No Teeth? No Problem for Flyers' Gritty Laperriere
(from the Philadelphia Inquirer)
By Ray Parrillo
Inquirer Staff Writer
April 16, 2010 - NEWARK, N.J. - As the blood poured from his mouth, Ian Laperriere wasn't thinking about the seven teeth he'd just lost, the 100 or so stitches it would require to close the wound, or the prospect of having dinner through a straw for a while.
Instead, the first thought that crossed his mind was: How could he have been so stupid to block a slapshot with his face.
"I was mad at myself because it was my fault," the veteran winger said Thursday after the Flyers went through a brisk practice for Friday night's Game 2 of their first-round series against New Jersey at the Prudential Center.
"I won't make the same mistake. I promise you that. What I did was stupid. I was too far away from him, and I went down on my knees and the puck came up."
The frightening incident occurred on Nov. 27 when Laperriere put the wrong part of his body in the path of a shot by Buffalo's Jason Pominville in the first period.
Remarkably, Laperriere, 36, returned to play in the third period. Since then, he has never thought twice about blocking shots and has continued to put himself in harm's way, leading Flyers forwards with 74 blocked shots.
Getting in the way of a frozen rubber disk traveling about 100 m.p.h. probably requires a touch of insanity - "Call it what you will," Laperriere said with a smile - but shot-blocking is an integral part of defensive strategy. Especially for a penalty-killing unit. Especially in the playoffs.
A key to the Flyers' 2-1 victory Wednesday was their success in killing five Devils power plays, including a double minor. Penalty killers such as Laperriere, Blair Betts, Chris Pronger and Matt Carle are the Flyers' premier shot-blockers. The Flyers had the fifth-most blocked shots (1,254) in the NHL during the regular season.
"It's something I pride myself in," Laperriere said. "The day I no longer want to block shots, I'll call it a career."
Obviously, there's a certain fearlessness and abandon in blocking shots.
"If you're afraid of the puck," Betts said in an understatement, "you're probably not going to do a good job blocking it. I've never had a serious injury doing it, certainly nothing like what happened to Ian. That was ugly."
With that, Betts turned and knocked on the wooden divider in his locker.
Although there is risk in blocking shots, it's a calculated risk. Technique and timing are involved. Laperriere said he learned from a master of the craft - Guy Carbonneau - when he broke into the NHL.
"He always said you've got to lead with your feet and if you get hit anywhere else than your shin pad, then you did it wrong and it's your fault," Laperriere said. "You try to block shots with the bottom of your legs. If it hits you in your face, like what happened to me, then that was my fault.
"You have to know when to go down and when not to go down. It's a Catch-22. These guys [shooters] are good. If they know you're going down, they might pump-fake you and go around you."
Laperriere said shot-blocking is more prevalent in the playoffs because the stakes are higher.
"You want to sacrifice yourself more," he said. "It's something I take pride in, and I know a bunch of guys here do. Blair Betts is one of the best I've played with [at] blocking shots. You don't want to allow a shot that might cost you the game."
Betts said goalie Brian Boucher typically expresses his appreciation to players who have spared him the trouble of making a save.
"He's one of the goaltenders who always seems to come up to you after a game and, you know, tell you, 'Nice block,' " he said. "It's nice to hear."
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or email@example.com.