A Win, a Big Heart, and a Smile

In LA, Saturday was a day of a big win, a big heart, and a big smile. All three added together show that sometimes, there’s more to hockey than what happens on the ice.

The win came courtesy of the Kings taking advantage of Colorado mistakes to power past the Avs, 4-1. On paper coming in, the teams were pretty even. Each had been outscored, the Kings 38-36 and the Avalanche 43-38. Neither had good special teams numbers. The Kings’ power play was 23rd in the league with a 14.3% scoring rate. The Colorado PP, meanwhile, was 27th. The penalty kill of the Kings was 18th, 81.8% (very good, despite the league standing) and the Colorado PK was 21st at 79.1%. Oh, and if you looked at the league standings, you would have seen them at spots 21 and 22, 11th and 12th in the west, with LA ahead.

But those numbers don’t take into account player mistakes on the ice, and the Avs made two big ones in the first period to let the Kings go up by a pair of goals. In fact, they were the same mistake on different sides of the ice. The first one came less than a minute in, when Kopitar of LA shoved the puck into the Colorado zone along the right boards. Justin Williams then made a brave play to go to the wall and keep it alive. He passed it off the boards to Dustin Brown, who one-timed it past the goalie, Varlamov.

The problem from an Avs point of view is that four of the five players on the ice were going towards the boards at the time, puck-chasing. Nobody went to Brown. Matt Duchene, who had a whale of a bad game as they day unfolded, should have been on him. He was standing around, then went towards Kopitar, though there were three other players on that side of the ice already.

The second goal was a replay, but from the left of the Avs zone.The puck came off the boards to Richards, who put it to Jeff Carter cruising into the slot. He took a wrist shot that beat the goalie. Four Avs were chasing the puck. On the ice: Duchene, McGinn, and Parenteau of the Avalanche, all of whom were burned again. Later on, the Kings would score a shorthanded goal, and once agin, these three were on, although those circumstances obviously differ. Or do they? When you let in a shorty, you’re culpable, at least in terms of plus-minus.

That goal did have a bit of an oddity about it, however. The assist went to Jarret Stoll’s butt. At least, it should have. He dove to block a shot, and rolled over in front of it as he dove. The puck rebounded through the slot and ended up going to Trevor Lewis. He zoomed up ice with it, being caught up with by Stoll as he reached the blueline. With Stoll as the decoy, Lewis held the puck. Just when it would have been the routine thing to pass, he rifled a wrist shot. It went clean through the five-hole of Varlamov.

After the game, Stoll was asked where it hit him, which is a polite way of asking, “Has your ass ever gotten an assist before?” He said, “I tried to get the lane somehow, maybe a bit out of desperation, but [Lewis] did a great job of . . . putting it away.” That didn’t address the question. The next thing he said did. “I don’t know. Shin pads or thigh, I don’t know.” But he did know, and the smile on his face said he did. That wasn’t the only big smile of the day, but for more on that, wait.

The Kings ended up taking the game to the Avs all afternoon long, and while the Colorado team had a shots advantage much of the way, LA slowly surpassed them, getting 26 to the other side’s 24. The story of the game was not that, though. It was sloppy play on the Avalanche’s part which looks to all the world like broken “systems.” At least, that’s how such breakdowns are characterized nowadays.

So that’s the win. The big heart came courtesy of Ian Laperriere, who was being honored as a Kings Legend. He played for over eight years in an LA uniform. His most memorable time, he said to the media between periods two and three, was the Detroit series (of 2001). Kings fans will remember that as a highlight of the early part of the millennium, when the Kings came back from a 2-0 deficit to win the series. Heroics included the Stunner at Staples (or Frenzy on Figueroa, for those less commercially inclined).

Lappy became a fan favorite, and remained that in LA, Colorado, Philly, and everywhere else he played (St. Louis and New York), because he was a guy who stood up for others. His face tells the tale in the form of the infamously crooked nose (the story is in my book, Living the Hockey Dream). Talking about his last season in the NHL, with Philly in 2009-10, really told the story. “I retired at 36,” he said, “and I had 25 fights my last year. I took pride in that. Other guys took a lot more pride in scoring goals than being physical, but I took pride in doing what I was doing.” Along the way, he netted 121 goals and got 336 total points in 1083 games. But the PIMs tell the tale: 1956.

When he spoke about the regard he’s had from fans in LA the last few days since he and his family flew into town, he said, “I’m just happy that my kids could see that. Now they might not think that Daddy’s such a loser, you know?” This was said with a smile. He further commented that they won’t see him in the movie he recently appeared in (This is 40). “They’re ten and eight, they won’t see that movie,” he said, which is another way of saying, “I’m a good dad who sets limits for his boys.” And that winds back to who Laperriere is, which is a man of character.

“I took pride in being a person who never changes,” he said, “A grinder who fought for the right reason. I did that until the end.” That was to defend those who were on the ice with him.

He’s also a highly intelligent and well-spoken guy, a former player who has already made the transition to the front office, though he was amused at the term when a writer asked him about being a “suit.” “I like it. It’s a lot slower. I’m used to getting ready for a game, practice, training for this and that. As a suit, you talk about a lot of stuff that you can’t control, but it’s good. It keeps you in the game. Paul Holmgren is helping me a lot for my second career. Since my accident, he knows I want to stay in the game, and he’s helping me stay in it.” He indicated that he might want to be a GM someday, saying that he enjoys being around the front office, knowing how to build a team, deal with the team in the minors, free agency, and the other aspects of the bigger picture. I’m at school right now. I’m learning everything. I’m learning how to train guys on the ice, and also I’m learning being a suit, in the office, talking about stuff that I’ve never talked about. When you’re a player, you have to worry about one guy, you.”

That’s not to say that retiring has been easy. Laperriere suffers from blurred vision in his right eye at times. “I’m a kid who somebody took his toy away,” he said as he described retirement. “But I feel good about where I am in my life. I’m working with the Flyers. They’re giving me an opportunity, and I can’t thank them enough. But I’m missing playing for sure.” He said that there’s no doctor who can say what the blurry vision is from. It could be from concussions, or from the puck he took above the eye in the playoffs a couple of years ago, or from stress. “Doctors don’t know. There’s a guy who has a miracle cure down there” (referring to the Crosby cure, I believe), “Come on.”

He is resigned to his condition. “If I feel like that the rest of my life, I got no problem with that. I’ll deal with it. It could have been way worse.” So that’s the win and the heart. Now for the smile.

Daryl Sutter is notorious for being late for his post-game press conference. On Saturday, he was more than usually delayed, but he apologized as he stepped to the podium.

The questions proceeded about like they always do until yours truly brought up the retro uniforms the team had been wearing in the game. It’s always that way on the Legends nights. And honestly, I wasn’t just tossing him a softball, or asking a lifestyle question. I wanted to know whether the pre-game stuff bothered a hard-nose hockey guy like him.

The smile and laugh I got—not laugh at you, a genuine laugh—took me by surprise. Sutter immediately jumped on the topic, saying, “Oh, I love them. We have fun. I had fun walking into the locker room before the game, seeing them hanging there. Even practicing in them the last week, I love them jerseys.”

When asked if it was a distraction, he said, “With Lappy, I told our players, let’s go play like Ian Laperriere today. I was nice to see the old guys get recognized, instead of the scorer. That’s what I told his boys, it’s nice to see him get recognized, rather than the star players on a team.” The follow-up, naturally was whether he would reference Lappy later on in a pregame talk. “No, I did tonight.”

Perhaps his definitive word came when I asked if Laperriere was the last of the breed. His answer was no. “There’s lots of them around. They’re not all stars, are they?”

Then things turned almost giddy. “Who’s the next guy” to be honored, he asked. When someone said Kelly Hrudey, he said, “Hopefully Jonathan and Jonathan [Quick and Bernier] will be as good as Kelly Hrudey that night.”

He went on to discuss coaching Hrudey in San Jose, his brother playing with Hrudey in New York, and the other circles that bring them together.

When a writer mentioned that Hrudey had said to him that Sutter was really hard on him in San Jose, Sutter said, “Who, Kelly? Good,” and broke up the room. When asked if he was a different coach now than then, he said, “I’m quite a bit older,” deadpan.

He then got back to the connections. Hrudey’s daughter Jessica, he said, has helped out as an aide with his son, Chris. The son has special needs. “Everything circles around,” Sutter said, quietly.

So things ended on a philosophical note, but the point was made. The game is bigger than what’s on the ice. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Kings put themselves into a much stronger position facing Anaheim Monday night with their win.


More on Laperriere and toughness in hockey later. But please read Living the Hockey Dream and send questions to @growinguphockey if you have them. Or just follow me on twitter for lots of NHL stuff.


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