Georges Laraque: One Hell of a guy

GEORGES LARAQUE VS OCTANE GIRLS from 33mag on Vimeo.

The video above seems to have gotten a fair bit of press today in this city. Pitting Big Georges Laraque against ''the octane girls'' in a friendly game of ball hockey (no pun intended), in an ad for Octana 7.0 energy drink, the scantily clad women seem to be a much more central part of the video than BGL himself. Still, it seems as if some women's activist groups got a hold of it (two weeks after I posted it in the forums, I might add) and complained that Big Georges was being a little chauvanistic and sexist in making such an ad.

But I have to tell you, from what I've seen of the guy both off and (unfortunately) on the ice, that couldn't be further from the truth about Big Georges Laraque. Honestly, he might be one of the nicest guys I've ever seen play the game of hockey in all the years that I've been a fan.

He's accomodating to anyone in the media, he fights for a lot of a good causes and does a lot of charity work and, for a fighter, he's extremely gentlemanly on the ice.

Just this morning, Big Georges was on the cover of the Montreal Gazette, Montreal's top english newspaper, walking dogs protecting animals.

Laraque recently turned Vegan, endorsing KFC's new vegan sandwich, as ironic as that is. He's a member of PETA and did a PSA for them as well, and that's just the beginning of the charity work the Habs' enforcer has found himself doing since he joined up with the team.

Hearing all these stories about Laraque's work has made me gain a lot of respect for him after the dismal season he had last year. When the Canadiens were swept out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins last April, it would have been an understatement to say that Canadiens fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths about Georges Laraque and his contract. He barely played a considerable portion of the season, and he barely earned any of the $1.5 million he was payed last year.

I have to admit, when he signed on as a Hab in the summer of 2008, I was excited. An experienced tough guy who could call himself the heavyweight champion of the league? What's not to like about that, especially when you don't see him play that often?

But that honeymoon soon became a nightmare. In the 2008-2009 season, Laraque was often injured, and when he was playing, he'd have his staged fight, sit his 5 minutes in the sin bin and consider his night's work done. Even in the games where he seemed to be more of a factor, it seemed like even though he was grabbing a lot of attention, it wasn't in a positive way. Some could even go as far as to claim that he was a locker room cancer.

But in the first 5 games he's played this year, I've actually been impressived with his work. Sure, he doesn't play much more than 5 to 7 minutes a game. Sure, he's only fought once and he only has one assist in 5 games, but you seem him creating energy out there with who ever they throw him on the ice with. You see him throwing his body and throwing his weight around a lot more.

And more importantly, he seems happy when he's on the ice, and he seems a lot more focused than he was a year ago, and certainly a lot healthier.

Statistically, he hasn't looked that bad either. He's thrown 8 hits, good enough for 3rd place on the team (verus Latendresse's 9 and Moen's 11, two players that play a lot more than him), he's averaged 8 minutes per game, already 30 seconds more than last year's average, and he hasn't given away the puck once. He's -3, but that happens when you're not on the ice often and you're not expected to score any goals.

The only part of his play I'd like to see an improvement from is shooting. He doesn't have a single shot in 5 games and although he's tacked an assist on his stats, if he tries shooting the puck more often he might actually get a few goals this year. I wouldn't expect much of him but I don't think that 3 to 5 goals and 10 to 15 assists is too much to ask of a player who's making $1.5 million a year.

Do we want him to jump players when they get out of line or throw a dirty hit against another Hab? Maybe, and it's true that he didn't look good standing around while Paul Mara jumped Gilbert Brule after Brule through an elbow another Hab. But at the same time, he might have not seen it, and it might have looked pretty ridiculous if Laraque jumped a player who was much smaller than im.

All this to say that people should go easy on Big Georges. He isn't a superstar, and despite being tagged as an enforcer, he can do a lot of good, both on and off the ice, and I'll bet that most of the guys in the locker room have nothing but good things to say about him. He doesn't need to be as mean as some of us would like him to be. He can still be a better asset than some would think, but fans and the organization just have to manage expectations when it comes to BGL, and the rest of the time he spends in this city will be fruitful, but for him and for the organization.

As for me, hearing of all the charity work he's done, and seeing all the improving he's done since last year's abomination of a season on the ice, I'll certainly be wearing my #17 Georges Laraque t-shirt with pride as the season rolls on.

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com

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