Philadelphia Flyers winger Ian Laperriere officially announced his retirement as an active NHL player Tuesday afternoon, having sat out the past two seasons on Long-Term Injured Reserve due to significant injuries suffered during the 2009-10 campaign.
It was two springs ago that Laperriere saw what would end up being his last NHL action.
It was at that time he took a slap shot to the face from then-New Jersey Devil defenseman Paul Martin in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
The fact he dove in front of Martin to block the shot was a testament to the all-out effort that made Laperriere one of the most-respected players in the League, but it was even more remarkable considering it was the second major blow to the head he had received in a short period of time. It had only been five months since he required over 100 stitches and lost seven teeth when he was struck in the face by a Jason Pominville slapper in a Black Friday matinee against the Buffalo Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center.
But then again, that is Laperriere's way -- always putting the needs of the team ahead of that of himself.
The Martin shot would cause "Lappy" to suffer a brain injury and compromise the sight in his right eye, but being the warrior he proved himself to be, sat out exactly one month before returning in the conference semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens.
He would play through the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, hoping for that one last kick at the can for an elusive Cup championship.
When he came to camp in September of 2010 and his condition was not improving, he made a decision. He later admitted he came back too soon -- in hopes of being a part of a Cup-winning club -- after the concussion suffered as a result of the Martin shot.
"Right from the get-go two years ago when I came to training camp and my eye wasn't right and my head wasn't right, I said I'd give myself the length of the rest of my contract to see if I can do something about it," Laperriere explained via conference call Tuesday afternoon, when he made his retirement official.
"More and more as the time went by, I kind of knew nothing was going to change. To come back to play hockey the way I want to play was out of the question. It's a faster sport, a tough sport out there. For me to come back the way I am today wouldn't be fair for my family and wouldn't be fair for the Flyers, either. I'm feeling pretty good but I'm not 100 percent, especially at 38, 100 percent to come back and play the way I want to play."
Even though he scored just three goals, posted 20 points, and recorded 162 penalty minutes in 82 games that season, the leadership he brought to the club was invaluable.
The irony of the situation is for a player so perfectly suited to be a Philadelphia Flyer, his time in the organization was seemingly over just as it was getting started.
"It was my shortest time here compared to the other teams I played for, but that's probably one of my regrets, not having a chance to play longer than that in this great organization", the winger said about his time in Philly.
In 1,083 career NHL contests, Laperriere finished with 121 goals, 336 points, and 1,956 PIMs. After brief times with the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Laperriere played the majority of his career with the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche.
He had this to say about Los Angeles' Stanley Cup championship Monday night -- "It's not jealousy, it's more like you wish it was you" -- but he was happy seeing the Kings win the first Cup in franchise history.
"I'm happy for the Kings, actually," he said. "I spent most of my career over there, nine years, and the fans have been waiting a long time to get their Cup, and they have it. I'm very happy for the fans and the organization out there."
"Carts and Richie, it's a great fit for them," he said. "Here, they were the face of the franchise but there, they're not. I think it's a better fit for those two guys. They're not the top players, they're second-line there. They have (Anze) Kopitar and (Dustin) Brown in front of them."
"I said that when we made that trade last summer, I think it's a perfect deal for both teams."
As for how the trade turned out for the Flyers, Laperriere wants Philadelphia hockey fans to see the extremely bright future he does for the organization.
"Are they the same Flyers fans who looked this season and saw (Sean) Couturier, (Wayne) Simmonds, (Brayden) Schenn, (Jakub) Voracek, all those great players coming up? The future's brighter, people," he said.
For the nay-sayers who point to the Kings' Cup as proof-positive that Los Angeles outright won the trade, Laperriere sees it very differently. Especially when considering the affect the deal had on another rising star on the roster.
"They have to understand that (Claude) Giroux became Giroux this year because the other two guys left," he said of the departures of Carter and Richards. "With those two guys in front of him, you just can't say 'OK Mike and Carts, you're going to be secondary scoring and we're going to leave the team to Giroux'. That's not the way it works. I don't think G would be who he is today (without the trade)."
As for his future, he envisions remaining in some capacity with the Flyers, working to help develop the club's youngsters.
"For now that's what I'm doing, working with the young guys," Laperriere said. "I want to get closer to the game. Coaching would be a route I wouldn't mind exploring. Right now what I'm doing is I try to be around as many young prospects as I can just to show them what it takes off the ice."
When asked if he had a desire to coach in the plans for the future, its' something Laperriere has thought about.
"It's stuff that I talk about," he said. "I talk to a lot of guys. Paul Holmgren's helping me a lot, Chris Pryor's helping me a ton."
When people see him and it appears he is happy with how things have unfolded, Laperriere says he has had to do a bit of improv along the way.
"You see me at the rink and everything's good, I have a smile on my face", he said. "But trust me, it's been a really, really tough past two years. I'm an actor, you guys know that. I can put on an actor face."
But he appreciates the way his situation has been handled by the Flyers franchise, one he plans on helping in any capacity he can from here on out.
"When you get good people around you like I do in this organization, they really helped my transition," Laperriere said. "With those people that I really do talk about my future, they really listen and they give me great advice. I couldn't be happier in that regard to finish my career and retire on this team, because I have all that support around me."
He will be a tremendous asset in whatever his role ends up being with the Flyers. And remember, the Adirondack Phantoms head coaching position remains vacant after the firing of Joe Paterson last month.
As for his time as a player, it was the time he spent and the way he was treated in Philadelphia that he mentioned as being special to him.
"I'm just glad I had a chance to wear the orange and black," he said. "It's something I would have missed, just to play for a team that cares so much about their fans and cares so much about their players. I'm not saying that everywhere else I played they didn't care about their players, but nothing compared to what the Flyers are."
Regarding the big picture of his playing time, the reigning winner of the Masteron Trophy -- for the player that best exemplifies the qualities of perserverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey" -- feels very fortunate for what he was able to accomplish.
"I'm lucky because I played close to 1,100 games and I was hoping as a little boy to play one game," Laperriere said. "I surpassed that and I played a lot longer than I ever expected. The way I played the game was fighting and being physical, and I was looking around and it's tough to find guys that play my way who played that long. It's a matter of when you're going to get a career-ending injury - it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. I feel very fortunate and very proud of what I did."
For those of us who were fortunate enough to see Lappy's robust style of play throughout his parts of 18 NHL seasons, we feel pretty fortunate ourselves to have witnessed the career of such a true gentleman -- and absolute warrior.