-- 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 last spring.
Laperriere, who was sidelined 10 games with a brain contusion in the midst of Philadelphia's remarkable run to the Cup Final last season, confirmed that he probably returned too early -- as he's now dealing with post-concussion symptoms.
Despite experiencing constant headaches since making a remarkable return to the ice for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens
, Laperriere never informed the Flyers medical staff of his condition. Instead, he admits he was in denial -- brushing off each warning sign.
"When you want to play, you always find excuses," Laperriere told the media during a conference call Tuesday evening. "I know there are people who are going to say 'He's crazy, why did he do that?' But you have to put yourself in my shoes. I've been in this league for a long time, I've never experienced what I did last year and I wanted to play after learning test results had come back normal.
"I would deal with the headaches … I wanted to play so bad," he continued. "I know I'll be judged about that decision, but those same people need to be careful because they aren't in my shoes and they'll never be in my shoes. They don't know what I went through in my life to get there. I know it was wrong for me not to tell the medical staff, but I'll live with the consequences."
Laperriere, named The Hockey News' toughest player in 2009-10, is the oldest forward on the Flyers roster at 36 -- and the age shows in the battle scars on his face. Laperriere's now-famous block of a shot taken by then-New Jersey Devils' defenseman Paul Martin
in Game 5 of the Eastern Quarterfinals on April 22 is proof of his warrior mentality.
By the time "Lappy" realized he had slid too early to block the shot, the puck slammed into his forehead, opening up his face to the point where a trail of blood followed him as he skated blindly on the ice at Prudential Center before getting medical attention. He hasn't been the same since.
Even after the gruesome injury, Laperriere returned after being cleared for contact and was determined to get back on the ice as quickly as possible to rejoin teammates -- 27 days after the injury.
He now admits that was a mistake.
"I was in denial in the playoffs and throughout the summer," Laperriere said. "I was always finding excuses for every headache I had. I thought a summer off would take care of it. I had some headaches here and there, but I always found an excuse -- I was dehydrated or I worked out too hard or was too tired or maybe the shield I wore wasn't right.
"But, really, all the while, it was my head. It had to come down to this. I know I've made the right decision now and I'll remain out as long as possible," he said. "I'm staying out until I'm 100 percent (this time). I want to be myself when I leave this game. With the way I play, I just can't be a 50-goal scorer … I'd love too though. I know I can't change my game right now. I can't come back 90 percent, I have to come back 100 percent."
Laperriere finished with 171 hits and 74 blocked shots in 82 regular-season games in his first season with the Flyers, playing mostly on a line with Blair Betts
and Darroll Powe
. He had 24 hits and 9 blocks in 13 playoff contests. Arguably the team's best penalty-killer, Laperriere decided to inform general manager Paul Holmgren
of his current condition following the team's preseason game against the Maple Leafs on Sept. 24.
"I made my decision as I was watching the game up in the press box in Toronto," he said. "Just watching the game, I wasn't feeling right and kind of lost interest. I then talked to (Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin) and Homer the next day."
Laperriere also admitted he wasn't quite right even when he began skating before the start of training camp earlier this month.
"I was always finding reasons why I wasn't feeling good that day," he said. "In our preseason opener against New Jersey, I didn't feel myself out there. I thought maybe I was nervous."
"When you want to play, you always find excuses. I know there are people who are going to say 'He's crazy, why did he do that?' But you have to put yourself in my shoes. I've been in this league for a long time, I've never experienced what I did last year and I wanted to play after learning test results had come back normal." -- Ian Laperriere
Holmgren said Laperriere never mentioned suffering from any symptoms over the summer, but that he did speak candidly on Saturday with regard to how he was feeling. Laperriere is scheduled to go to Pittsburgh on Friday to meet with the doctor who treated him last spring.
"The prudent thing for us to do now is get him checked out properly and see what he's dealing with," Holmgren said. "That process will continue as well as some of the kids that we're continuing to look at. The play of some of these guys is making the decision making a difficult process, and I don't mean that in a bad way; it's probably a good thing."
One such player could be veteran wing Bill Guerin
, who is in Flyers camp on a tryout.
"Billy has played OK," Holmgren said. "We'll just see how it works out over the next few days."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale