NHL players have warm memories of playing outdoors

Jan 2 2010 - 12:49am

PHILADELPHIA -- It wasn't even a mile away from his house, but Ian Laperriere was forbidden to go there alone.

Laperriere, just eight years old at the time, was fearless. Every day after school, he begged to head to the local park -- where the city of Montreal kept one of its 168 outdoor rinks -- to skate with teenagers more than double his size and age.

"I couldn't let him go alone," said Francine Laperriere, Ian's mother, on the phone from Montreal. "He was too young. But he loved to play. I would ring his cousins on the phone for them to take him."

For as much as things change, they stay the same. Laperriere, the Flyers' 35-year-old forward, still loves to play. After taking a puck to the face in the first period on Black Friday, which knocked out seven teeth and required more than 75 stitches to close the wound to his face, Laperriere was back on the ice in the third period.

We know he's still fearless. He was angry it took the doctors so long to stitch him up.

Friday, Laperriere will return to his roots -- where most hockey players learned to love the game -- when the Flyers take on the Bruins outside in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

"I remember coming home from school and the first thing I'd do would be my homework," Laperriere said with a wink. "I'd pick up my skates and my helmet and my older cousins would pick me up and take me to the outdoor rink.

"In the winter, we'd put a sheet of ice with boards in the baseball park. If it was snowing, we'd get there and shovel and get the ice ready. Then we'd put our sticks in the middle of the ice, pick teams and go."

If it wasn't for Laperriere's cousins, Eric and Stephane Kingsley, he would have been stuck at home and left with his youth team's boring practices. He started playing for his town's youth team by age six.

He knew, though, that the real fun was in the outdoor pickup games.

"When I played outside, the game didn't mean anything," Laperriere said. "We'd say at school to meet at the park after school, if we didn't have practice. Nobody wanted to get hurt. It was like passing the puck and scoring goals. That's the way it was then. It wasn't physical at all."

Luckily for Laperriere, the Kingsleys lived just one block away. It took the boys five minutes on foot to get to the park.

"He bugged us all the time to play with us," Eric Kingsley recalled. "He wanted to learn everything so soon. He couldn't learn everything fast enough. He always wanted to try to be better."

Eric and Stephane were five and nine years older than Ian. And while the games weren't usually physical in nature, little Ian sometimes took the brunt of the blows.

"What was good about it was that you'd play against older guys and better guys," Laperriere said. "Those guys would take care of me, too. I was a smaller guy, if I'd get pushed around, my big cousin would be in there. But I think I became a better hockey player for it."

Kingsley said Laperriere didn't mind the physical stuff.

"I remember he had a lot of heart," Kingsley said. "He didn't back down from anyone. He never loved fighting but today he does."

Today, fighting is just a part of Laperriere's game. He has racked up more than 100 penalty minutes in a season 11 times in his career. Heading into Wednesday night's game, he had 82 penalty minutes with the Flyers this season.

"I try not to take a lot of two-minute (penalties)," Laperriere joked. "I prefer to do them in five and get them out of the way. But seriously, if I am going to get two minutes, I like to bring someone with me (from the other team)."

Back then, the Kingsleys had his back. Now, Laperriere is usually the first to come to the aid of a teammate. That all started on a rink just a few hundred feet from his house.

Similarly, Chris Pronger used to mix it up with older brother, Sean, in the driveway outside his childhood home in Dryden, Ontario. Way up in northwestern Ontario, Dryden is the smallest community (pop. 8,195) designated as a city in the province of Ontario.

With an average high of nine degrees Fahrenheit in January, Pronger got used to the cold real quick playing on the outdoor rink.

"Pretty much every day, whether it be after school or on the weekends, you spent pretty much all day on the outdoor rink if you weren't playing or practicing," Pronger said. "A lot of our buddies lived fairly close.

"We used to play a lot of road hockey, which was probably iced up anyways. We used to have the daily game in front of our house. We had two nets. It was like 'Wayne's World' with cars driving by and the 'Game On!' We had a lot of fond memories."

Pronger and Laperriere will be playing in front of a ton of family and friends in the stands at Fenway Park. Laperriere's mother, mother-in-law, sister and other relatives and friends are making the trip from Montreal.

They will be hard pressed to challenge their new coach, Peter Laviolette, for tickets. Laviolette, who grew up not 30 minutes outside of Boston in Franklin, Mass., purchased 21 tickets for family and friends.

"It's really, I think, symbolic of where hockey started for probably almost everybody that's on the ice or behind the bench," Laviolette said. "It's somewhere on a pond or outside in the weather. To do it at Fenway Park, I think that's what makes it really special for the players and anybody who's a part of that game."

Growing up a Bruins fan -- and having attended Red Sox games as a kid -- the game holds special meaning for Laviolette.

"There's a lot of history in that building," Laviolette said of the 97-year-old ballpark. "When you look around, you know exactly where you are. Knowing Fenway Park and the history of it, having gone to that venue to watch the Red Sox play as a kid, growing up watching the Boston Bruins play, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, John Bucyk. Just following the Bruins as a kid, and then being a part of the Flyers ... is pretty special."

Ian Laperriere was not a Boston Red Sox fan. In fact, he grew up a Montreal Expos and "all things Montreal" fan. More than anything, he learned how to be a fan of Montreal's gift to the world -- the game of hockey -- with neighborhood friends and family on something so basic and abundant: frozen water.

"I loved my experience playing outside," Laperriere said. "It's going to bring back a lot of great memories."

Like water gushing on fresh ice, memories will flood back to Laperriere when he walks out of the visitors' dugout Friday. With his teammates -- and maybe his cousins watching -- he'll have 2 1/2 hours to make new ones before the flurries finally settle on hockey's pond in this unbelievable snow-globe time machine.

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