on the team was, and I did that role the best I could. There were other guys who were better at scoring goals, so I tried to help in other ways.”

Laperriere became an instant fan favorite at the Wells Fargo Center after signing with the Flyers. His blue collar style of play, hustle and tolerance for pain (as evidenced by a much-scarred face and often-broken nose) made him something of a folk hero. He dressed in all 82 games of the 2009-10 regular season, averaging 12:30 of ice time per game.

The two most famous plays of Laperriere’s career in Philadelphia would also ultimately contribute to the abrupt end of his playing days.  On Nov. 27, 2009, Laperiere put himself in harm’s way to block a shot while killing a late first-period penalty against the Buffalo Sabres. The puck struck Laperriere in the mouth, knocking out seven teeth and requiring roughly 80 stitches to close the wounds. Incredibly, Laperriere returned to the ice to finish the game and did not miss any time thereafter.

During the Flyers’ 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils, a similar scenario unfolded. Once again, the Flyers were killing a penalty and Laperriere was struck in the face by the puck. This time, the damage was even more severe: an orbital injury, blurred vision and a concussion.

Laperriere was reluctantly forced to the sidelines. Incredibly, after missing Philadelphia’s second-round comeback victory over the Boston Bruins, the veteran forward returned to the ice for the fourth and fifth games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens. He also suited up in all six games of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Unfortunately, Laperriere experienced continuing post-concussion symptoms during the summer of 2010 and was unable to rejoin the team on the ice. He spent both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons on the long-term injured reserve list. Nevertheless, he was honored with the 2011 Masterton Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, dedication to the game and sportsmanship. Thankfully, he has recovered sufficiently from his concussion issues that they do not affect the quality of his life off the ice.

Laperriere, has also continued to maintain close bonds with the Flyers’ organization.

Over the last two seasons, Laperriere spent considerable time working with young prospects in the organization, offering both on-ice instruction and off-ice advice. He made frequent trips to Glens Falls, NY, to interact with players on the Adirondack Phantoms and worked with the Black Aces during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also made himself available to players at the NHL level. A regular in the Wells Fargo Center press box, Laperriere also did some television studio commentary work for CSN Philadelphia.

For the time being at least, Laperriere plans to continue in his current role of mentoring young players at the rink. Ultimately, he would like to take on a more formal coaching position.

“It’s stuff that I talk about," said Laperriere. “I talk to a lot of guys. Paul Holmgren’s helping me a lot, Chris Pryor’s helping me a ton.  You see me at the rink and everything’s good, I have a smile on my face, but trust me, it’s been a really, really tough past two years.  …When you get good people around you like I do in this organization, they really helped my transition. 

“With those people that I really do talk about my future, they really listen and they give me great advice.  I couldn’t be happier in that regard to finish my career and retire on this team, because I have all that support around me.”

Laperriere resides in New Jersey with wife Magali and sons Tristan and Zachary. The family often spends its summers in Blainville, Quebec.
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