“This next round it’s going to be the team that wants it more that’s going to get it.” –Ian Laperriere
Meet Lappy. His nose is as straight as a drag queen in the Castro District of San Francisco. His face has been cut more than Joan Rivers. When he’s on the ice, he talks more than that Micro Machines guy after 2 hits of E. But he’s as tough as anyone in the entire league. He’ll do anything to help his team win—and more importantly, he’ll do anything for his teammates. He’s the embodiment of the cliché “Love him if he’s on your team, love to hate him if he isn’t.” And for even the biggest Flyers haters, he’s a reason to root for Philadelphia.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should explain that I like agitators. I subscribe to Dean Lombardi’s theory that says, “Every good army needs a couple of criminals.” I love watching Steve Ott when he’s keeping his knees to himself. I enjoy watching how Daniel Carcillo can affect a game when he’s on the right-side of chaos. It’s exactly what makes him an NHL player. And I appreciate that Wayne Simmonds is well on his way to pissing off the entire Western Conference, one player at a time.
Except Matt Cooke—that guy is a douche.
But none of those guys have quite perfected what Ian Laperriere has been doing for a decade and a half. Here’s how long he’s been a regular in the NHL—he was traded with Ray Ferraro and Mattias Norstrom to the Kings for Jari Kurri and Marty McSorley, et al. Yeah, two of those guys have done television/radio commentary, one is in the Hall of Fame, and the other is a carpenter in Sweden. And he’s still taking pucks in the face and talking to anyone on the ice who will listen.
If there was a silver-lining to Lappy taking a puck in the face, bruising his brain, and receiving 70 stitches, it was that some of the spotlight shone on his battered face. Players that play the type of game that he plays—that is, team before individual—rarely get the recognition they deserve. But when people found out that he actually bruised his brain, we heard just how many people like him. And when we heard that he was going to play only 10 games later, we revered him.
It’s not like this is something new for him. Sure, this is a high-profile injury in high-profile times, but he’s been this kind of guy for his teams for the last 16 years. You might be surprised to learn that he’s 3rd among active players with 1,144 total games without winning a Cup. We’re not into Dave Andreychuk or Ray Bourque country yet, but the man has played a ton of hockey for a long time. If anyone ever “deserves” a chance to sip champagne from that old mug, it’s Lappy.
One of the things that endears him to fans is that he has been though the wars so many times. Almost any fan that ever met him in L.A. will tell you he’s one of the nicest hockey players they’ve ever met (myself included). Not surprisingly, I’ve heard similar stories from fans in Colorado during his 4-year stint in the Rockies. I suspect that fans in Philly are learning what the other fans have learned before them: as great as he is to watch on the ice, he’s so much better when you meet him face to face. And as much as I like watching the agitators, I like rooting for good people. Forget hockey, Lappy is “good people.”
He embodies the type of player that a lot of us fans like to think that we’d be. He does what it takes to win. He protects his teammates. He gets into the head of the opponent. If his team needs an emotional lift, no one needs to tell him to throw his body around—or even his fists. He’s just as quick to lie in front of a shot as he is to direct a shot on goal. He’s like the rec-league guy that takes the games WAY too seriously—like every game is the Stanley Cup Finals. Only for Lappy, it finally IS the Stanley Cup Finals.
The funny thing is that people forget Laperriere was actually a talented player when he played for Drummondville in the QMJHL. Even though it’s an offense-first league, he was still able to put together consecutive 40-goal, 100-point seasons. Who would have known that a guy who scored in juniors would transform himself into the type of old-school hockey player that every single team in this league needs in order to win. Not too bad for a 7th-round pick that made a name for himself by throwing fists and irritating his opponents.
When you think about it, he plays the game like all of us passionate fans think we would—except WAY more talented. How can you not root for a guy like that?