Published May 27, 2010
| National Hockey League
CHICAGO -- The slap shot off the stick of New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin that struck Philadelphia's Ian Laperriere just above the right eyebrow -- opening him up for almost 70 stitches and nearly ending his season -- is nothing more than the price of staying in the NHL, says the veteran winger on the eve of the first Stanley Cup appearance in his 16-year career.
"My thinking is if I stopped doing that and get out of the way of pucks, I might as well retire because nobody is going to want me," Laperriere said Thursday at Media Day prior to the Stanley Cup Final opener on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). "The day I start thinking like that, I'm done because they'll take a younger guy that will do my job for half the price."
Right now, though, there is no replacing Laperriere for these Flyers.
The working-class forward returned from the brain contusion caused by stopping Martin's slapper with his face in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals and played a huge role in the clinching Game 5 against Montreal, blocking two more shots in that game -- his face protected by a full cage this time.
"He sacrifices his body every game," forward Claude Giroux told NHL.com. "He does the things nobody wants to do. That is what makes his so special.
"He is probably the best team player I have ever seen. I'm only 22, but I'm sure he'll be right up there when I'm done."
Forward Scott Hartnell has watched Laperriere all season, watched a man almost a decade his senior do all the dirty jobs -- trading fists with bigger and younger players, throwing his already battered body in front of shots, working the mosh pits along the half wall and in the corners to gain puck possession -- that are often the last to be filled on any hockey team.
Hartnell remains amazed at the price Laperriere is willing to pay to be a part of this journey.
"Talk about the ultimate sacrifice: blocking shots with your face, laying down in front of pucks," Hartnell told NHL.com. "Guys feed off that, teams feed off that, the crowd feeds off that. He's just an incredible guy. He wants to win so bad and you can just tell it every practice and every time he is on the ice."
"Lappy will block a shot until his dying day," Flyers Chairman Ed Snider said.
The funny part is that Laperriere never wanted to be the guy teammates look at and shake their heads in wonder over his willingness to endure the hardships of being a hockey grunt. He wanted to be Guy Lafleur, the gifted goal scorer for the Montreal Canadiens. He wanted people to shake their heads about his skills with the puck on his stick. He wanted to be the guy other players had to worry about stopping.
In junior, Laperriere was that kind of player. In his final two seasons with Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Laperriere scored 85 goals. In his final 122 regular-season games as a junior, he put up 253 points.
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 1 | +/-: -2But when it took until the seventh round of the 1992 Entry Draft before he heard St. Louis call his name, Laperriere had a pretty good inkling that he would never be a big goal-scorer at the next level.
"For me, in junior I was a goal scorer and when I turned pro, I was like ‘Listen, you won't be a goal scorer, you don't have the skill. You might as well find something that is going to keep you around,'" Laperriere said.
That blunt assessment led him down the painful path of blocking shots, killing penalties and fighting -- one that has assured his continued employment in the National Hockey League.
"It is a hard way to make a living, but it's worked for me for the past 16 years," Laperriere said. "I think I made the right call because if it was for my skill, I'd be long gone."
So many players who had more skill than Laperriere are long gone, in fact. Some never made it to the NHL. Others refused to change their ways, allowing their egos to lead them right out of hockey after only the briefest taste of life at this level.
"My thinking is if I stopped doing that and get out of the way of pucks, I might as well retire because nobody is going to want me."
-- Ian Laperriere"They are doing something else with their lives, and I'm still playing at 36," Laperriere said in what is the closest thing to bravado he can manage.
Laperriere's life is not for everyone; but it suits him just fine.
From the time he was a young player looking to find his way, his parents had always instilled him a willingness to do more than others to gain the necessary edge. It is a lesson he has carried throughout his career.
"Lappy is such a good guy," forward Jeff Carter told NHL.com. "He goes out and leaves it all on the ice. He's a heart-and-soul type of guy, a guy that everybody in the League would love to have on their team. He doesn't have to say anything, you just sit back and watch the way he carries himself and acts and his work habits."
Laperriere's willingness to do more than the next guy has delivered him to the Stanley Cup Final. He's just four wins away from hockey's ultimate glory. You can be sure that Laperriere is willing to pay any price to win those four games, -- especially after all the sacrifices he has already made.