First aired on The Current (18/11/11)
It's a safe bet that the National Hockey League won't have a player like Georges Laraque in the league again soon — after all, how many 6-foot-3, 250+ pound vegans with a knack for fighting and political aspirations can there be?
From his appearance on CBC's Battle of the Blades to serving as deputy leader of the Green Party, the former heavyweight enforcer is, in a word, unique, which is why the title of his new memoir, Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy, is so apt.
Born in Montreal in 1976 to Haitian immigrant parents, Laraque developed a love for Canada's popular sport as a child. While his experiences with racism early on would have discouraged many kids from pursuing hockey, Laraque has said it fueled him to succeed even more.
During his 16-year professional career, which included stints with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs and the NHL's Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens, Laraque established himself as one of the sport's toughest fighters.
But while some players may relish the aggression and violence of the role, the free-spirited Laraque says it can be a lonely way to make a living.
"In my book I'm kind of talking about why we say that the life of a fighter in the NHL is the toughest job in professional sports," he said during a recent interview with The Current. "I talk about the anxiety, and some tough guys jumped into to drugs and alcohol because of the job."
The recent deaths of three NHL enforcers — Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak — shocked the hockey world. Boogaard died from a combination of too many painkillers and alcohol, while Rypien and Belak, who both dealt with depression, died in apparent suicides. Their tragic deaths have led to a national debate about the role of fighting in the sport.
"When the tragedies happened, that was a result of pretty much how tough the job was," Laraque said. "Anybody could be suffering from depression, but we don't know about it because, in the NHL, we're supposed to be invincible, we're not supposed to show weakness, we don't want to tell people we're affected."
You can listen to the rest of Laraque's interview in the clip below.
Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy
by Georges Laraque with Pierre Thibeault
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From the publisher:
"Think you know NHL tough guy Georges Laraque? Think again.
Sure, Laraque knows all about the rough side of the game of hockey. Ottawa Senators pugilist Chris Neil called him 'probably the toughest in the league.' Phoenix Coyotes brawler Paul Bisonette said 'I'm not really afraid of anyone, but if I were to fight him, I'd probably be shaking going in.' Ask Laraque, though, and he'd say that's not who he is.
Known as a player who was unfailingly respectful and gentlemanly even when he was going toe-to-toe with the toughest guys in the toughest league in the world, today Laraque takes that courageous sense of what is fair into fights that are much more important than the outcome of a hockey game..."
Read more at Penguin Group Canada.