Q&A: Injured Flyers forward Ian Laperriere

Philadelphia's Ian Laperriere, out of action as a result of taking a slapshot to the head in last year's playoffs, talked with CBC Sports' Teddy Katz about his concussion and head injuries in hockey.
Ian Laperriere returned to the 2010 playoffs with a shield protecting his face after being hit in the face with a puck during Philly's opening-round series. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ian Laperriere of the Philadelphia Flyers is out of action as a result of a taking a slapshot to the face in the 2010 post-season. He returned after being out for 32 days, but he has not played a game this season.

Laperriere was interviewed by Teddy Katz of CBC Sports. This is an edited version of that conversation. You can listen to the full version  here.

Katz: What’s it like as you see teams gearing up for the playoffs?

Laperriere: It's hard for more than one reason. I like to be part of the team. I really like our team — the team is going to make a lot of noise in the playoffs. As much as I’d like to be part of it, I just can’t. It always comes back to I’m not 100 per cent and if I’m not 100 per cent I won’t play again.  My eye still bugs me a little bit, but you know I work out every day and I do a lot of stuff I used to do, I don’t have any headaches or dizziness, but still have issues with my eye. I won’t do that same mistake again; I won’t put my life at risk again

Katz: Mistake in what way? 

Laperriere: Well, not a mistake, I don’t regret it.  If I could do it tomorrow again I’d do it. I’ve been in the league 16 years and never been close. All of sudden every test comes back normal and I’m like, I’m OK.  When the dust settles down the symptoms come back out and you’re like, well I wasn’t OK. But when you’re in that moment, that frame of mind, you want to be part of something special so bad that you put your life at risk. But like I said, if I had to do it again tomorrow I’d do it.

Katz: Can you talk about what it’s like to go through this?

Laperriere: It’s something every athlete has, it doesn’t matter what sport. You are a competitor.  ou want to be part of something and when you see it, and it’s you’re dream, been your dream since you’re five years old, to lift that Stanley Cup.  It’s not team pressure or doctor pressure. It’s self pressure. If you don’t have that you won’t make it to the next level, and I think that’s one difference of guys who make it and guys that don’t. It’s still in me today and it drives me crazy just to watch every game from up there, but I don’t have any other choice right now.

Katz: It used to be years ago that players were lauded for their ability, their courage, to come back from injuries and play through pain. Do you think that’s changed because of all the concussions?

Laperriere: We were raised since we were little boys to suck it up and play through it… and I know it’s my brain. I’m not stupid. I know it’s more important than a knee. But at the end of the day, you don’t see the difference. You’re just sucking it up. If you see a kid get his bell wrung or anything like that, take him out of the game. You don’t ask him, because as athletes you’re used to saying "I’m OK."

Katz: When this happened to you, were you honest with Flyers' trainers and doctors.

Laperriere: No way — no. I lied to them about my symptoms because I wanted to play. Does that make me a hero or a dumb guy?   I don’t know, but it makes me who I am today. You don’t play in the NHL that long if you don’t play through injuries.

Katz: It seems like it took Sidney Crosby's injury for people to wake up to this issue. 

Laperriere: Yeah, but Sidney Crosby, the way he got hurt, there was nothing illegal about it. Those hits were legal. It’s sad but that’s what it is. Guys are bigger, stronger. Games happen a lot faster than they used to, and please don’t talk to me about respect because I’m going to snap right now, because people forget really fast about the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, when I broke in. You had brawls back then, stick incidents. The only problem today is the internet and more media covering our league. 

I’m not saying our games are perfect, but our game will never be perfect. It’s a physical game and you’ve got hits they should banish out of the league. The [Matt] Cooke elbows to the head. That should be out of the league — I agree 100 per cent.  The game is a fast game.

When I hear journalists — no disrespect — or players from 70’s and 80’s that never played this tempo of the game — stop talking about speed of game. These are the guys who never played the game at this speed.  You’ve got to be careful the way you change our game, and you’re talking to a guy who had a bunch of concussions in his career. And I know concussions are bad, but if you don’t want to risk to have a concussion, don’t play NHL hockey, I guess.

Katz: Given what you went through, what must be going through a guy like Crosby’s mind right now?

Laperriere: He doesn’t want to get caught in the emotion. He’s so close and he’s a lot younger than me. The danger with that is he ignores some symptoms because he gets caught in that excitement. And that excitement makes him the player he is. 

He won his Cup and he’s got a lot more hockey in front of him than I do. I think the league is taking the right approach. They want to protect the player, but at end of the day they don’t want to change the game that much because our game is physical .

Katz: Is there a human toll on you and your family?

Laperriere: Not easy. I have my moments now.  I’m not stupid. If I’m like that in a couple of months I won’t come back. It’s been tough, but you know I have a great family, a great wife who supported me for the past 20 years and two kids that I get to spend time with. 

Because concussion are different from one guy to the other, feel bad for a guy like Marc Savard who is going through what he’s going through right now. I’m thankful I don’t have those symptoms. I don’t have memory loss like he has, not sitting in a dark room like he does. I don’t have that and I'm thankful for that.

Katz: Hardest part?

Laperriere: Not doing what I love to do. That’s all I know. I gave 110 per cent to the game.  Not being with the boys is what I miss most.

Not being part of something — I miss that quite a bit.