Laperriere: My first year behind the bench
Former Flyer talks about his quick transition to a coach and learning on the fly
Being not too far removed from his days as a player, Ian Laperriere thought his eventual transition behind the bench would be a smooth one, if not completely natural.
And to a degree he was correct.
“I think that’s one of the reasons I got put in that position, said Laperriere. "I just retired four years ago and I can relate as a player because part of me feels like I’m still a player and I don’t think that is ever going to go away.
"When Homer [Paul Holmgren] gave me that call to take the job, I thought, 'I’ll be myself and learn on the go,' and that’s what I did. I just came to work every day and tried to do the best that I could for the team and it was a lot of fun."
Laperriere was a part of the coaching change when Craig Berube took over behind the bench just three games into the 2013-14 season.
Admittedly so, he knew there was much, much more a veteran of 1,000+ games in the NHL needed to catch up on to be successful in that transition. And catch up on quickly.
"I’d say the first fifteen games or so I had to prepare meetings. It’s one thing to go out there and do what the coach tells you for that many years, but to put it together and make sure those guys understand what you want them to do, especially on the penalty kill."
Tasked with forging the Flyers shorthanded units, it seemed like a natural fit for Laperriere, who made his mark in the NHL as a workhorse, blocking shots, fighting in the corners and playing in those outnumbered situations.
In his first and only season playing for the Orange & Black, he ranked third on the club and led all forwards in shorthanded time-on-ice, while also leading all forwards in shots blocked.
"It was not a challenge, but it was something I needed to learn. My meetings were too long in the beginning because I was emphasizing stuff that I shouldn’t have, stuff the guys know. But having feedback from the players is one thing I’m not ashamed of. I can go to them and ask, “Is it too long?” and that’s the way I think I will get better."
Whereas Flyers head coach Craig Berube had six full years experience as an assistant and even one full year as a bench boss in the American Hockey League with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Lappy had neither to draw on.
"The thing that really surprised me is how fast the game was from being behind the bench because as a player, what you focus on is your next shift, what you’re doing and everything. As a coach, you want to make sure we’re playing the system right and you want to make the correct choices.
"I’d be the one who would go up to a guy and tell him if he was in the wrong or right position, or “do this” or “do that” and it was really fast. The first fifteen games being behind the bench, everything was happening so fast that it was harder for me to see our system and figure out where the guys should be and everything. But the more you’re behind that bench, the more you learn and it gets a little bit easier for sure.”
Speaking of that PK unit, the Flyers boasted several game stretches where they did not allow a goal a man down -- finishing the 2013-14 campaign by killing off 39 of the last 44 attempts.
During the seven-game series with the Rangers, the Flyers killed off the final 21 power plays the Rangers saw over the span of Games Two through Seven.
Overall, the Flyers ranked seventh among all teams on the penalty kill at 84.8 percent, and were the NHL's second-best PK unit on the road, operating at 85.9 percent.
“It was an honor. I took pride in it," added Laperriere. "I get nervous at the PK while I’m on the bench and I like that. It’s a challenge and I get to see the other teams’ tendencies, what they do, what we can do better, and what the guys can do better individually."
The learning curve will do anything but slow down for Laperriere, but the summer months as a coach, at least the months of June and July, are a chance for the staff to catch their breath.
So now that he finally has time for some R & R, he has plans to do anything but that this off-season.
“I do triathlons in the summer. I’m doing a couple. I come to the rink here, I talk to the coaches, but for most of the day I train. I’m doing a half ironman next month and I’m doing a full one again during the summer. I’m so used to training for something all my life, I had to find another sport I can do that with—something that will keep me sane mentally."