Laperriere, Smith Bring New Environment to Lehigh Valley

After naming former Flyers forward and assistant coach Ian Laperriere the new Phantoms head coach, general manager Chuck Fletcher teased some other changes coming to the organization. He finally made those moves official last week when he named another former Flyer, Jason Smith, as an assistant coach to Laperriere. Riley Armstrong, a former minor league tough guy and ECHL head coach was named as assistant as well.

Laperriere and Smith have 2,091 NHL games and 3,055 penalty minutes between their careers. Lappy’s playing career spanned from 1994 to 2010 and Smith’s from 1993 to 2009. They were, putting it nicely, two of the biggest bad asses of their era.

Smith, a two-time captain in the NHL with the Flyers and Oilers, made the transition to coaching upon his retirement in 2009, first as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators and later as head coach of the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL. This gig with the Phantoms will be his first time in a coaching role in the AHL.

When Laperriere was named head coach in Lehigh Valley, it was met with some skepticism as far as the intention of the move. He held and assistant role with the Flyers since 2013 and became a favorite amongst the players, despite some dreadful results as the head of special teams. It came off as a way to keep him within the organization, without actually having a direct result on the main club.

Though the addition Riley Armstrong and especially Jason Smith feels like a culture shift. All three were players that led by example. They played a style of hockey that has gone the way of the dinosaurs, but the passion they brought can be a great coaching tool. Think of it less like MMA on ice, but rather passing to leadership qualities on and off the ice to the next generation that won’t otherwise have an opportunity to learn from players like Smith and Laperriere.

This is a much different coaching lineup than the Phantoms have known in the past. Scott Gordon, one of the most successful coaches in AHL history, was the bench boss for the past six seasons and his assistant, Kerry Huffman, who was behind the bench since 2016, brought over 35 year of professional hockey experience to the table. A very old school, cut-and-dry, approach saw many players have success in the AHL but failed to replicate that same production in the NHL.

Now that almost every notable prospect from the Hextall era has made the jump, it’s totally reasonable that Chuck Fletcher wanted his guys behind the bench to give his prospects a unique identity. With a new crop of faces such as Tyson Foerster, Zayde Wisdom, Samu Tuomaala, Egor Zamula, Linus Hogberg among others now the top guys of the next generation, giving them unique teachers to learn from could help them big time when it’s time to answer the call from the NHL.

Laperriere and Smith are two of the best on-ice leaders of their generation and have so far made the transition that has been praised at length by the players sitting under their learning tree. Does the implementation of the “old school” attitude they bring end up working out? Time will tell, but they are two guys that will demand excellence from their players and invaluable leadership skills they bring should help craft the youngsters into true hockey players, both on and off the ice.

By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: edmontonjournal.com / nytimes.com

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