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Laraque's hat trick had Rexall rocking

Big man helped fuel one of Edmonton's most memorable nights

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

EDMONTON - It was the most improbable hat trick scored in Edmonton Oilers history, and Georges Laraque remembers it right down to the last roof-shaking, cap-tossing, back-cramping detail.

Big Georges is the most massive vegan you're likely to see - "I'm three bills," he jokes of his 300 or so pounds - and on Wednesday morning at Rexall Place, he was delighted to relive the greatest moment of his NHL career.

There is no way Laraque, better known for his robust, physical game than his soft hands around the net, should have scored that hat trick on Feb. 21, 2000 in the Oilers' arena, then known as Skyreach Centre.

It would be the first and last of his career and goodness, will he love it to the end of time.

Laraque, 39, played a dozen seasons for four teams in the NHL from 1997-98 to 2009-10. He was selected in the second round (No. 31) of the 1995 Entry Draft by the Oilers out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

He was among the estimated 150 Oilers alumni in town Wednesday for the team's final game at Rexall Place, the barn opened by the Oilers of the World Hockey Association in 1974.

Wednesday, the team closes the doors to the building, at least as far as hockey, with a game against the Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m. ET; SNW, SNP, NHL.TV)

Laraque's most cherished memory remains the Oilers' fabulous 2006 Stanley Cup Playoff run that ended in defeat in a seven-game Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"We're not going to talk about the ending," Laraque said with a laugh. "But the run here that year; the dressing room vibrated with the sound of our fans.

"The way this building is closed in, the sound was so much louder than anywhere else. It was unbelievable. Playing at home was amazing. This one is No. 1. Montreal is loud, but it's so big and so wide open there, the sound isn't the same.

"Here, the sound almost blows up your eardrums. When you jumped on the ice [through] the big oil rig, it was hysterical. It was so loud, it was unreal. We were probably the best team for the first 10 minutes because of that. The fans were truly a sixth player here."

Laraque's personal highlight came six years before.

"That night was magical," he said.

The Los Angeles Kings were in town, the Oilers skating toward a second-place finish in the Northwest Division before they'd bow out to the Dallas Stars in a five-game first-round series.

Laraque opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the season, then added his fifth early in the second period.

The Oilers were up 4-3 in the final minute when the Kings pulled goalie Stéphane Fiset for a sixth skater, and instantly the Edmonton crowd started chanting Laraque's name, wanting their heavyweight hero to complete his historic hat trick into an empty net.

"So [coach Kevin] Lowe looked at me and said 'I'm sorry, Georges, I can't put you in because we need to be first in the division.' I was like, '[expletive],' " Laraque said, laughing again.

Lowe sent out his defensive unit to preserve the win when defenseman Janne Niinimaa made it 5-3 for Edmonton, hitting the vacated Kings net at 19:31.

"There's now 30 seconds left, and I'm thinking, 'That's it,' " Laraque said. "So Kevin puts us back out there. I'm with Jim Dowd and Boyd Devereaux. I never think I'm going to score, right? The goalie's back in, it's 5-3, the game's over.

"And then the puck goes in their zone, Dowd gets the puck in the corner and gives it to me. I'm in front of [Los Angeles defenseman] Aki Berg.

"I don't know why I did the spinarama, like Denis Savard, in front of Berg. Why would I do that? I did it in practice all the time and I'd lose the puck all the time. But I did it in front of Fiset, just a backhand move. And I scored."

And then, with 16 seconds remaining in the game, the Earth tilted off its axis.

"I went nuts," Laraque said, obviously named the game's first star. "First of all, I couldn't believe that it went in. I couldn't believe that it worked and I couldn't believe there was enough time because there were [29] seconds left at the faceoff."

He reacted pretty much the way you'd imagine a big, fun-loving guy would.

"I skated as fast I could," Laraque said, grinning. "I probably could have competed with [Oilers current star Connor] McDavid for speed when I skated back to the bench. I did every celebration that existed. I did them all."

Among the calls Laraque took after the game was one from Oilers icon Wayne Gretzky, who had retired from the NHL the season before with 50 hat tricks to his name.

"Wayne said, 'You just need 49 to break my record!' "Laraque said. "That was awesome, when the Great One calls to say that."

An hour after the game, Laraque was still in full equipment, doing interviews. His body chilled, in a cold sweat after the heat of the night, he awoke the next morning with back spasms and was unable to practice.

"All the guys were all over me. 'You score three goals and you don't have to practice?' " he said. "It was magical because nobody expected it. People still talk to me about it."

For years, Laraque kept a garbage bag full of the caps that were thrown on the ice, a nice souvenir until he opened the bag.

"They stunk too much. Eventually I gave them to charity," he said, the caps surely laundered before they found new heads. "Put hats in a garbage bag and they stink. But I still have the three pucks."

Laraque figured he'd remember his milestone hat trick among many other things Wednesday night when the curtain falls on Oilers hockey at Rexall Place.

"This is the team that drafted me," he said."They gave me my first chance. I was here when it was Skyreach, before it became Rexall. There are too many great memories. I have a love affair with the fans. I've always been involved with the city, doing charity work. With the new rink, it will be a new era, and a new era of fans. McDavid is building the new building where Wayne built this one.

"Hopefully the Oilers will have new, awesome memories in the new rink, but for me, everything was here; being in the visitors' room when you're a rookie, not allowed to go into the big room yet because you haven't made it. I know every back room and side room in here."

And then Big Georges was off to revisit a few of them. For now, he heard not the fans, but only a clock ticking on the arena that 16 years ago shook to its foundation when an apartment building on skates scored a hat trick for the ages.

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