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Former New York Rangers player Edgar Laprade, 92, watches a afternoon skate at Grandview Arena near his Thunder Bay home Nov. 10th/2011. Brent Linton for The Globe and Mail (Brent Linton For The Globe and Mail)
Former New York Rangers player Edgar Laprade, 92, watches a afternoon skate at Grandview Arena near his Thunder Bay home Nov. 10th/2011. Brent Linton for The Globe and Mail (Brent Linton For The Globe and Mail)

Obituary

Edgar Laprade was known as ‘Beaver’ on the ice Add to ...

Edgar Laprade was a hockey Gandhi on ice populated by thugs, roughnecks and scalawags.

While his opponents bore nicknames such as 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.

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Mr. Laprade, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, died April 28 at his home in Thunder Bay, Ont. He was 94.

“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 during his playing days and afterward, 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 Memorial 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 score book. 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 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 medical 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, William (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 bodycheck 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 stick work 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.

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