Back in the early ’90s, concussions came with the territory for a professional hockey player. So when Ian Laperrière – known as a tough enforcer on the ice – got his first, then second, then third concussion, he chalked it up to a risk of his trade and kept on playing. Now retired from the ice, the newly named assistant coach for the Flyers hopes that the next generation will learn from his mistakes.

“My first documented concussion was in 1994,” says Laperrière, 39.  “I had others before, but it wasn’t a big deal back then. We didn’t know as much as we know today about the side effects and future. I was playing for the St. Louis Blues and got an elbow to the head. It was the worst concussion to look at – I had convulsions on the ice. It was pretty ugly. I missed a week and came back.

“They didn’t have any protocol about how long you should take off. I had nine concussions that I know of that I missed time for in my 16-year career. Playing a physical sport you will have those headaches and get your bell rung but you don’t miss time for every single one of them. The way I played, it was part of it. I don’t regret anything.”

open-025B1185Laperrière became a Flyer in 2010, the year he suffered his final concussion. “It was in the playoffs against New Jersey, and my trademark was taking penalties and blocking shots,” he says. “I took pride in doing that – I had done it for 16 years before that game. A defender tried to shoot the puck in the corner, but my face was in the way and I took the puck right above the eye.”

A broken orbital bone, 75 stiches and another concussion that caused brain bruising kept Laperrière off the ice.

“I had to sit on my couch for three weeks, and we were moving forward in the playoffs,” he recalls. “I was still having headaches and not feeling quite right, but I lied to the doctors and said I was fine. I came back to help my team get to the finals and win the Cup. Unfortunately, we came up two games short.”

Though trying mightily to shake off his symptoms – including vertigo, headaches and blurred vision – he realized his playing days were over and retired from hockey. Though he still has occasional blurred vision, especially when trying to play hockey, Laperrière has found new, exciting ways to challenge himself athletically. Take his recent completion of his first Ironman competition – a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, followed by a 26.2-mile marathon run, with no breaks in between.

“It was nerve-racking,” he says. “I’ve never done anything like that. What stressed me the most was that I crashed on my bike two weeks before the event. I hurt my neck and I had whiplash, and with the stress of the event, it caused me a major headache, similar to what I had when I had concussions when I was playing.”

Laperrière thought his seven months of training might all have been wasted. “You just can’t do those distances when you have headaches,” he says. But after a visit to his chiropractor, an Ironman himself, Laperrière continued training.

“He told me it wasn’t a con-cussion, and that I’d be fine on race day,” he says. “He was right on. I went in  the water feeling a little bit nervous, but as soon as I started, everything went away and I felt great all day.”

Today Laperrière encourages parents to take their kids’ concussions very seriously. “Take that kid out of the game,” he insists. Yet, don’t let a fear of possible concussions keep your kids away from the game. “That just takes the fun out of it. Prepare them by telling them to protect themselves, be smart and be honest. It’s the athlete who says, ‘I don’t feel well’ – that’s the toughest thing for an athlete to admit.” Laperrière uses the lessons he learned on the ice to teach his own sons, Tristan, 11, and Zachary, 9. “They’ll tell you that Daddy fought for his teammates,” he says. “At the beginning of your career you fight to prove that you’re tough and not scared. But by 24, I was fighting for the right reasons. I wanted to show my teammates I would do whatever it takes to help them be comfortable and give us a chance to win games.”

lappy_2164His new role will bring him back into the locker room, something he’s been missing since leaving the ice. For the last few years, he’s been working with the Flyers’ young recruits, a job he says he was naturally suited for. “I won’t change because I’m on the management side,” he says. “I was going to Phantoms games with the young guys and working on things that coaches don’t have time to work on, like individual skills. We also have kids in other cities, and it was my job to go see them and make sure they knew we were watching them to see what they can work on for the next summer. I gave them the tools and advice to have the best chance to make it to the next level.”

Every summer, Laperrière runs a development camp where he brings in law-enforcement officials who remind the players to beware of social media.

“Professional athletes are targeted,” he says. “I used to follow all my kids on Twitter and Instagram and make sure they stay polite. They do represent the Flyers even if they aren’t on the Flyers yet, and I make sure those kids know that.”

Off the ice, Laperrière acted in the movie “This Is 40” last year. Although he got rave reviews, he says he has no plans to attempt a career on the silver screen. In the movie, Laperrière and his NHL buddies (current Flyer Scott Hartnell and former Flyers James van Riemsdyk and Matt Carle) meet up with Megan Fox’s character in a bar, and she asks if she can try on Laperrière’s false teeth. He tugs them out of his mouth and hands them over.

“That was great,” he says. “They flew us to LA for three days and paid us – we would have done it for free just for the experience. It was a long day though. Actors really earn their money. Just for our little cameo we were there from 7 in the morning to 11 at night. We were just exhausted after that day. It’s something that I can brag about, that I danced with Megan Fox. Not too many guys can say that.”

Next up on his bucket list is competing in another Ironman in Hawaii. “I’m happy in my life right now. I won’t lie to you – my first three years after retiring were really hard on me and my family. I was fortunate to play 16 years in the NHL but when it stops, it’s a hard adjustment.”

Though he only spent one year playing for the Flyers, Laperrière now makes Haddonfield his home. “The fans really embraced me, and I embraced them,” he says. “‘The Hockey News’ named me the toughest player in the NHL, and the fans acknowledged that with an ovation I never dreamt of getting. It kept going and going, and people were cheering my nickname Lappy. Talking about it right now gives me goose bumps and will stay with me the rest of my life. They appreciated that I sacrificed my body for the team and the city.”

January 2014
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