Center fortifies team's depth down the middle,
eager to play whatever role team expects
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Known for his menacing style of play on the ice, it would be natural if the curious mind wondered if Maxim Lapierre has some sort of wild side off the ice.
"Most people expect me to be the same type of guy off the ice," said Lapierre, who signed a two-year, $2.2-million contract with the Blues after spending the last two-plus seasons with Vancouver. "I'm the total opposite. I'm pretty quiet. I consider myself a really respectful person. I'm not that chirping, (bleep) disturber guy off the ice. I'm a family guy, got a wife, a pregnant woman and we're just a quiet couple. I'm definitely not the guy I am on the ice off the ice.
Maxim Lapierre (40), shown here playing for Vancouver
against Minnesota, signed with the Blues over the summer.
The Blues can appreciate that the 28-year-old Saint-Leonard, Quebec native is a model citizen with strong values off the ice, but when they had designs of signing the center iceman to a contract when the free agency period opened July 5, a player with a calm, cool demeanor wasn't what they had in mind.
Lapierre, a 2003 second-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens, has been a third- and fourth-line center for the Canucks since his acquisition in 2011. He plays with fire and energy, delivers hits on a consistent basis, gets under opposing players' skin and plays a defensive checking role with a knack for delivering a timely goal here and there. Oh, and there's the important faceoff his former employers trusted him to win as well late in games with the outcome on the line.
Lapierre's career numbers (54 goals and 113 points in 459 career games) might not indicate as much, but the Blues will have a key role for him. And it's one coach Ken Hitchcock said he is he's best suited for after recently watching a number of games involving Lapierre.
The headline might read something like: "Unleash the Lapierre," which is what the Blues intend on doing.
"He was a guy you circled and just said he's a reckless player," Hitchcock said. "... He played a very smart, positionally sound game but conservative. He looked like he was going to get caught with something. He looked like a guy that was one step away from getting suspended, if you know what I mean. He played conservative ... he played cautious, cautious positional hockey because (Vancouver) had him playing with a lot of new players, players that hadn't been there before. He played with (Steve) Pinizzotto, he played with a number of different players. But (former Canucks coach) Alain (Vigneault) really trusted him because he played him late in games, even in the playoffs when the games were tied."
Added Lapierre, who's listed as 6-foot-2, 207 pounds: "I think last year I was second in the league for faceoffs in my zone. It's a role you like. Some guys are happy to come to the rink and score some goals, I'm happy to take a big faceoff and block a shot. Every guy here is really reliable. Guys work hard. They do the little details. It doesn't matter. As long as we win, that's why I'm here."
If Hitchcock and the Blues want him to play "reckless," it's a role Lapierre will embrace. In fact, he'll embrace any role given.
"It's pretty simple in that case. I think my button is what the coach tells me to do," said Lapierre, who also mentioned players have to be aware of suspensions these days. "I've played on some teams and obviously, the coach wanted me to be reckless, and I've played on some teams and they wanted me quiet and a little less physical. I'm sure I'm going to have a chance to talk to Hitch and he's going to (tell) me what he wants from me and I'll answer the bell.
"... I've been around a long time now. If they want me to be a quiet, defensive guy, I'll be that guy. If they want me to be a (bleep) disturber, I'll be the (best bleep) disturber I can be. I can't wait to talk to the coaching staff and see what they expect from me."
There was talk that when Lapierre hit the free agent market, his first option was to return to the Canadiens again and his hometown roots. But Montreal never showed a real interest in bringing the player back they drafted with the 61st pick. The Blues presented a viable option, a team that suits Lapierre's style of play.
"It reminds me a little bit when I was playing in the East against the (Boston) Bruins," Lapierre said of the Blues. "They're a team that's really tough to play against. Every time last year when we came to St. Louis, we were like, 'It's going to be a long night.' We know they hit hard, they work hard, they block shots, they do every little detail that makes a game look longer than it is anyway. I think it fits well for me. I'm a guy that likes to work and be physical."
Not only does Hitchcock want Lapierre to play with reckless abandon, he wants his newly acquired center to be the one that backs up that style of play from all members that could be part of the fourth line, including the "CPR" trio of Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves.
"The way we are with the forwards that he's going to play with, it's a good fit because somebody's going to have to back up the reckless play that's going to be there because that line plays its best when it's reckless and somebody's going to have to be able to back up that reckless play," Hitchcock said. "I think he's going to be a good fit for us, whether it's a Porter or it's a Cracknell or with Revo or whatever, you're going to have a hard-charging line there and somebody's going to have to back that up.
Maxim Lapierre (right), scores a goal against Anaheim last
season. The center iceman adds grit and toughness to a deep
"I think he's a good fit for us, but we're going to turn him loose to where he was two years ago (130 penalty minutes in 82 games) a little bit more. So he's going to be able to play with a more physical edge just based on personnel. Who he played with in Vancouver, it's a different fit with us. It's going to be a different fit because the times he did play reckless was when he played with (Dale) Weise and (Christopher) Higgins. That's the type of line that we're going to end up having to play with here."
Lapierre is aware that he was a villain here the last couple seasons playing for the Canucks but is anxious to win over Blues fans, especially with the hype the franchise is drawing up as a top contender to win it all.
If Lapierre can bring the style of play opposing teams have grown to despise, Blues fans will be happy with the results. Imagine a bigger version of Vladimir Sobotka. That's what the Blues hope they are getting.
"It takes time to have the fans on your side when you arrive on a new team, but I'm convinced I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they love me," Lapierre said.
"I'm really really happy to be a part of this group here. I think they're the team that's supposed to win in the next three years and I'm really proud to be a St. Louis Blue."