After 27 years in professional hockey, Ian Laperriere finally gets to call the shots and the Flyers believe he will be making the right ones.
According to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, the new head coach of Philadelphia’s AHL-affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms knows hockey inside and out.
A day after putting his faith in Laperriere to keep the organization’s No. 1 developmental team moving in the right direction, Fletcher fully endorsed the decision.
Well-liked by everyone in the organization from top to bottom, Laperriere is quick with a smile and a laugh but he’s equally fast when it’s time to get down to business.
As for commitment, well, the 47-year-old Laperriere completed the North American Championship Ironman Triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec a while back in case there are any questions.
“He will bring a lot to the table,’’ Fletcher said during a media Zoom call from the PPL Center in Allentown on Monday morning. “He knows the game very well. He’s very positive but also very demanding. That can’t be stated enough. The players will know where they stand. He will be very honest when they do something he doesn’t like.’’
Laperriere played one year for the Flyers, then was forced to retire in 2012 after suffering serious facial injuries during a shot-block attempt. He became an assistant coach the following year.
He’s worked under four NHL head coaches – Craig Berube, Dave Hakstol, Scott Gordon (the previous Phantoms head coach) and Alain Vigneault. Everyone appears to be in agreement Laperriere’s time has come.
“I’m going to be an energy guy who brings life to the rink everyday,’’ Laperriere said. “Make sure we’re on the positive side. I think that’s what the young guys need. They need a leader who’s going to point them in the right direction.’’
The Phantoms have missed the playoffs in three of the past six seasons prior to this year (there were no playoffs in 2020), so that’s one thing the Flyers would like to see change.
That said, development of young players comes ahead of where the team finishes in the standings.
“For me, when I come down here full-time, it’s to make sure those guys become the best version of themselves to give them a chance to make it to the next level,’’ Laperriere said.
Laperriere said he has not yet named an assistant coach. He’s going to wait for the coaching picture to clear a bit after the Stanley Cup playoffs to see who’s available.
There has been talk of one possible candidate – former Flyers/Phantoms head coach Terry Murray – who might be in the running but Laperriere admitted he’s looking for someone a bit younger than the 71-year-old Murray.
When he first retired, Laperriere was named Flyers director of player development and, in a sense, he’s sort of returning to that task.
“I love working with the young guys,’’ he said. “Being an assistant coach, I could relate to those guys. Now I get to do it as a head coach. Being an assistant coach that long really prepared me for this role.’’
Laperriere credited former general manager and current senior advisor Paul Holmgren with starting him on the path to coaching success.
“Without him I wouldn’t be here,’’ Laperriere said. “He saw my passion in the game and he asked me what I wanted to do after. He helped me from day one. Some people you meet and forget but Paul Holmgren, that’s the guy I’ll never forget.’’
The Quebec, Canada native is a big believer in accountability and the best way to maintain that is by controlling ice time.
“That’s the thing I’ve never controlled before,’’ he said. “Players have to know that. There are a lot of things that won’t be negotiable in the system. Players will make mistakes, coaches will make mistakes. . .that I can live with. But you have to stick with the system and hard work.’’
As for fitness, there were some questions about the Flyers’ level of conditioning during the pandemic. With Ironman veteran Laperriere at the controls, the team’s fitness level is bound to improve.
“I’m a big believer in fitness,’’ Laperriere said. “Players who play for me are going to have to be in shape or I’ll get them in shape. They know that. Guys that know me, the ones who play for me next year know that. To be a pro, you have to be a pro 24 hours a day. You represent the logo.’’
There are people in the business who believe Laperriere is NHL head coaching material. But he’s not going to let any of those aspirations get ahead of the immediate task at hand.
“My goal now is to make the kids better here,’’ he said. “I’m going day-by-day, I’ve done that my whole career. The NHL is great but my goal right now is to help the Phantoms compete, help those kids get better everyday. I have enough to focus on that I can’t think about the NHL.’’
Fletcher said promoting someone from within the organization has its benefits. Laperriere is familiar with all the personnel and also knows Vigneault’s system to a tee.
“I don’t want to oversell that,’’ Fletcher said. “I thought (ex-coach) Scott Gordon worked hard with ‘AV’ (Vigneault) as well. It goes beyond the relationship between ‘Lappy’ and AV. They have a very strong relationship.
“Lappy also has a strong relationship with our player development staff. I think this move allows us not just to integrate how our AHL coaching staff works with our NHL coaching staff but integrate our coaching at the American Hockey League level with our player development model.’’
Bottom line: Laperriere fits just about perfectly into the Flyers’ franchise hard work trademark.
“It’s his ability to connect with people, the passion,’’ Fletcher said. “His work ethic, the honesty. He’s one hundred percent honest in everything he does.’’