Ian Laperriere’s 17-year NHL career officially came to a close on Tuesday afternoon.
The 38-year-old Montreal native did so in his last league stop of Philadelphia, where he spent one of the most eventful and emotional years of his days on ice.
Over 1,083 games, the winger totaled 121 goals, 336 points and 1,956 penalty minutes for five clubs from 1993-2010. Those numbers are augmented by 13 points in 67 playoff appearances.
A former seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1992, Laperriere made his NHL debut with the Blues for one game at the end of the 1993-94 season. He didn’t crack the lineup for good until two years later, in 1995-96 — a season which saw him dealt from St. Louis to the New York Rangers, and then to the Los Angeles Kings.
He became a fixture in LA for the next eight-plus seasons, then moved on to Colorado in 2005. His first year with the Avalanche resulted in career-bests for goals (21), assists (24) and points (45).
Needing a dose of veteran grit and depth for an emerging young roster, Paul Holmgren snared Laperriere off the free-agent market in the Summer of 2009. His bona fides for one season: three goals, 20 points, 162 penalty minutes, countless hearts and minds.
On the ice, fiery spirit and never-say-die attitude. Off the ice, grace and charity and best of all, plans to remain in the area and close to the team while planning for a life beyond lacing up the skates.
Perhaps Lappy took that spirit to heart a little bit too well when it came to the execution. He had his face first rearranged by Sabres forward Paul Gaustad’s slap shot during the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving matinee at the Wells Fargo Center in 2009, then saw his career effectively ended by giving up his mug once again to a slapper from Devils defenseman Paul Martin in the first round two years back.
Anything less, and he would have returned to play one more season, and put an even brighter cap on a Masterton Trophy-winning year in 2011. It’s easy to see how he could have picked up some of what was “all left out on the ice” and pressed on. Anything less, and he might not have endeared himself to this fan base.
Amongst lingering questions of his health and proper recovery from facial injuries and a concussion stemming from the last meeting of rubber and flesh, Laperriere was placed on long-term injured reserve in December of 2010 to make room for Michael Leighton. He never came off, and never took the ice again.
Transcript courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers
Q: Philly wasn’t your longest stop in your career, but what does it mean to retire here?
“It was my shortest time here compared to the other teams I played for, but that’s probably one of my regrets, not having a chance to play longer than that in this great organization. I’m just glad I had a chance to wear the orange and black. It’s something I would have missed, just to play for a team that cares so much about their fans and cares so much about their players. I’m not saying that everywhere else I played, they didn’t care about their players, but nothing compared to what the Flyers are.
Q: Did you know this was coming?
“Yeah, I knew for a little while. 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. More and more as the time went by, I kind of knew nothing was going to change.
To come back to play hockey the way I want to play was out of the question. 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, 100 percent to come back and play the way I want to play. ”
Q: What happens from this point? Do you continue in your role for the Flyers?
“For now that’s what I’m doing, working with the young guys. I want to get closer to the game. Coaching would be a route I wouldn’t mind exploring. Right now, what I’m doing is I try 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. It’s one thing I tell them every day when I see them and we talk about that – it’s a goal to make the NHL, but it’s a bigger challenge to stay in for 16, 15, 10 years. That’s what I do now, I try to just pass on my experience that I gained over the years.”
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
“Just to be remembered would be nice. It’s the name of the game – the new flavors coming in the next year. It’s fine, but at the same time, you miss that and it’s kind of hard to swallow, I guess. But at the end of the day I’m lucky because I played close to 1100 games and I was hoping as a little boy to play one game. 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. 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.”
Q: What was your feeling last night watching the Kings win the Stanley Cup? Jealousy, happy for them, little bit of both?
“Little bit of both, but it’s not because of them. Every year it’s like that. I’ve never won it, and it’s not something that just because it was the Kings, it’s every year – the year before when Boston won it I felt the same way, and Chicago it was way worse because I was on the other end of it. It’s not jealousy, it’s more like you wish it was you. It’s great that those guys won it, Williams and Gagne and all those guys.
I’m happy for the Kings actually. I spent most of my career over there, nine years, and the fans have been waiting a long time to get their Cup, and they have it. I’m very happy for the fans and the organization out there. Carts and Richie, 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.
They have Kopitar and Brown in front of them. I said that when we made that trade last summer, I think it’s a perfect deal for both teams, and it turned out to be great for them. They have a great role there, and same with Carter, went to Columbus, he was a tough player there. Didn’t work for him there, and they send him to LA as secondary scoring, and it worked perfect for them.”
Q: On evaluating the trade and the sentiment that some fans don’t like it now
“Are they the same Flyers fans who looked this season and saw Couturier, Simmonds, Schenn, Voracek, all those great players coming up? The future’s brighter, people. They have to understand that Giroux became Giroux this year because the other two guys left. With those two guys in front of him – you just can’t say OK Mike and Carts, you’re going to be secondary scoring and we’re going to leave the team to Giroux. That’s not the way it works. I don’t think G would be who he is today.
Maybe I’m wrong, that’s my opinion. But I don’t think he’s the all-star that G became this year if he doesn’t have the ice time. This year he played a lot more than everybody else and that’s what it takes when you want a guy to become a superstar on your team. If the other two guys had been here, I don’t think it would have happened.”
Q: On looking into coaching
It’s stuff that I talk about. I talk to a lot of guys. Paul Holmgren’s helping me a lot, Chris Pryor’s helping me a ton. You see me at the rink and everything’s good, I have a smile on my face, but trust me, it’s been a really, really tough past two years. I’m an actor, you guys know that. I can put on an actor face. When you get good people around you like I do in this organization, they really helped my transition. With those people that I really do talk about my future, they really listen and they give me great advice. I couldn’t be happier in that regard to finish my career and retire on this team, because I have all that support around me.”
Let’s not forget, while all the abstract nouns are trotted out and inflated beyond normal significance to honor his impact, that Ian Laperriere is human, prone to fault. A man whose steadfast decision not to wear facial protection and to play with abandon hastened his departure from the game.
Sometimes that humanity shone through in amusing ways:
And sometimes, there were no words to express it: