Ian Laperriere was introduced as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach for the first time on Monday morning.
Laperriere will bring his own unique perspective as the head coach of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He was an assistant under three head coaches (Craig Berube, Dave Hakstol, Alain Vigneault) and one interim head coach (Scott Gordon) since switching to behind the bench in 2013. Lappy picked up certain tips and tricks from every one of them but made it clear that he’ll be himself with his own style of coaching with the Phantoms.
Learning from “Chief” as an assistant
Ian Laperriere singled out Berube as a coach that had a major impact on him. Berube was the assistant coach while Laperriere was a player, and then the two coached together.
He was a sponge soaking up knowledge as a player and assistant coach, and he’ll use that to his advantage.
“Every coach I coached with, I learned from them. Okay, I like this, I don’t like that. I’ll keep this if I ever coach. It goes through my mind,” Laperriere said. “I feel that’s the way I played that long. I’m planning on using what I learned from all the coaches I coached with and make myself a better coach.”
“We all have our style. I know what kind of guy I am. That’s not going to change. I’m going 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,” Laperriere said.
Leading the right way at the AHL level
The goal of a hockey coach is to put his team in the best position to succeed and ultimately win the championship at whatever level they’re at. However, player development is just as –– if not more –– important at the AHL level.
“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,” Laperriere continued. “When you get to this level, everybody was pretty good in junior or in college. I feel like 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 Phantoms, they can move to the next level.”
Ian Laperriere got a chance to coach some of his Phantoms players –– albeit in short spurts –– during their call-ups to the Flyers this year. He thinks there might be a few players that are already ready to take that next step.
“I do have all summer to focus on them, look at their game and what kind of players I think they should be. I started working around with our Development crew there. We do have five, six guys and ask them what they feel about all the players we have down there. I will make my opinion this summer,” he said. “Maybe there’ll be one or two guys that will make the Flyers team next year. For me, when I’m going to come down here full time, it’s going to make sure those guys become the best version of themselves and to give themselves a chance to make it to the next level.”
Developing players and structure
Ian Laperriere took on a few different roles during his time as an assistant coach with the Flyers. Primarily, he was focused on development –– which is necessary for a coach at the AHL level. That is what drives him and what he prides himself on.
“I love working with the young guys. You know what, it’s what I did as player development. 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,” Laperriere said. “It’s one thing that now I get a chance to do it as a head coach. I won’t change my mentality. I like to work with those young guys. Just going through player development and an assistant coach for that long, it really helped me prepare myself for this role.”
While Laperriere has some experience connecting with younger players as an assistant coach, being a head coach brings a lot more responsibilities. One of those key responsibilities is setting the lineup and divvying up ice time.
“There’s one thing I do have control of the ice time and that’s the thing I’ve never controlled before. The players have to know that. And I want to bring the way we’re going to play and the style of play,” Laperriere said.
The AHL is not just a stepping stone for younger players. It’s a place where an organization can instill some of its structure and culture.
“I’m going to bring the structure that me and AV are talking about,” he continued. “There’s a lot of stuff that won’t be negotiable in the system. 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.”
Be in shape “or I’ll get them in shape”
Ian Laperriere played in the NHL for 16 seasons because of his hard work and willingness to do whatever it takes, including blocking a slap shot with his face. He’s going to bring that same intensity as a head coach.
“I’m a big believer in fitness. Players that are going to play for me are going 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,” he said. “I’m sure the words going to spread around.”
Laperriere thanked Paul Holmgren for giving him a chance as a player and coach. Lappy loves being a Flyer and wears his badge with pride. He’ll make sure that his players do as well.
“For me, to be a pro, you 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,” he said. “That’s my job to make sure everybody is on the same page.”
Hopefully, Laperriere instilling fitness into the young players will go a long way. The Flyers were outskated and outworked various times throughout the 2021 season. If the Phantoms are working on that, you can be sure that the Flyers are, too.
Bridging the gap with the Phantoms
Ian Laperriere worked in player development for the Flyers and visited with junior players. There, he “didn’t have some kind of job to do” as far as working with the player. It was more about getting to know guys for the future, “what kind of kids they were.”
“When you come to the American League, it’s different,” Laperriere said.
“Now I have hands-on every day on you, just going to do whatever I think it’s best for you. I do have a great staff from the player development and management to help me out in that regard to get to know those kids little bit better on the hockey side,” he said. “The staff that we’re going to hire is going to be guys that think like I do. They have development at heart first and after that, whatever. That’s the difference between being player development and worrying about the junior kids and being in my position today.”
However, it’s not all about development. While the AHL is the bridge between junior hockey and the NHL for younger players, there are also veteran players on the roster. There needs to be some sort of cohesion between not only the young players and veterans on the Phantoms but between the Flyers and Phantoms as a whole as well.
“Yeah, it’s one thing I’m going to learn,” Laperriere said of going from the NHL to the AHL. “I won’t lie to you. I don’t know much about the American League. I know by watching it and being around people that coach there and play there. There is a fine line for sure.”
But it’s still hockey, and Laperriere is still going to do what he wants –– and knows how –– to do.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to go back to the way I want the team to play and back into the structure. I want to have those kids buy-in into that structure. And if they do get better, it won’t be a free ride. If they don’t play in your structure, they won’t play. I go back to the only thing I control is the ice time. One big thing I control, it’s the ice time. It’s part of being a pro. If you do the right thing, if the coach is asking you to do this and you don’t, well there’s consequences. It comes with if we have more guys doing it, we will win more games than lose games. We’ll see what kind of team we’re going to have next year on paper. It doesn’t matter what team I get, I’m going to have to make them better. If they are a Flyers prospect or not, if you wear a Phantoms jersey, I’m going to help you be better as an individual. If I do and we do as a staff a good job, we will win more games than lose, for sure.”
Experienced assistants for the rookie head coach
Ian Laperriere may not know the intimate details about the AHL, so he’ll hopefully have an experienced group by his side to help him out. He’ll be a first-year head coach for the first time. While some of the players have worked with him at camps or with the Flyers during the season, a full-time head coach is a different animal. He’s going to want to have a pair of experienced assistants to help him out.
“For me, what a perfect staff would be a D coach who played the position before and does have AHL experience and a forward, more like a skill player, who does have AHL experience,” Laperriere said. “I’m in a tough position to hire a guy who never coached. I want guys that are better than me in certain areas just to make everybody better. I’m not afraid of hiring strong people and people with more knowledge than me. I believe that’s what makes a good staff, when you have people with different opinions around you,” he continued. “I feel like at the end of June or beginning July, there’ll be big names out there. And we’ll see.”
Doing whatever it takes to climb the ladder
Ian Laperriere has worked his way up the coaching ladder over the last decade or so.
First, he was the assistant coach and “a part of some special teams” with Berube and Hakstol. His role changed when Vigneault took over, forcing him up into the press box and doing whatever it took to make the team better. That helped him see the game differently, he said, and he eventually found himself back behind the bench with AV.
Laperriere didn’t thrive as a specialty teams coach with the penalty kill, but there had to be something there to keep him around the organization. That something was his ability to connect with younger players and help them succeed. That’s what his primary goal will be as the Phantoms head coach. Sure, he’ll want to win and do the best he can with the full team, but ultimately, young players and top prospects getting the right structure and coaching at the AHL level will go a long way for the success of the franchise as a whole.
There’s not going to be a lot of changes for Lappy. He’ll still be himself, just in an elevated role.
“I’ll be myself but I’ll be the head coach. I do have more power than I had before as an assistant coach. I will bring positive energy and positive feedback,” Laperriere said. “I don’t believe in putting people down deeper when they’re down already. I’m a big believer of staying positive. Coming to the rink should be fun. I’ve been in the game for 27 years in the NHL level. I love coming to the rink and it’s contagious. I know that and I’m going to make sure players feel the same.”
Hopefully, Laperriere’s positivity will help Flyers prospects and the Phantoms take a positive step forward for years to come.
Photo Courtesy: Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers