Ian Laperriere was formally introduced Monday as the new coach of the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and the man known as Lappy said he will “be myself,” a trait he learned from former Flyers coach Craig Berube.
A people person with a gregarious personality, Laperriere, 47, will stress fitness in the first head-coaching job of his career. He has competed in Ironman triathlons, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.
The Phantoms will be in great shape. Or else.
“I’m a big believer in fitness,” said Laperriere, a hard-nosed player in his 16-season NHL career. “Players that are going to 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, guys that I coached for the Flyers that will play for me next year here, they know that. I’m sure the word is going to spread. For me, to be a pro, you’ve got to be a pro 24 hours a day, inside the rink and away from the rink. It goes from nutrition to the way you act around town. You represent the logo. I’m a big believer in that. That’s my job to make sure everybody is on the same page.”
General manager Chuck Fletcher said Laperriere is emotional, passionate and “full of life. He has an innate ability to connect with people.”
Laperriere plans to be “the energy guy who’s going to bring life at the rink every day and going to make sure we’re on the positive side. I think that’s what the young guys need. They need a leader that’s going to direct them toward the right direction. To find a chair for those guys, especially those young guys coming up from juniors that just don’t know what kind of player they should be as a pro. When you get to this level, everybody was pretty good in junior or in college.”
Added Laperriere: “My job and my staff’s job is going to be to find the right chair for those guys to be successful for the Phantoms. And if they are successful with the Phantoms, they can move to the next level.”
After injuries forced him to retire from the Flyers and ended his career as a player, Laperriere worked for the organization as director of player development, and, for the last eight years, as an assistant coach with the NHL team. Those duties, he said, prepared him for his current role.
“I love working with the young guys,” he said. “You know what, it’s what I did as player development [director]. Being an assistant coach, I was always like, not the buffer, but the guy who played and could relate with those young guys. I took that, and I love that. Now I get a chance to do it as a head coach. I won’t change my mentality.”
Laperierre thanked former club president Paul Holmgren for getting him on a coaching path.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “He’s the guy who signed me, and he asked me what I wanted to do after [playing], and I told him what I wanted to do. He helped me from Day One. And you know, you meet so many people in hockey, some you forget. But Paul Holmgren, that’s the guy I’ll never forget.”
Laperriere said he will bring the structure that he frequently discusses with Flyers coach Alain Vigneault.
“There’s a lot of stuff that won’t be negotiable in the system,” he said. “Players will make mistakes. Coaches will make mistakes. That I can live with. But you have to stick with the system, with the structure that we talk about, and hard work.”
Laperriere was asked if he had aspirations to coach in the NHL some day.
“Right now, my goal is to make those kids better every day,” he said. “I don’t have time to think about the NHL. I’m worried about the kids I’m going to have next year, and I do have a lot of work to do.”
Nick Schultz, a player development coach with the Flyers, is among the candidates to fill Laperriere’s old spot with Philadelphia. ... Laperriere seems to be leaning toward hiring young assistants with the Phantoms. ... Goalie Felix Sandstrom, a pending restricted free agent, signed with TPS in Finland. The Flyers will own his rights, but he would have been the third goalie in the system if Alex Lyon is not re-signed. ... Wins and losses matter, Fletcher said about the Phantoms and the AHL: “I don’t think you can properly develop players unless you have a winning environment.”