MONTREAL, QC — Philadelphia Flyers Director of Player Development for the past two years, Ian Laperrière is part of the lucky group who got a job early on after his career ended in the National Hockey League. For him, however the career ends “nobody wakes up the day after with a big smile.”
Unlike some, he got two years to think about retirement. After getting hit by a puck in the face, which resulted in an eye injury and another concussion, Ian Laperrière’s career ended in the 2011 playoffs. Wishing to clear all the symptoms by the end of the summer, like he had done before, the player had to come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t in shape to play anymore. He met with the front office and told them that he couldn’t play for now because of his head, that ” [he] would take some time off to try to get back in shape, but honestly it wasn’t looking good.”
Somehow, he prefers that his career ended that way : “It’s never easy, you have some bad and good times in your career, but, knowing me, it’s better like that. At some point, comes a time when clubs don’t want you anymore, I think that would have hurt me more than my injury.” Don’t think the road was easier that way. The former player knows that he was lucky and his injury could have been worse. Actually, his headaches and reverse vertigo syndrome disappeared not too long ago. In fact, all he’s left with now is a little blurry vision in his eye that received the puck.
Sometimes, he has hope to get back in the game, but reality quickly kicks in. “It’s hard to cope with it, even when the doctor says that you have to find something else to do with your life.” The biggest problem with retirement to Laperriere is “to find what to do with your time, your identity outside hockey, to value yourself as a human being.” In general, hockey players have been part of a team since they were five years old, and maybe that’s part of the problem. The transition between being a part of something (a team) and being by yourself. For him, it took two years to be okay with a normal life.
The retired man needed psychological help. He got that help from the outside (offered by the NHLPA) and counted on his family. His loving wife of 22 years was a big support. “She has always known me as Ian the Hockey player, not like a retired man, that wasn’t easy at first for both of us. Honestly I wasn’t happy.” Luckily, the Flyers informed Laperriere that they wanted his skills for the future Flyers, it made the transition easier.
When I asked him if help from the NHL and the NHLPA is enough, he answered, “There are good programs up there, but it’s like alcohol. If the alcoholic doesn’t ask for help, nobody will drive to his home and get him out of it. Yes, there are programs, but if you don’t seek help, the NHL can’t know you have problems. I’m sure that they are helping a lot of players like they helped me.”
The former player wouldn’t change a thing to his “long and good” career. “I abused my body a lot in my career, and I’m still abusing it today, I’m just…angry at myself because I made that movement a million times in my career, and I just had bad timing there.” Even if he has no regrets, he would have loved to win the Stanley Cup.
And in a world where the Flyers wouldn’t have made him an offer, what would he have done? “I wouldn’t have seen myself return to school to find a job. I know that the only thing I’m good at and passionate about is hockey. I built some bridges in hockey to make sure to stay in it.” This incursion on education brings up the question about school programs in the QMJHL. According him “no system is perfect but the league could make some adjustments.” In fact “if the boy doesn’t want to put the effort in it, nobody can change it.” However, the former player points out that if the teenager wants to be focused on school, all the tools are there to do so.
Ironically, the injury that pushed him into retirement happened at a good time in his life. His family life can now take over, after a lot of years spent focused on hockey. So, now the proud father of two has more time to invest in his kids’ activities and give his wife a hand.
Today, Ian Laperrière is moving forward. From time to time, he wants to play again but has to be realistic. “I’m not stupid, I could say that I’m able to come back, but that makes me laugh, hockey evolves, the players have become faster. It’s been three years since I last laced up skates in a game, it’s more a dream than a reality now.” He’s happy with his position with the Flyers and focuses on his family and the young players he has to develop, like Samuel Morin.