Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Jacques Laperriere
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One on One with Jacques Laperriere

24 APRIL 2006
Jacques Laperriere used great natural ability combined with the advantages offered by his height and reach to make an impression on the NHL that extended from his first shift right through 12 NHL seasons.

Joseph Jacques Hugues Laperriere was born November 22, 1941 in Rouyn, Quebec. "Rouyn-Noranda is a mining town, and most of the people work at the mine," Jacques told journalist Stan Fischler is a television interview. "In those days, we had only one rink, so they keep it for the bigger team. Us, we had to play outside and sometimes at night, we played in the streets with a ball. That really helps because we start to play hockey outside at the beginning of October and that lasts until the end of April."

Growing up in Quebec, Laperriere practically emerged from the womb as a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. "The Forum was like a big church for us," Laperriere admitted. "Even the first time I went there, not to play there but just to go there and watch a game, it was amazing." And Jacques had his favorites, too. "Doug Harvey — I thought that he was a great defenseman," he said. "He could read the play. He could play with the puck. You had Beliveau and you had 'Rocket' Richard, but myself, it's because I played defense, I looked up to the defense player."

Jacques served a four-year apprenticeship with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens of the Eastern Provincial Junior Hockey League before he joined the parent Montreal Canadiens for 6 games in 1962-63. "It was real competition because the Montreal Canadiens had one team to cover all Quebec and the Maritimes. You used to go to training camp, you might end up with 75 players," said Laperriere. Although his potential had been observed for several years, playing in the NHL was not guaranteed for Jacques. "I was tall but they thought I was too small," he explained. "One year in the summer, they sent me to a camp to get bigger. It was very different than today. I just went there and ate and ate and ate. I left to go there, I was 178. I came back, I was 212! It took me two months to get back in shape."

The lanky blueliner joined the Canadiens full-time in 1963-64. "l used to score a lot of goals in junior," chuckled Jacques. "The first thing he (coach Toe Blake) told me, 'We have enough guys who can score goals. We want you to stop the other team from getting goals.' I started to be very defensive-minded."

Ironically, Jacques was handed sweater #2 to wear when he joined the Canadiens; the same number worn by his idol. "If I copied Doug Harvey, I may not have had the same success. I played my style, but I was proud to be #2."

It was a superb rookie season for Laperriere, who cracked a defense corps that included J.C. Tremblay, Jean Guy Talbot and Terry Harper. He played 65 games, scored 2 goals, assisted on 28 others and served 102 minutes in penalties. Jacques was awarded the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie that season, edging out teammate John Ferguson. Laperriere was also named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team, the first rookie named to an NHL All-Star Team since the Second World War. "I played for a good team. I played with good players. It really helped your confidence," said the humble defenseman. "I was lucky to be there at the right time." Jacques also finished fourth in balloting for the Norris Trophy.

The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1964-65, bolstered by Laperriere, who was named to the First All-Star Team that spring. "We had one goal and it was to win the Stanley Cup," Laperriere admitted to Fischler. "If some things came after (awards), it was a reward, but a reward that everybody helped you to achieve."

The Canadiens captured the Stanley Cup again in 1965-66. Their star defenseman was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team for a second straight year, and in spite of missing the last 13 games of the season, was named recipient of the Norris Trophy as the premier defenseman in the league.

Jacques and the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in both 1968 and 1969, then again in 1971 and in 1973. In 1970, Laperriere was a Second All-Star selection. He was asked to participate for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union, but declined because his wife was expecting a child and had not been well.

In January 1974, after eleven seasons starring for the Montreal Canadiens, a rift developed between Laperriere and coach Scotty Bowman. "I didn't say I wanted to be traded or wanted him to lose his job. I just said if things don't get better, it's no use for me to stay," sighed Jacques. Regrettably, days later, on January 19, 1974 in a contest against the Bruins, Laperriere suffered a knee injury that brought a premature conclusion to his once-glorious career.

Although often playing through nagging injuries (in the 1972 playoffs, Jacques didn't miss a shift in spite of playing with a cracked bone in his left arm), Laperriere played 691 regular season games, scoring 40 goals and adding 242 assists. Through 88 playoff games, Jacques contributed 9 goals and 22 assists. Most telling of all is that the Canadiens won six Stanley Cup championships during the 12 seasons Laperriere played with the bleu, blanc et rouge. "It's a simple thing," Jacques modestly explained. "You cover the area you're responsible for. You don't get caught out of position. You gain control of the puck. You pass it to somebody or else you carry it over the blueline and then pass it to somebody else. You don't take chances — that's for forwards to do. Stay away from the offense unless it's absolutely safe."

Keeping involved with hockey was something that very much appealed to Jacques, who accepted a position as coach of the Montreal Red-White-Blue of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1975-76. The team became the Junior Canadiens the next season, but following a November 1976 game against the Sorel Black Hawks in which a bench-clearing brawl contributed to 334 penalty minutes being assigned, Laperriere decided to leave the team, protesting the violence in sport at that level. "That's not my idea of hockey," he told the press at the time. "I don't want to look like a quitter, but the life of a hockey coach is not for me."

In 1980, Jacques Laperriere accepted a position as assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and stayed with them through 1997. When the Habs won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and in 1993, Laperriere got his name engraved on Lord Stanley's chalice for the seventh and eighth time.

Jacques followed Montreal coach Pat Burns to the Bruins in 1997. "Boston was a very good experience," he admitted. "I knew nothing else but the Montreal system. For me to go to another team was a really, really good experience." Jacques later spent two years as an assistant coach with the Islanders, then joined the New Jersey Devils in 2003. "I really enjoy teaching hockey," smiles Jacques. "I have a passion for that. It's rewarding to work with players and see them do well. I can say I helped him to achieve that. I did a good thing."

In tribute to his achievements, an arena was named in Laperriere's honour in his hometown of Rouyn. In 1987, Jacques Laperriere was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Editor of Publications and On-Line Features.