“Hat-trick, Georges Laraque. Hat-trick, Georges Laraque. And they’re going wild!” There’s countless YouTube clips showing Georges Laraque battering opponents into submission, but when I think of his 490 games with the Edmonton Oilers, what sticks with me is Rod Phillips calling the only three-goal game of Laraque’s NHL career, Feb. 21, 2001 against the Los Angeles Kings.
For me, the jubilation Laraque showed after tucking a backhand behind Stephane Fiset, and the joyous dance he did in the dressing room afterward, is what captures the essence of who and what he was – a man whose ability to inflict damage with his fists on the ice was surpassed and contrasted by his zest for life and a penchant for kindness and compassion for others. He was, as the title of the book he wrote in retirement, Georges Laraque, the Story of the NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy, a contradiction.
Laraque wasn’t the best enforcer the Oilers ever had. Dave Semenko, who rode shotgun for Wayne Gretzky, and Dave Brown, a stone-cold killer, top that list. Laraque couldn’t compete with them. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body despite being the most feared fighter in the game for six or seven years. Laraque wasn’t a bully. He liked to laugh more than he liked to fight. He didn’t want to hurt anybody. Thank goodness for that.
Left Wing — shoots R
Born Dec 7 1976 — Montreal, PQ
Height 6.04 — Weight 245 [193 cm/111 kg]
Drafted by Edmonton Oilers
BY THE NUMBERS
I first met Laraque moments after the Oilers selected him 31st overall in the 1995 Entry Draft in Edmonton. We still keep in touch today. In between, we jumped jets and rode the bus around the NHL together for eight seasons. Georges was one row behind me and, between yapping on his cell phone and bending my ear, it seemed he never shut up once during the time he spent here. We talked a lot. We laughed a lot.
Laraque sometimes drew the ire of fans because he didn’t tick every box on the enforcers’ checklist. He wouldn’t jump and pump opponents who took liberties with teammates if they didn’t want to fight. If Georges asked an opposing heavyweight to go and the player turned him down, there was no fight. When that happened, and it happened often, he refused to target skilled players on the other team as a way to even the score. That, in the context of the role he played, was a flaw. An honorable flaw, but a flaw nonetheless. We had that discussion more than once.
The exception came against Buffalo in March 1999. Laraque had asked ruffian Rob Ray of the Sabres to fight in a game here. Ray turned him down, saying he wanted to play. Late in that game, Ray went after Doug Weight. That so enraged Laraque, he made it clear going into the return game in Buffalo Ray was in for trouble. At the morning skate, Ray compounded matters by asking reporters, “What, is he going to beat me up?” The answer to that is here. Yes. Yes, he is. It was an ass-kicking.
As is the cliché with tough guys, Laraque was a gentle, big-hearted man when he wasn’t at work. In fact, he re-set the bar. When Georges wasn’t making visits to hospitals and schools – on his own time in addition to trips organized the by the Oilers – or working with charities, you could find him playing road hockey in his driveway with kids from the neighborhood. He not only signed jerseys for fans, he delivered them to their houses. If you wanted an NHL player to show up at your kid’s birthday party, Georges was your man. He was generous to a fault.
Laraque’s compassion knew no bounds. I recall a cell phone conversation Georges had late one night on the bus with Stu Grimson, who’d been out of Nashville’s line-up for weeks with post-concussion symptoms after fighting Laraque. Grimson and Laraque threw down with each other every chance they got, and the last time would end the Reaper’s career. Georges called just to see how Grimson was doing, to offer support, to apologize for how things turned out. They talked for 10-15 minutes. “I feel bad,” he said.
Even after Laraque moved on to Phoenix, Pittsburgh and finally Montreal to close out his career after the 2006 Stanley Cup run, he kept a house in southwest Edmonton for several years. He’d host karaoke parties. He continued to work with charities here (and still does) and do guest spots on local radio. Montreal, where he grew up, is his home base, but Laraque still has a soft spot for Edmonton, where he played the best hockey of his career and endeared himself to many.
This series will look at the top 100 Edmonton Oilers from the NHL era 1979-80 to 2014-15, starting with 100 and working up.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
- 72. Tom Gilbert
- 73. Steve Staios
- 74. Stan Weir
- 75. Mark Napier
- 76. Andrei Kovalenko
- 77. Brett Callighen
- 78. Jimmy Carson
- 79. Raffi Torres
- 80. Mike York
- 81. Andrew Cogliano
- 82. Mariusz Czerkawski
- 83. Eric Brewer
- 84. Tom Poti