-- It takes a lot more than having a few teeth knocked out and taking 70-plus stitches over the lip to keep wing Ian Laperriere
off the ice.
Perhaps that's what makes him one of the most appreciated players in and around the Philadelphia Flyers
locker room these days.
There's no question Laperriere has become a fan favorite in the City of Brotherly Love, not to mention one of the team's finest defensive forwards. In fact, when he’s partnered with Blair Betts
, a player with similar traits, opponents rarely find the space or room to breathe in the attacking end.
That's because Laperriere and Betts are ruthless when it comes to denying the opposition. They refuse to give ground or allow pucks to reach their goaltender – the two combined for 137 blocked shots in the regular season and have four through two games of their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal with the New Jersey Devils
. The series, knotted at one win apiece, resumes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
No one appreciates players like Laperriere and Betts more than the goaltender who plays behind them.
"They are unbelievable," Flyers goalie Brian Boucher
said. "These are guys that don't get a lot of print, but we know in that locker room how important they are and they pay the price every night, especially on the penalty kill. These guys block shots, and Bettsy's great on draws. They're the type of guys you need to win -- and if you don't have them, you're not going to win."
With Laperriere and Betts doing their thing on the penalty-kill for coach Peter Laviolette
, the Flyers are clicking at an 87.5 penalty-killing efficiency this postseason -- allowing one goal in 8 shorthanded situations. Betts (3:51) and Laperriere (3:14) rank first and second, respectively, among the forwards on the team in ice time on the penalty kill.
Unfortunately, however, being sacrificial lambs can have its drawbacks.
It was during a penalty-killing situation back in November against the Buffalo Sabres
when Laperriere learned a lesson in shot-blocking. That's when Buffalo's Jason Pominville
uncorked a slap shot directly into Laperriere's face. It would be one of 74 blocks on the season for "Lappy" -- the most of any Flyers forward.
"What I did was stupid," Laperriere said. "I was in the slot and went on my knees thinking he was closer and took it right in the face. It was the first time I was ever seriously injured blocking a shot. I'm more mad at myself than about the guy who took the shot because it's my fault. You learn from your mistakes though and that's what I did. I'll never block a shot like that again."
Laperriere could barely speak the next day because much of his mouth was stitched up and he lost seven teeth -- five real and two false. But he still attended the optional morning skate the next day and even played in Atlanta.
"Blocking shots and playing good defensively is something I take pride in," Laperriere said. "This time of the year, blocking shots is just as big as scoring a goal. The day I start going ‘flamingo’ or moving out of the way is the day I'll call it a career."
Ditto for Betts, who, like Laperriere, was signed to a free-agent contract by Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren
for his defensive acumen.
"I think gaining an appreciation as a penalty-killer was a gradual process," Betts told NHL.com. "When I was playing major junior in Canada (with Prince George of the Western Hockey League), I was a young player coming onto the team and I had a similar role as a third-line checking center. I killed penalties, and that's where it started. Over the years, I developed more of an offensive role but I was still always taking faceoffs and killing penalties."
Betts felt his four seasons with the New York Rangers
from 2005-06 to 2008-09 helped instill even more confidence in his defensive game.
"I'd be surprised if there was a team that didn't want to have a good special-teams guy on their roster," Betts said. "Some teams want a guy who can contribute a little more often offensively and still kill penalties. It's all what a team wants. Right now, I'm just fortunate and happy that a there is a team in the Flyers who want me on their team."
Laperriere feels the fact he has worked so hard throughout his career to improve his defensive game is the reason he's still a contributor in the NHL.
"I figured out in my second year in Los Angeles (1996-97) that, if you want to play a long time in this League, you have to find your niche on the power play or penalty kill," he said. "Because if you only play a regular shift, especially now in the cap era, teams are going to find somebody who's going to make a lot less money than you and be able to do the same thing.
"You have to play a specialty (team) -- and for me, the power-play wasn't an option," Laperriere said with a smile. "I had to work on my penalty-killing and I played with great guys who taught me and showed me the ropes like Guy Carbonneau
in St. Louis (1994-95) and coaches Rick Green and Larry Robinson
in Los Angeles. Those guys in L.A. really helped push me toward the defensive side."
"They're the type of guys (Laperriere, Betts) you need to win -- and if you don't have them, you're not going to win." -- Brian Boucher
Laperriere, who was selected as this season's Yanick Dupre
Class Guy Memorial Award winner by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, also credited junior coach Jean Hamel
with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 1990 through '94 for teaching him the art of shot-blocking.
"Jean used to teach us the art of blocking shots using tennis balls on the ice," he recalled. "He’d toss them at us and we'd slide left to right and get the timing down. He didn't want to hurt us, so he used tennis balls -- you never forget those things."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org