Phantoms rookie, coach share lifelong bond

📝 by Bob Rotruck | AHL On The Beat

It actually all began before Lehigh Valley Phantoms rookie Elliot Desnoyers was born.

Head coach Ian Laperriere has been indirectly influencing his development since long before either knew they would later be working together toward the mutual goal of getting Desnoyers to the NHL.

Elliot’s father, David Desnoyers, was a teenager and playing AAA hockey with the Montreal-Bourassa Canadien, where his teammate was right wing Ian Laperriere. In the 1989-90 season, David Desnoyers scored two goals in 35 games and Laperriere wasn’t lighting it up either, with just four goals in 22 games.

But something about Laperriere caught David’s attention. The work ethic. How hard he practiced and trained. The determination. It eventually led to Laperriere becoming a star in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and then on to an NHL career of over 1,000 games.

“I played with his dad when I was 12, 13, 14, 15 years old,” Laperriere said of his rookie forward, a fifth-round selection by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2020 NHL Draft. “And then we played against each other in juniors. And now I’m coaching his son which is pretty cool! His dad was a defenseman, a really tough defenseman. He could fight and he could play the game hard. It’s funny that he made an offensive-skilled little forward. But they have one thing in common: they compete. His dad was a competitor and I see the same thing in his son.”

Ian Laperriere (#26) and David Desnoyers (#18) were teammates as teenagers playing youth hockey in Montreal.

Elliot Desnoyers was born in 2002 and was taught to skate and play hockey from an early age. David would tell stories and provide lessons from his experience and playing career that included the QMJHL, Canadian university hockey, and Quebec senior leagues. Included among those stories were tales of his time as a kid playing with a hard-working Laperriere.

When the talented Elliot was drafted in 2020 by the Flyers, where Laperriere was then an assistant coach, it almost felt too perfect.

“Yeah, that was pretty cool,” Laperriere said. “I knew I would be coaching his son in two or three years and now we’re here. I reached out to his dad when we drafted him and told him that I would make sure to help his son become a good pro.”

“It was pretty funny actually,” Desnoyers said. “Before I was drafted to the Flyers or anything, my dad used to tell me stories about working hard and he was always referring to Lappy which is super-funny now that he’s my coach. So now I get to see what this is all about. He’s really a great leader for our team.

“My dad used to talk about guys being a little bit sloppy and just having fun like young kids. And Lappy was already this hard-working guy that was ready to have a pro career at some point. He was running all the time and had that determination.”

That’s pretty flattering praise of Laperriere. But it was because the elder Desnoyers saw the results of all that work Laperriere was putting in as a teenager that translated to a 16-year NHL playing career with St. Louis, Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, Colorado and Philadelphia.

“It’s nice to hear,” Laperriere said. “I know that growing up and playing on his team that I wasn’t the most skilled player. And I just worked. It’s nice that he used me as an example.”

But Laperriere also knows that it was the closer influences in Elliot’s life that truly made the difference.

“You also have his dad who played hockey and grew up in the game too,” Laperriere said. “You watch Elliot’s game and you know the kid grew up in a hockey family. Just the details. It’s similar with the Cates brothers (Noah and Jackson). You know a kid that grew up in the game when you see him. When Elliot watched a game with his dad he also watched the inside of the game. You can see his stick details, his head details, everything he does out there. You know the kid is a student of the game and that’s because he watched hockey with his dad.”

Desnoyers has impressed right from the start of his pro career. Scoring a goal in his first three pro games was something that no Lehigh Valley player had ever done previously. With his hands and speed as well as sharp hockey sense, he has been finding scoring chances from out in front, from the side of the net, and on breakaways.

Although, in some ways, his early success at the professional level isn’t that surprising. Desnoyers was coming off a huge 42-goal campaign as captain of the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. A few months later, he was wearing a gold medal at the World Juniors after Canada’s overtime win over Finland in the final in Edmonton.

“That was one of the best feelings in my life for sure. A moment I’ll never forget,” Desnoyers said. “It was such a great experience. I still don’t really remember my feelings at that moment. But it was just like a dream come true. You watch that tournament from the age of four all the way to 19. You dream about doing that. It was just a fantastic moment.”

All of that success ― plus his strong sense of his own abilities and knowledge ― has Desnoyers fitting in nicely at the next level. Laperriere refers to him as a leader even though the 20-year-old rookie is one of the youngest guys on the team.

“When I’m on the bench, I like to talk a lot,” Desnoyers said. “I’m being myself. I think I like to be a positive leader so on the bench I try to cheer for the boys or say whatever I need to say when I feel it. And I’m not too shy to say what I think to my linemates or to someone on the ice that I think could do something different. I think it improves everyone and it’s great to have some communication.”

“He should talk,” Laperriere said. “If you play the way he plays and you keep playing like that then you should be allowed to talk and be positive about it. If you talk the talk then you’ve got to walk the walk too, and he is doing that so far.”

Did the Flyers land a steal in the fifth round by snagging Desnoyers? Laperriere definitely thinks it’s possible.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of teams that liked him but were worried about his size (5-11, 183),” Laperriere said. “But he’s got the biggest quality: he’s a hockey player. You talk to the kid and he eats and sleeps hockey. He goes out there and he works at the little things… not only on his shot but also his backhand shot and little things that kids don’t do if they don’t love the game. Just to be around him a little bit in the Flyers camps this year and last year, you see that in the kid right away.”

And that’s where Laperriere’s influence on his childhood teammate, and now on his childhood teammate’s son, has a young Flyers prospect poised to make the most of his potential moving forward.

“When you do have that attitude and the work ethic and the skills, well, the sky is the limit,” Laperriere said. “He’s giving himself the best chance to play in the NHL someday.”