An outstanding playmaker, Edgar Laprade was the National Hockey League's premier checking centres during an era when defensive forwards were overshadowed by the exploits of the goal scorers.
Edgar Louis Laprade was born on October 10, 1919 in the Northwestern Ontario community of Mine Centre. "Mine Centre is a tiny place on Highway 11 between Fort Frances and Atikokan," explained Edgar. "It's about 45 miles east of Fort Frances. There's some good fishing there."
By the age of four, Edgar's family had moved to Port Arthur, a town that was amalgamated with Fort William to form the city we now know as Thunder Bay. He began playing on the many outdoor rinks that dotted the city. "The winters were long and cold in Port Arthur, so we had many months to play hockey. You didn't feel the cold when you were playing, but as soon as you stopped, you just froze!"
By fifteen, Laprade was proving himself to be one of the finest up-and-coming players in the area, an area known at that time for its high output of fine hockey players. "When I was 14, I played for the Cougars. I played with the McDonald-Cartier midgets in 1934 and the Royal Canadian Legion midgets in 1935."
By 1935-36, Edgar was playing junior with the Port Arthur Bruins. In his first season, he collected 23 points in 14 games. Edgar led the Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League in scoring the next two seasons, firing 19 goals and contributing 33 points in 18 games in 1936-37 and 23 goals and 34 points in 18 games during the 1937-38 season. During the 1938-39 campaign, Edgar was called up to join the mighty Port Arthur Bearcats of the senior loop, and proceeded to lead the league in scoring, tallying 31 goals and 40 points in 25 games. The Bearcats coasted through the ranks and ended up winning the Allan Cup in 1939, adding to previous franchise victories in 1925, 1926 and 1929. "In 13 games, I got 26 points," Edgar recalled. "We had a heckuva team!"
Laprade led the TBSHL in goals scored in 1939-40, and took the Bearcats to the Allan Cup once again, although without victory this time. "The Kirkland Lake Blue Devils won it that year," he recalled. "They had Bill Durnan in net. Johnny McCreedy was on that team, too. He went on to the NHL, too."
In three more seasons of senior hockey, Edgar proved particularly adept at scoring. He led the league in scoring in 1940-41, collecting 26 goals and adding 21 assists for 47 points in 20 games. In 1941-42, Laprade had 41 points in 15 games, again leading the Bearcats to the Allan Cup. But even Edgar's tournament-leading 33 points couldn't stop the Regina Rangers from capturing senior hockey's top prize.
In 1941-42, his final season of senior hockey, Laprade scored 17 points in 8 games and once again, led the Bearcats to the Allan Cup. And in spite of contributing 16 points in 8 games, the Bearcats fell short again. The RCAF Flyers from Ottawa took the Allan Cup that spring. "I'm very proud of my career around Port Arthur," admitted Edgar. "Twice, I was the (senior) league's MVP (winning the Gerry Trophy in 1939 and 1941). I was on the New York Rangers' negotiation list since 1938. The Montreal Canadiens were calling on me, too." In 1941, the city of Port Arthur held a special night to honour both Edgar and his brother, Burt.
Edgar declined signing with the New York Rangers at that time, instead, enlisting in the military during World War II. "I joined the Canadian Forces and suited up for a Montreal team. Then, I got transferred closer to home to Winnipeg and played for the army club in the city's services hockey league."
Finally, on October 15, 1945, Laprade signed with the Rangers, and made an immediate impact. "My first game was on October 31 (1945) in Chicago against the Black Hawks. I can remember it like it was yesterday." His teammates nicknamed him 'Beaver' because of his work ethic. The NHL was equally impressed, and at the conclusion of the 1945-46 season, presented Edgar with the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. That season, Laprade scored 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points, which placed him third on the team behind Ab DeMarco (47 points) and Grant Warwick (37 points). "I was so thrilled to win the Calder Trophy," beamed Edgar. "Lakehead boys had had a good string of wins at that time." Gaye Stewart of the Maple Leafs won the Calder in 1943, Gus Bodnar, also with Toronto, in 1944 and Edgar in 1946. In 1949, Pentti Lund took the honours. All were natives of either Fort William or Port Arthur.
But maybe even more impressive than his rookie scoring was the fact that the gentlemanly Laprade served no penalty minutes that season. The trait served Edgar well during his career. Three times during his 10-season NHL career, Laprade finished with no penalties, and through his career, earned just 42 penalty minutes. "I was taught early on that you can't score from the penalty box," laughed Edgar.
The Rangers struggled badly during Laprade's career, only reaching post-season twice in the period from 1945-46 to 1954-55. Yet, Edgar continued to contribute. In 1946-47, he collected 40 points, second on the Rangers to Tony Leswick, led the Rangers with 25 assists, and was chosen to play in the NHL All-Star Game. In 1947-48, Edgar was behind only Buddy O'Connor in team scoring, adding 47 points. The Rangers made the playoffs but were eliminated quickly. Again, Edgar was selected to play in the All-Star Game.
The 1948-49 season began on a dark note for the New York Rangers. On October 8, 1948, a truck struck the car being driven with Buddy O'Connor, Frank Eddolls, Bill Moe and Edgar Laprade. All four were rushed to the hospital unconscious. O'Connor missed 14 games with broken ribs, Eddolls severed a knee tendon and missed 34 games. Laprade missed four games. Nonetheless, Edgar's 30 points that season placed him third on the Rangers. He was chosen as co-recipient of the West Side Association Rangers' MVP Award, sharing the honour with netminder Charlie Rayner. For a third straight season, Edgar was asked to play in the NHL All-Star Game.
Edgar's best season was, unquestionably, 1949-50. He scored 22 goals, a team best, and led the Rangers with 44 points. Not only was he recipient of the Rangers' most valuable player trophy, but he was chosen again for the All-Star Game. In addition, Edgar was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player. "I only had one minor penalty that year, and the one I got was a questionable call," Edgar laughed.
It was in the 1950 playoffs that Laprade came closest to a Stanley Cup championship. After eliminating the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers made it to the finals, where they faced a very strong Detroit Red Wings team. But Detroit was missing star forward Gordie Howe, who was out with an injury. Edgar scored 3 goals in the series, but New York lost a heartbreaker when the Wings' Pete Babando scored the winning goal in double-overtime in Game 7 to give Detroit the Stanley Cup. "It was the biggest disappointment of my career," he admitted.
Injuries in 1950-51 restricted Laprade to just 42 games, and hampered his productivity. He finished the season with just 23 points, his lowest point total since debuting in the NHL. The next year, although playing all 70 games, Edgar scored just 9 goals, although he rebounded with a much improved 38 points. Edgar fondly reminisced about Hy Buller, one of his Ranger teammates in 1951-52. "He was really good on the point. Some people would get rattled when they got the puck and the point, but he was very cool and he took his time. He never let a wild shot go at the net," Edgar recalled. "Jewish fans identified with him. Buller took his family to weekly services, refused to play on Yom Kippur and was active in the B'nai Brith organization. I remember tagging along with him one day when some of his Jewish fans invited him to attend the opening of a deli. The Jewish people really supported him. He was getting invited all over town."
Somewhat discouraged by his eroding productivity and the team's continued misfortunes, Edgar retired in 1952-53, finishing the season having played just 11 games. "I owned a sporting goods store back home (in Port Arthur) and decided I'd go back and run it," Edgar stated. But GM Frank Boucher convinced the diminutive Laprade that his value was too great to the team, so on December 29, 1953, Edgar returned to Madison Square Garden in order to play on a line with the recently acquired Max Bentley. Nonetheless, 7 points in 35 games was discouraging to Edgar. He played one final season, 1954-55, scoring 14 points in 60 games, then announced his retirement. His final game was played against the Red Wings on March 5, 1955. Time had caught up to the smooth-skating forward. The Rangers fans were so appreciative of Laprade's consistency over a decade that they rewarded him with the Boucher Trophy as the most popular Ranger in 1954-55.
An outstanding skater and brilliant playmaker, Edgar Laprade was one of the few bright spots on the New York Rangers during a decade of consistent losing seasons. He proved to be an excellent penalty killer and dogged checker. But the two-way centre could also score, contributing 108 goals and 172 assists for 280 points in 500 regular season games, a milestone that only four previous Rangers had reached. In 1982, Edgar was elected to the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, honoured a second time the next year when his Allan Cup-winning Port Arthur Bearcats of 1939 were inducted as a team. In 1993, the Hockey Hall of Fame recognized his extraordinary contributions when they elected Edgar Laprade as an Honoured Member in the Veterans' Category.
Kevin Shea is the co-author of the Hockey Hall of Fame-produced
'LORD STANLEY: THE MAN BEHIND THE CUP,' distributed by H.B. Fenn and Company.