A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Everybody Loves Georges
From Linda Klym
“My nephew [Jordon] was a victim of muscular dystrophy and was in the last stages of this mindnumbing disease. On Friday, after much deliberation, he decided to go off the ventilator and go along with whatever happened … The doctors said it was just a matter of time.”
Edmonton Journal, Wednesday, May 7, 2003NEW YORK — The kid was 19, and he only had a few hours left. Maybe another night.
Georges Laraque had just checked into a hotel in Calgary. Hadn’t even unzipped his bag when a secretary of a friend called his cellphone. Everybody gets Georges’ cell number.
“She asked me if I could come to Edmonton,” he said. “There was this kid who was going to die. He had a couple hours to live, they thought, and his last wish was to see me.”
Laraque was playing for the Edmonton Oilers at the time. He checked out, got in his truck, and made the two-hour, forty-five minute drive back to Edmonton “in an hour and 45 minutes.”
“I was driving sometimes on the shoulder. I knew I wasn’t going to get a ticket, because of the reason I was going back for. Karma, you know?”
There isn’t a story that better sums up Laraque, the best heavyweight in the NHL who has been driven to distraction simply trying to make people happy. Other players show up late for that hospital visit, or need to be asked and reminded numerous times to commit to a school read-in? Laraque has done his best to fit the games in while answering every single request through his nine-year career.
“‘Cause I love it,” the 31-year-old Laraque says. “One of the purest things to do in life is to give back. I am Catholic, a Christian. The best thing to do to pay God back for giving me a chance to play in the NHL is to give back to the community.
“[An NHL heavyweight] is not what I am when I’m off the ice. I’m a nice person. I laugh all the time. When I retire, I don’t want to be remembered as a fighter, as a goon. What’s more important? Winning a Cup? Beating up guys? Or being there, trying to make a difference?”
“Now, Jordon has always been a great fan of hockey. To make a long story short, on Friday the Oilers found out about Jordon’s plight. Somehow and with no notice, Georges Laraque came up from Calgary and visited Jordon at the University Hospital in the ICU … He chatted with Jordon and even apologized that he had been so rushed to get to the hospital he didn’t have time to pick up some hockey souvenirs for Jordon.”
On April 17, the day after the Penguins had eliminated the Senators in Ottawa, Laraque told his cousin that he had an idea.
There was this school, an hour from Pittsburgh. A few weeks earlier they had sent him a Flat Stanley – a little character made by students that is mailed out along with a disposable camera and a journal. The hope is that the recipient will mail back the character, the cameras, and the journal, and the kids can see what adventures their little figure had experienced.
That afternoon, 21 fifth-graders in Ms. Marmol’s class at Hatfield Elementary looked up to see Laraque standing in their classroom doorway. He had the camera, full of shots of Stanley with various Penguins. The journal was filled out.
“People say, ‘It’s too much.’ Well, what’s too much?” Laraque asks. “People come from all over the place to watch our games. Why can’t we go there?”
Laraque has kept his home in Edmonton, and every Halloween makes sure the house is decorated, and friends are there to hand out candy. He returned after his first season in Pittsburgh last summer armed with a handful of signed Sidney Crosby jerseys, then walked into the local sports station and said, “Let’s give these away.” Then he drove the jerseys out to the winners’ homes, or at worst, met them at a Tim Hortons nearby.
“Now I run into people,” says radio host Bob Stauffer, whose show Laraque frequents, “and they say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy who’s on Georges’ show all the time.’”
As a player, Laraque has found the perfect home in Pittsburgh. He is only getting six-and-a-half minutes of ice time per playoff game, but he’s playing. Last year coach Michel Therrien didn’t like Laraque’s fitness when he came from Phoenix at the trade deadline, and would not play him on the road in the post-season.
“I know Georges really well. I coached Georges when he was 19 years old. We won a Memorial Cup together,” Therrien said yesterday. “Now, he’s in great shape. He’s an enforcer – he’s there to make sure we earn some respect – but he can play. He’s good at cycling the puck, and really tough to contain when he has the puck down low. He’s a totally different player than he was last year.”
Still, Laraque is like every other heavyweight: he would far rather be a skill player. In fact, he really doesn’t like to fight at all.
“It’s not my personality. It’s my job,” he says. “I don’t get all revved up to fight. I’m calm. I wish the guy good luck, and I hope that he’s OK after the fight. I know they have lives, they have kids and lives after hockey. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
As the conversation turns to hockey, Laraque’s interest wanes a bit. He’d rather talk about what a hockey player can do away from the rink.
“Look at the life we’re living? Look at the world, what’s going on?” he says. “If you make a lot of money, and you give a lot to charity, that’s the easiest thing to do. You should go there, to the people. Spend time. Guys say, ‘Oh yeah, I give a lot to charity.’ Who cares about that?”
“Georges might never know how much that visit meant to Jordon and his parents. Jordon, who was 19, died on Monday.”
“When you give someone a moral boost like that, sometimes you give them the will to live. The boost he got made him so happy, they said he lived another few days because of that,” Laraque said.
“The fact I have the power to do this? I do as much as I can.”