LOS ANGELES — Over the 45-year history of the Los Angeles Kings, there have been a number of fan favorites, but only a very select few come to mind before one thinks of former Kings forward Ian Laperriere.
No, Laperriere was not the big goal scorer or the gifted playmaker. Rather, he was the grinder, the player who did the dirty work in the corners, made the big hit, and dropped the gloves to stand up for his teammates, time and time again.
Now retired as a player, Laperriere was in town last week, with his trip to the Los Angeles area culminating with the Kings honoring him on February 23, when they handed the Colorado Avalanche—one of Laperriere’s former teams—a 4-1 defeat at Staples Center.
“It’s a very humbling weekend,” said Laperriere, who scored 61 goals and added 104 assists for 165 points with 1,017 penalty minutes in 595 regular season game with the Kings. “Guys like me usually don’t have a chance to say ‘thank you.’ That’s the way I approached this weekend. I thank everybody. I can’t thank people enough for how they made me feel for eight-plus years.”
Laperriere was acquired by the Kings on March 14, 1996, as part of the trade with the New York Rangers that brought Mattias Norstrom, Nathan Lafayette, Ray Ferraro, and a fourth round selection in the 1997 National Hockey League Entry Draft to the Kings, with Shane Churla, Jari Kurri, and Marty McSorley heading to New York.
“I came here as a guy who just got traded twice, and I tried to establish myself,” Laperriere noted. “Lucky [Luc Robitaille] told me, ‘just be yourself on and off the ice, and people are going to love you.’ For eight-plus years, I did feel the love, and I’m feeling it today.”
“Just walking around town—I’ve been here since Thursday,” Laperriere added. “It’s just memories after memories. I’m just happy that my kids can see that.”
Laperriere’s “Legends Day” at Staples Center was a time for him to remember his days with the Kings, not to mention all of the 1,083 regular season games he played in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, Rangers, Kings, Avalanche and the Philadelphia Flyers (he also played in 67 NHL playoff games with the Kings, Avalanche and Flyers).
To be sure, the Montreal native became a fan favorite, not because he was a player with elite-level skills. Rather, it was because he was that gritty, tough, heart and soul player who would skate through a concrete wall for his teammates.
“I was always so proud that I never changed [my game],” he stressed. “I came in as a grinder, who fought for the right reasons. I retired at [age] 36, and I had 25 fights in my last year.”
“I took pride in that,” he added. “Trust me, it’s a lot more fun scoring goals than [it is to fight] and play physical. But I took pride in doing what I was doing, and I did it until the end. As a King, I felt that I did my job for eight-plus years.”
Former Kings head athletic trainer Pete Demers had high praise for Laperriere in an exclusive interview with Frozen Royalty during the 2010-11 season.
“We spent a lot of time together,” said Demers. “He got banged up a lot. Tough guy. Very, very personable type of guy, a guy you could sit down with and talk about anything. A really good, solid guy you could call your friend, and if you needed something.”
“I’d call Lappy a Pat Quinn kind of guy,” added Demers. “If I was in trouble, I know Pat Quinn, right now, he’d get on a plane and come down here to help me. Lappy is the same kind of guy. Comes to play every night, tried to get the guys going. You don’t have to be a superstar to make an impact in this league, that’s for sure.”
Laperriere left the Kings and signed with the Avalanche as an unrestricted free agent on July 2, 2004. He played four seasons with the Avs before signing with the Flyers for the 2009-10 season.
Lappy Still Has Health Issues
During the first round of the 2010 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, Laperriere suffered a brain contusion, a fractured orbital bone above his right eye, and a concussion after blocking a shot with his face.
Laperriere made the mistake of returning to the lineup during the second round, and he played through the Stanley Cup Final.
“I got caught in the moment,” he said at the time. “I kind of lied to myself to be part of that Stanley Cup run, and I was lucky enough not to get hit again.”
On October 30, 2010, only a handful of months from when he suffered those injuries, Laperriere was in Los Angeles when the Kings honored Norstrom. At the time, he was hoping to make a comeback, but he was in no condition to do so.
“[I’m] not that close,” he explained. “The lights are what irritated me quite a bit. When you’re out there, that’s what it is, lights and movement, and that’s what I can’t deal with. Regular every day stuff—I’m fine with my kids at home.”
“I’m all right,” he elaborated. “Not that great, obviously, since I’m standing here in front of you [in Los Angeles while the Flyers were hosting the New York Islanders that same day]. But it’s part of the injury I had and I’ve got to deal with it.”
By that time, Laperriere was already aware that there was a good chance he might not make it back to the NHL.
“Right now, I just want to feel better,” he stressed. “The truth is, I don’t even think about hockey right now. I just want to feel [like] myself again for my family.”
“I don’t even miss the game right now because I know I don’t feel right, and I’d be putting my life at risk being out there right now,” he added. “I’ve got two little boys who need their Dad for a quite a bit of years. That’s why I’ve got to be smart about this.”
“One of my biggest fears is not when, but if I get hit again, and the way I play, it’s [just] a matter of time. Punches or hits or anything, I have to be smart about that.”
Over three years later, Laperriere, now 39 years old, indicated that his condition has not changed significantly.
“I feel pretty much the same as when I was here for Matty, and if I feel like that for the rest of my life, I’ll deal with it,” said Laperriere. “I’ve got no problem with that. It could’ve been [far] worse. I could’ve lost my eye. [That] would’ve been a lot harder.”
“I’m all right,” added Laperriere. “I still have issues with my right eye from that puck I took [in the head]. There’s a damaged nerve. With my eye, I’ve got blurry vision, and when I do have that, I have headaches. But is it from the concussion? Is it from my eye? Is it from being stressed? I don’t know. Who knows? They [doctors] don’t even know.”
“Other than that, I feel pretty good, but I won’t lie to you. It’s been a tough three years, especially at the beginning. I don’t know if it was because of my concussions, or if it was because I wasn’t doing what I love to do, but it’s been a tough time.”
Laperriere credited his wife, Magali, for keeping him going after his injury.
“My wife has been my backbone,” he noted. “It wasn’t easy for her, either, because I was [like] a kid, and somebody took his toy away. The kid wasn’t happy.”
As you might guess after learning that his condition has not improved over the last three years, Laperriere has been forced to retire as a player. However, he remains in the game, working as the Flyers’ Director of Player Development.
“I like [the job],” said Laperriere. “It’s different—a lot slower. I’m used to getting ready for a game, practice, training for this and that. Being [a front office executive] is different.”
“It’s good,” added Laperriere. “It keeps me in the game. [Flyers general manager] Paul Holmgren is helping me a lot for my second career, and I can’t thank him enough. He’s been great since my accident. He knows I want to stay in the game, and he’s helping me to [do that].”
Laperriere is working with the Flyers’ young players/prospects, and as he puts it, he’s going to school.
“I like that side of the game,” he indicated. “I’m really involved in the front office. They want me around the team, and I welcome that. It’s something I started to like a lot more.”
“You’re looking, not just to build the [Flyers], but the team in the minors,” he added. “You talk about free agency, stuff like that. I’m at school right now. I’m learning everything. I’m also helping to train guys on the ice, helping them to become better players.”
At 6-1, 191 pounds, Laperriere was not the biggest guy on the ice. Despite that, he was known as one of the toughest during his more than 15 years in the NHL.
Indeed, Laperriere was one of those players who went all out, on every shift, in every game. His tough, physical style was risky, in terms of the potential for injury, and he suffered several concussions as a result.
But Laperriere emphasized that he does not regret anything about his playing career, and he bristled when a reporter asked him if he had such regrets now that he has been forced to retire.
“Short? I played over 1,000 games,” Laperriere exclaimed. “16 years!”
When the reporter countered by mentioning that he might have physical problems for the rest of his life, Laperriere shot back, “so will the bus driver who’s been driving for fifty years, and he won’t have an ovation like I had today. That’s part of it.”
“I never went through a season thinking, ‘if I get hurt, what’s going to happen in sixty years?’ That’s part of being a professional athlete,” he emphasized. “Right or wrong, you feel invincible. You feel like you can do something the other guy can’t do, and that’s the tiny difference between making it and not making it.”
“My eye worries me a little bit, because [of the blurry vision],” he added. “Hopefully, it won’t get worse. Other than that, I’ll deal with whatever happens to me down the road. I don’t regret anything. I had a blast doing what I did, and I take pride in it.”
“I might have a different speech in twenty years, but for now, I’m proud of what I did.”
As are your fans, Lappy. As are your fans.
Los Angeles Kings Legends Day, Honoring Ian Laperriere via KingsVision on YouTube
Used with permission.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Ian Laperriere (11:23)
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