Georges Laraque gives plenty of substance to his nickname “The Rock.”
At 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds of pure muscle, he is tough and menacing – someone to avoid on the ice if you’re not wearing a Penguins jersey.
Yet, away from the rink, Laraque is charismatic, outgoing, giving and well-spoken – frequently walking around with a smile on his face.
Quite a difference to his on-ice reputation as the NHL’s heavyweight champ.
“The fact that I fight for a living and all that stuff, it’s not my personality off the ice,” he said. “When people get to know me off the ice, they know that’s not who I am. I am a sociable person; I try to talk to everybody and help out as much as I can.”
And, helping out he does. While Laraque may be the toughest player in the NHL, he may be the most giving, too. For every hit he’s thrown on the ice throughout his career, he’s caused far more smiles.
“With the Oilers the previous five years, I won the community award. I won it in Phoenix, too, even though I got traded [to Pittsburgh on Feb. 27]. It’s not about winning. I just want to be active wherever I am and make a difference in every city I am in and have an impact,” he said. “I want people to remember, yeah, athletes make a lot of money, but some actually try to make a difference and I try as much as I can. The team knows I will do as much as I can here and I don’t say no to anything. There are no bad charities. Everything is good and every cause is good and I will try to be involved as much as I can.
“I try to do as much as I can because I feel fortunate enough to be in the NHL. I thank God for giving me that chance. One of the ways to thank God is by acting and giving back,” he continued. “The great thing about being a professional athlete is that we have the power of making a sick child happy or changing people’s lives by a simple visit or shaking their hand or talking to them. This is unreal; it’s one of the most rewarding things in hockey – for me, anyway.
“When I do retire or whatever happens, I will be more proud of the lives I’ve touched through my entire career.”
The Penguins have always been active in the community and Laraque can’t wait to be a part of that – and more.
“Every team takes time to give back. I just like to go above and beyond that because you can always do more. The more I do, the better I feel,” he said. “Hockey has given me that opportunity and it’s so easy. It’s so easy to do, so why not take advantage of that? That’s why I feel fortunate and why I want to thank God by showing it.”
Laraque is more proud of the time he’s invested in visiting children in hospitals or reading books to students at elementary schools than the minutes he’s spent in the penalty box.
“What I do on the ice is my job. I don’t do it because I like it; I do it because that’s what got me to the NHL and it’s what I have to do to stay,” he said. “Off the ice, I don’t fight. It’s totally not my character. You’re not a role model if you go out there and cause trouble and fight.”
Laraque prides himself in being a good role model.
“It’s important – you have to conduct yourself well off the ice so people will look up to you and realize you’re a good person to be around or a good person to be a spokesperson for a charity or something like that,” he said.
The Penguins offer a solid environment, which is one of the reasons why Laraque waived his no-trade clause in order to be dealt here at the NHL trading deadline.
“It was my decision to come here. This is such a young, talented and up-and-coming team,” he said. “It’s like a big family here. Everybody hangs out together. There are no cliques. They play with such enthusiasm. It’s really fun to be a part of a team that cares and wants to win. It’s awesome to be able to be one of the veterans who can show hard work, but at the same time, perform the job that I have, which is to look after them.”
Laraque enjoys socializing with his fans. People may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He looks forward to what his fans have to say.
“I get like 1,500 emails a day and I try to respond to them all. I have a laptop so I take it with me on the road, too. I love it,” he said. “Those are the people who pay our salaries; those are the people who pack the building; those are the people that give us the energy to get off the bench and want to score or do something on the ice. These are the people who give us shivers when they scream and, when we’re down by a goal, they give us energy when we’re tired. So, the least I can do is show them some appreciation by replying to an email or anything. They give us energy and I give them energy by writing back because they get excited – it’s a circle. I love that stuff.”
After his first couple weeks in Pittsburgh, Penguins fans love him, too.