Lappy's Just a Different Breed

Lappy's Just a Different Breed

One of the
first things I wrote for this site was an ode to Sami Kapanen, which was inspired by the courage and selflessness he showed
in getting off the ice after absorbing a brain-rattling hit from Darcy
Tucker against the Maple Leafs in the 2004 Eastern Conference
Semifinals. To this day what amazes me about that play is that Sami got up because that’s what hockey players do. He certainly did not have his wits about him enough to
process the implications of getting up. He got up because it was his
natural hockey playing instinct. Hockey players just do that sort of
thing. It’s in their DNA.

In thinking about the current Flyers
playoff run I keep coming back to that same realization that hockey
players are just a different
breed. We’re not like them. Their ability to
absorb and withstand pain is beyond anything I could possibly imagine.
Shrugging off broken feet, brain contusions, pucks to the face, and the
hush-hush upper and lower body injuries has reached the point of being
cliché. Think about it - when a player suffers an injury requiring 70
stitches and he somehow returns to the ice 10 minutes later we simply
shrug and say “he’s a hockey player”.

No one personifies this more than
Ian Laperriere. As you know Lappy took a frozen disk of vulcanized rubber
moving at upwards of 80 MPH to the face. The shot broke his orbital
bone, aka broke his face, and caused bruising of
his brain. Let me say that again…he suffered a
bruised brain. He couldn’t even see afterwards to the point that he
asked Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin whether he’d lost an eye. You know how
you look at the injury report in other sports and it typically says
something along the lines of “Player X: doubtful knee”, or “Player Y: questionable back”? Yeah, Lappy’s injury report would have read “Laperriere:
out brain”. You will never see something like that
in a sport other than hockey.

The injury was horrifying. He literally
left his blood on the Prudential Center ice that night. I cannot imagine
there was single person who saw that injury and did not think that his career was over. He’s 36 years
old. He’s played over 15 years in the NHL. He’s had a terrific career. No one could have blamed him had he simply
decided to hang it up.

But that’s not what hockey players do. The most you
could get him to concede was that he’d begrudgingly agree to wear a
shield next season. Oh, and he volunteered that when he dropped the
gloves to fight next season he’d simply remove his helmet first.
Naturally, he expressed some worry about his life post-hockey, and his
ability to enjoy being a husband and father, but he was already
contemplating how he would adapt to wearing a shield. Again I return to
the familiar refrain “he’s a hockey player”.

So what does he
do after suffering the broken face, the brain bruise, the fear that he’d
lost an eye, and the prospect of losing the ability to fully enjoy his
family? He continues to work out with the hope that the team advances to
the point that he could rejoin them. Simply wanting to come back from an injury like that is beyond anything I
could ever imagine. My retirement papers would have been at the league
office the next day. Lappy? He's dying to get back out there.

Now at no point
did I actually think he’d make it back. However, assuming he did the
unthinkable and actually did play again there was no way in a million
years he’d resume his shot blocking, forechecking, penalty killing ways, right? Wrong. Almost
immediately after stepping onto the ice in Montreal he was in a
wrestling match along the boards with Roman Hamrlik. During Game Five he was back to laying out in front of shots from the point. He has zero fear. He’s
completely deactivated the flight part of the fight or flight response.
He gleefully reaches out to touch the hot stove over and over again.

In Philadelphia
we like our athletes bruised and bloodied. We demand maximum effort. We
insist they care as much as we do. Hockey players
willingly give up their bodies, their teeth, and their health in pursuit
of the Stanley Cup. Like us they just care so damn much. Unlike us they
are wired in such a way that they're willing to withstand and play
through unimaginable pain and injury. Ian Laperriere and Sami Kapanen
are two of the most courageous athletes I’ve ever seen. They embody everything this city loves about
its athletes. They are
fearless. They are relentless. They are hockey players.

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”

Best of NHL: Before visiting Flyers, Devils fall to Canadiens

Best of NHL: Before visiting Flyers, Devils fall to Canadiens

NEWARK, N.J. -- The toughest thing Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya had to do against the New Jersey Devils was stay awake.

The Canadiens limited the Devils to a season-low 17 shots, and Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty each scored a power-play goal during a major penalty early in the third period of Montreal's 3-1 victory Friday night.

"I'd take this any night," Montoya said after the Canadiens snapped a two-game skid. "Your team is playing fantastic in front of you. Halfway through the game it's 1-1 and all I'm really focused on is making that next save. These guys did a phenomenal job and I just wanted to make that next save, and the power play was terrific. The guys were mainly terrific all night."

Alex Galchenyuk added a goal and two assists, and Alexander Radulov had three assists as Montreal ended the Devils' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Big 2nd period helps Penguins roll Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been beatable away from home this season. Good thing for them this felt nothing like a road game.

Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist during Pittsburgh's four-goal second period, and the Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 7-1 on Friday night.

Conor Sheary scored twice, and Evgeni Malkin had a late goal and an assist. Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz joined Sheary in scoring during the second for Pittsburgh.

"In a win like that, I think it was a really complete effort from all the guys," said Sheary, who has four goals in three games. "It's fun to win on the road,” (see full recap).

Blackhawks beat Bruins on Hossa's late goal
BOSTON -- Blackhawks backup Scott Darling insists he isn't trying to take playing time away from No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford.

"I don't know if you guys know who my goalie partner is," Darling said with a smile after beating the Boston Bruins 1-0 on Friday night. "He's one of the best goalies in the world, hands down, no arguments. So I'm just pretty happy to get any games I can."

Marian Hossa scored with 1:26 left to break a scoreless tie, and Darling stopped 30 shots to post his second shutout of the season. Darling is 12-4 and he brought a 2.34 goals-against average into the game, even better than Crawford's 2.54 (see full recap).

Okposo gives Sabres OT win over Red Wings
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Kyle Okposo scored a power-play goal 4:34 into overtime and the Buffalo Sabres rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Friday night.

Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist, and Sam Reinhart also scored to help the Sabres overcome a pair of one-goal deficits. Anders Nilsson made 32 saves for Buffalo, which has won two straight against Detroit in one season for the first time since 1989-90.

Darren Helm and Frans Nielsen scored for the Red Wings, and Petr Mrazek was sharp in stopping 33 shots.

The Red Wings had their three-game winning streak snapped and took a rare loss to Buffalo. They fell to 8-0-2 in their past 10 meetings with the Sabres and 31-4-3 with a tie in their past 39 (see full recap).