Philadelphia Flyers forward Ian Laperriere was too proud a hockey player to admit he might have returned to the game a little too early after taking a slap shot to the face in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs two years ago.
But when he returned to training camp that summer, he knew his playing days were all but over.
The 38-year-old Laperriere announced his retirement on Tuesday during a conference call with the local media.
"Right from the get-go two years ago when I came to training camp and my eye wasn't right and my head wasn't right, I said I'd give myself the length of the rest of my contract to see if I can do something about it," Laperriere said. "I knew [this day was coming] for a little while."
Laperriere sustained a severe head injury during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs after blocking a Paul Martin slap shot with his face against New Jersey, suffering a concussion and fractured orbital bone. He returned a little more than a month later to finish the Flyers' playoff run that ended two games short of a championship.
He attempted to return in training camp that summer, but could not overcome his concussion-related symptoms and has been on the long-term injury list ever since.
"To come back to play hockey the way I want to play was out of the question," he said. "It's a faster sport, a tough sport out there. For me to come back the way I am today wouldn't be fair for my family and wouldn't be fair for the Flyers either. I'm feeling pretty good but I'm not 100 percent, especially at 38."
How does Laperriere wish to be remembered in retirement?
"Just to be remembered would be nice," he quipped. "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 so 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," he said. "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.”
Laperriere, named The Hockey News' toughest player in 2009-10, was the oldest forward on the Flyers' roster that season and it certainly showed in the battle scars on his face. A search on YouTube of Laperriere's now infamous block of Martin's slap shot in Game 5 of the conference quarterfinal round on April 22, 2010, provides all the proof needed of his warrior mentality.
"Just to be remembered would be nice. 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 so I surpassed that and I played a lot longer than I ever expected." -- Ian Laperriere, who announced his retirement Tuesday
By the time "Lappy" realized he had slid too early, the puck slammed into his forehead at top speed, opening up his face to the point where a trail of blood followed him as he skated blindly on the ice before getting medical attention.
"Everywhere I go, people were nice enough to come up and thank me for taking two pucks in the face," Laperriere told the media last year.
He was the third player in Flyers history to win the Masterton Trophy (2010-11) and, in 2009-10, was bestowed the Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award and the Gene Hart Memorial Award, which is voted upon by the Philadelphia Flyers fan club.
Laperriere admits he would like to continue coaching the young players, something he has done since stepping away from the game.
"I want to get closer to the game," he said. "Coaching would be a route I wouldn't mind exploring. Right now, I'm trying to be around as many young prospects as I can just to show them what it takes off the ice. On the ice, they all have talent, but it takes a lot more than that to play at the next level and stay at the next level."
He watched his former team, the Los Angeles Kings, parade the Stanley Cup around the ice at Staples Center following the decisive Game 6 on Monday. He admitted feeling both happy and a tad jealous.
Laperriere spent nine seasons in Los Angeles.
"Every year it's like that though," he said. "I've never won it … I felt the same way when Boston won it last year. Chicago was way worse because I was on the other end of it. It's more like you wish it was you. It's great that those guys won it, [Justin] Williams and [Simon] Gagne … I'm happy for the Kings, actually.
"I spent most of my career over there, and the fans have been waiting a long time to get their Cup, and they have it," he continued. "I'm very happy for the fans and the organization out there. [Jeff Carter] and [Mike Richards], it's a great fit for them. Here, they were the face of the franchise, but there, they're not, and I think it's a better fit for those two guys. They're not the top players, they're second-line there and they have [Anze] Kopitar and [Dustin] Brown in front of them."