Edgar Louis Laprade
Born: October 10, 1919 (Mine Centre, Ontario)
Died: April 28, 2014 (Thunder Bay, Ontario)
Hockey Hall of Fame (1993)
Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (1982)
By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail, May 5, 2014
Edgar Laprade was a hockey Gandhi on ice populated by thugs, roughnecks, and scalawags.
While his opponents bore nicknames like Wild Bill, Black Jack and Terrible Ted, the industrious Mr. Laprade was known as Beaver. Those tough guys spent so much time in the penalty box they could have been charged rent; the peaceable Mr. Laprade sometimes went an entire season without receiving a single penalty.
“He could handle the puck as good as anyone in the league,” said retired player Howie Meeker, 90, who played against him.
The gentlemanly Mr. Laprade, who owned a sporting goods store, dressed each winter in a blue wool pullover sweater laced at the neck. Sewn felt letters in red and white trim across the chest and a number 10 on the back provided a bold statement.
Mr. Laprade’s sartorial splendour was celebrated by fans of the New York Rangers hockey team, who were also known as the Broadway Blueshirts.
The colours were less well received by players with the other five NHL teams.
A stylish skater, a pesky checker and an adept penalty-killer, Mr. Laprade also comported himself on ice with a strict adherence to the hockey rulebook. His turn-the-other cheek attitude stood out in a sport more often associated with an Old Testament code of a hook for a hook, a slash for a slash.
The more thuggish of his opponents targeted the 5-foot-8, 160-pound centre without fear of retaliation.
“The small fellow with some ability is smashed by the guy with muscle,” he complained in 1949, threatening to quit the league to return to amateur ranks.
Mr. Laprade’s pacific style earned him the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship at the end of the 1949-50 season. In 60 games, he had been assessed a single minor penalty of two minutes duration. The trophy came with a $1,000 prize.
In three of his 10 NHL campaigns, his name did not sully a penalty timekeeper’s scorebook. In 500 regular-season NHL games, he was charged with just 42 minutes in penalty, a total some scofflaws have surpassed in a single game.
(The NHL single-game record for penalty minutes is 67, accrued by Randy Holt of the Los Angeles Kings in a match against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 11, 1979. Mr. Holt’s total is all the more impressive for his having been banished from the contest after the first period.)
The checking forward said he avoided penalties for a simple reason — he knew of no way to score from the penalty box.
While Mr. Laprade’s rap sheet was short, his patient chart was long — a fractured left leg, a broken jaw, a groin injury, an ankle injury, torn knee ligaments and numerous other knee injuries that forced him to play with a brace. In a 1947 game, Wild Bill Ezinicki of the Toronto Maple Leafs delivered a crunching check that left the Rangers centre sprawled unconscious on the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens. Mr. Laprade wound up in a Toronto hospital with a concussion. He needed five stitches to close a cut to his head.
“They took (Laprade) out on a stretcher,” Mr. Meeker, who played for the Maple Leafs in that game, said. “I thought Bill had killed him.”
The body check enraged Frank Boucher, New York’s coach and general manager, who fired off an angry telegram to league headquarters. The wire read: “Laprade in hospital with concussion from charge by Ezinicki after whistle on an offside play. Referee (George) Gravelle claims he did not see the offense. How much longer is Ezinicki going to get away with elbowing, high sticking and deliberate injuries to opponents? Believe curb must be put on this player immediately.”
League president Clarence Campbell dismissed the appeal for further punishment. In any case, Mr. Laprade soon returned to bear the brunt of illegal stickwork and other malfeasance.
Nor was he immune from injury away from the rink. In 1948, Mr. Laprade was riding with four other Rangers when their car ran off the road to avoid a passing truck about eight kilometres north of the border crossing at Rouses Point, N.Y. Four of the players, including Mr. Laprade, were unconscious when they arrived at hospital in Montreal. The centre suffered what the doctor described as an “extremely painful” broken nose. He was also concussed and needed 28 stitches to close a head gash. The players had been returning from Montreal to training camp at Saranac Lake, N.Y.
Mr. Laprade twice retired from the Rangers only to be lured back to the arena to shore up an injury-depleted roster. In 500 career games, he scored 108 goals with 172 assists. He also scored four goals with nine assists in 18 playoff games.
Edgar Louis Laprade was born to Edith and Thomas Laprade on Oct. 10, 1919, at Mine Centre, a northwestern Ontario gold-mining town. He moved to Port Arthur at age four., learning to skate on frozen outdoor ponds. At 16, he joined the local junior team, playing three seasons before graduating to the Port Arthur Bearcats. His brother Burt, older by 15 months, played defence on a team for which young Edgar provided a scoring punch. He scored 31 goals in just 25 regular-season games in 1938-39, before adding 22 goals in 13 playoff games as the Bearcats claimed the Allan Cup as Canada’s senior champions.
The Laprade brothers were feted by fans with a night in their honour on Feb. 5, 1941. The brothers were presented a silver tea service. The Laprades then led the Bearcats to a 5-2 victory over the Fort William Hurricanes, bitter Lakehead rivals. The brothers made their night all the more memorable by both engaging in fisticuffs, punished with rare (for them) five-minute fighting majors.
Mr. Laprade’s scoring prowess led to his being placed on a negotiating list by the Rangers, whose entreaties to turn professional he turned down every season. The Montreal Canadiens also sought to sign him, getting permission from the Rangers to contact the star amateur, but he turned them down, too, by which time he was the most desirable prospect in the Dominion.
In 1942, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, playing hockey in Winnipeg. At war’s end, he at least relented to appeals from the Rangers. He was a 26-year-old rookie, old by NHL standards, but a poised player whose specialty was the poke check and whose suffocating defensive style drove opponents to distraction. “Eager Edgar,” as he was called, was a fast skater who made rushes seem effortless. Mr. Laprade recorded a hat-trick against the Maple Leafs in his rookie campaign by scoring two goals against Turk Broda before adding an empty-netter.
He won the Frank Calder Trophy as rookie of the year at the end of the first post-war season by a narrow margin over George Gee of Chicago, a navy man. He was the third NHL Calder winner to hail from the Lakehead in four years, succeeding Gaye Stewart in 1943 and Gus Bodnar in 1944. (Mr. Meeker, who was born in Kitchener, Ont., won it the following year.)
The centre also played in four consecutive NHL all-star games.
His graceful style was favoured by Mr. Boucher of the Rangers, who had won the Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanlike play seven times in eight seasons in his own tenure as a player, the NHL awarding him permanent possession of the original silverware in 1936. Unfortunately for the Rangers, teams with ruffians like Black Jack Stewart and Terrible Ted Lindsay seemed to do better in the standings.
“The Rangers finished last because they lacked experience in a game which puts brawn before brain,” Mr. Laprade once said. “It’s just a case of throwing the puck in and then scrambling for possession.”
The closest he came to winning the Stanley Cup came in 1950, when Pete Babando of the Detroit Red Wings scored against Rangers goalie Chuck Rayner in double overtime of Game 7. The Rangers had played all seven games on the road — two in Toronto and five in Detroit — because the circus had been booked into their home arena, Madison Square Garden.
Back home in Port Arthur, Mr. Laprade operated a clothing and sporting goods store with Guy Perciante, a local sportsman. The business partners also owned and managed the local arena.
Mr. Laprade was first elected to Port Arthur city council in 1959, winning re-election six times. After Port Arthur amalgamated with neighbouring Fort William in 1970, he served on the first council for Thunder Bay. He resigned on Feb. 15, 1972, after being ruled disqualified to serve on council for having done business with the city. He then won re-election in a May 29 by-election.
Mr. Laprade was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993. He was named to the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in Thunder Bay in 1982.
Mr. Laprade leaves three daughters, seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and a sister. He was predeceased by his wife Arline (née Whear), who died in 1987; by four brothers, including Bearcats teammate Burt, who died in 2013, aged 94; by two sisters; and, by two grandsons.
Despite his reputation, Mr. Laprade was not always placid. He traded punches with Toronto’s Harry Taylor in a 1949 game (both players were assessed roughing minors) and once landed a right cross on the cheek of Boston’s Gus Kyle, who outweighed him by 45 pounds.
Asked if his behaviour might cost him the sportsmanship trophy and a $1,000 prize, he replied, “Who can think about the Lady Byng Trophy when there is a stick in your face?”