Professional hockey player
Georges Laraque is the first black hockey player from French Canada to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). From Montreal, Quebec, he was drafted in 1995 by the Edmonton Oilers. Working as his team's enforcer, Laraque is charged with retaliating against anyone who tries to intimidate with his teammates, which sometimes leads to him dropping his gloves to brawl with opponents. Such actions naturally lead Laraque to a significant amount of time in the penalty box. But his ability to take on opponents on the ice, combined with his gregarious personality off the ice, has made him a crowd favorite.
Refused to Quit
Laraque was born on December 7, 1976, in Montreal, Quebec. He grew up in Tracy, a small community outside Montreal. His family included his parents and his brother and sister. Laraque began skating when he was five years old and grew up idolizing Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. While playing minor hockey as a youngster, Laraque was continually besieged with racist remarks from both players and spectators. Although his parents begged him to give up the game because the environment was so hostile, Laraque refused to quit. "I loved hockey so much," he told the National Hockey League Web site. "I couldn't quit even though the kids would say the N-word and tell me this wasn't my sport so I couldn't play. It wasn't right so I used it as motivation. I kept playing to show them they were wrong. In my mind, if I had quit, that would have proved they were right."
Finally, when he was fourteen, his father moved the family into the more racially diverse city of Montreal, which became a turning point for Laraque's game. First, he found a more open and accepting environment in which to play, and second, he began to mature into one of the biggest players on the ice. He was drafted into the junior ranks. Although his size worked to his advantage in some instances, it didn't make him the most agile player on the ice. In 1993 he began skating for the St.-Jean Lynx, and when he realized the gap in his abilities compared to the other players on the ice, he briefly considered giving up hockey to pursue a football scholarship in the United States. However, his love of hockey prevailed, and his footwork improved after he spent the summer of 1994 working on power skating under the direction of Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Ruel.
During his first season with the St.-Jean Lynx, Laraque scored 22 goals. In 1994 he logged 19 goals and 22 assists in 62 games—as well as 259 minutes in penalties. Growing to six-foot, three-inches and 230 pounds, with good hockey skills, Laraque became a serious prospect for professional hockey teams, especially as an enforcer-type player who could create offensive opportunities for other players and punish opponents on the boards. In 1995 Laraque was drafted into the NHL, selected in the second round as the thirty-first pick overall by the Edmonton Oilers.
Joined the Edmonton Oilers
Laraque joined Oilers training camp in September of 1995. His first practices on the ice with "all the guys I used to watch on TV," Laraque admitted to Sports-Line, made him feel "intimidated." Because Laraque was just nineteen years old, the Oilers decided to season him in the junior leagues for another year, and for the following two seasons he played in the minor leagues for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. During the 1997-98 he was called up to the Oilers for 11 games, which gave him a taste for the majors and motivation to work hard to earn a permanent place on the team. During his stint with the Oilers, Laraque took four shots on goal, scored no points, and logged 59 penalty minutes.
When Laraque, who expected to be called up by the Oilers for the 1998-99 season, got cut before the season even started, he became even more determined to prove himself in the minors. The team's management took notice and just after Christmas in 1998, he joined the Oilers, where he has remained. Almost immediately Laraque began forming his reputation as the league's new enforcer. "It took all of 30 seconds for the towering 6-foot-3, 230 pound winger to stake his claim as the Edmonton Oilers' newest regulator," the Oilers Zone reported after Laraque's appearance on March 4, 1999. "He rained down about 30 punches on [Buffalo's Rob] Ray, finally ending the one-sided pummeling by body slamming his Buffalo counterpart to the ice."
In the second half of the 1998-99 season Laraque appeared in 39 games, scoring three goals and two assists. During the 1999-2000 season, his first full season with the Oilers, he appeared in 75 games, in which he scored eight goals and had eight assists, and his reputation as a fighter continued to grow. Known off the ice for his outgoing, friendly personality, on the ice, Laraque refused to back down from any challenge. "As soon as the puck drops, you get so much focus. It's like I change," he told the Globe and Mail in 2000, "I become more mean. And then when the game is over, I love everybody. That's the way I am."
Re-signed with Oilers
The 2000-01 season got off to a rocky start when Laraque found himself in the midst of stalled contract negotiations. Laraque wanted a big bump up in salary, and the Oilers wanted him to sign a three-year, rather than two-year, contract. Eventually, in midnight talks, Laraque agreed to the longer contract and the Oilers agreed to more money. The result was a three-year deal worth $2.7 million, and Laraque was given more playing time to prove his worth. He responded by scoring 13 goals and handing out 16 assists in 82 games for a career-high 29 points.
At the beginning of the 2001-02 season Laraque predicted that he would have 20-20-20 (goals, assists, and fights) season. However, instead he hit a scoring drought and struggled to meet the weight limit of 255 pounds set by his coach Craig MacTavish, who once sent the winger home from practice for being too heavy. "I gain 20 pounds just looking at a steak," Laraque told the Edmonton Journal. "My metabolism is bad." Despite his bold predictions, he held to just five goals for the season. He did, however, manage to get into 25 fights. Although he remained one of the most popular players among fans, Laraque longed to be more than a fighter. "You're not involved," he explained to the Edmonton Sun. "You're just watching everybody else. And when you lose a game you know there's nothing you could have done. All you do is fight."
At a Glance …
Born on December 7, 1976, in Montreal, Quebec. Religion: Catholic.
Career: Professional hockey player, 1995–.
Address: Office— Edmonton Oilers, 11230-110 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T5G 3H7, Canada.
Despite dropping 20 pounds in the off season, Laraque's season started off shaky in the fall of 2002. After suffering several injuries that hampered his play early in the season, in late November he wrecked his BMW in a collision with another car. Although he was not badly injured, the traumatic event added to a litany of things that had gone wrong that year. In December Laraque lacerated his elbow, requiring 15 stitches, and just after returning to the ice from that injury, he was hurt again when his face met up with an opponent's skate, requiring another 16 stitches in his lip and nose. Then, in January, Laraque was sidelined once more, this time with a knee injury requiring arthroscopic surgery. At the end of the season, Laraque had played in 64 games, scored six goals and seven assists, had 14 fights, and spent a total of 110 minutes in the penalty box.
At the beginning of the 2003-04 season, Laraque re-signed with the Oilers, putting ink to a three-year contract worth $4.1 million. However, once again hampered by injures, Laraque was unable to break through as a highly productive offensive player, scoring just 6 goals with 11 assists in 66 games. He did, however, lead his team in penalty minutes with 99 minutes in the box. With two years remaining on his contract, Laraque still has plenty of punch in his game and his fists.
In 2003 Laraque began hosting his own radio program, "The Georges Laraque Biggest Hits Radio Show" on Edmonton's Power 92.5 FM. Airing on Saturday mornings, the show features a weekly count-down and entertainment news. Laraque also enjoys being involved in the community, volunteers for numerous charities, and hopes to serve as a role model to young people. He explained to the Edmonton Sun, "I know that because of the position I'm in, people, especially kids, will listen to me.… So if I made all the right decisions, then they'll want to make the same decisions that I made." After years of honing his tough-guy reputation on the ice, off the ice Laraque is anything but the rough-and-tumble type. Charismatic and outgoing, he is one of the most popular athletes in Edmonton.
Alberta Report, April 5, 1999.
Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 18, 2000.
Edmonton Journal, May 13, 2000; December 27, 2001; December 28, 2001; February 4, 2002; April 4, 2002; October 24, 2002; November 11, 2002; November 30, 2002; December 12, 2002; August 7, 2003.
Edmonton Sun, September 9, 2000; January 14, 2002; October 10, 2002; October 12, 2002; January 15, 2002; February 28, 2002; April 15, 2003; August 7, 2003; September 20, 2003; October, 2, 2003.
Oilers Zone, March 24, 1999; March 19, 2001.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, March 1, 2001.
Vancouver Sun, September 25, 2002.
"The Edmonton Oilers' Right-Winger on Playing and Web Surfing," National Hockey League, www.nhl.com/kids/futures02.html (October 20, 2004).
"Georges Laraque," SportsLine, http://cbs.sportsline.com/nhl/players/playerpage/19972 (October 20, 2004).
"Georges Laraque," National Hockey League, www.nhl.com/lineups/player/8462060.html (October 20, 2004).
Georges Laraque, www.georgeslaraque.com (October 20, 2004).
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