Reaching No. 900 : Quietly Defenseman Ladouceur Does Things That Don't Show Up on Stat Sheets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Randy Ladouceur probably will get his typical numbers on the stat sheet tonight.

No goals, no assists, maybe a couple of penalty minutes. But he'll have a half-dozen conversations with the referee, pleading the Mighty Ducks' case. He'll bail out his teammates when some youngster makes a mistake, pin some Vancouver Canuck in a corner, clear somebody out from in front of the net, maybe block a shot. And chances are, he'll end the night with a plus or an even outing.

A burly, stay-at-home defenseman, Ladouceur will play his quiet, unspectacular, but rock-solid game tonight for the 900th time in his 14-year NHL career.

"I've seen a lot of guys come and go, but the steady guys always seem to hang around the longest," Duck defenseman Bobby Dollas said. "Randy plays the same every game."

Dollas, 30, has played only 328 NHL games, with a lot of time in the minors. Ladouceur's usual defense partner, David Karpa, is 24 and has played in 129. At 35, Ladouceur has his eye on 1,000.

"I don't think my body could last 900," Karpa said. "That's a lot of games. If you play a physical style, it usually takes its toll.

"He's steady still, real steady. It might not look flashy, but he's always going to be there every night."

This milestone doesn't mean that much to Ladouceur, especially when the team he captains is in a tailspin.

"To me it's really no big deal," he said. "I'd probably feel different if it was close to 1,000."

That is where he has pinned his hopes. Only 105 players in the history of the NHL have reached 1,000 games, with Vancouver's Dave Babych four games away, poised to be the 106th.

Ladouceur needs to play into the second half of next season to do it, and he's in the final year of a $600,000-per-year contract. But it's hard to hang his legacy on 29 career goals and 154 career points.

"A hundred goals is kind of out of the question," Ladouceur said with a little laugh. "Five hundred points is out of the question. I guess 1,000 games is what I might be able to accomplish. I've never really hungered after personal things. In my situation, the role I have, anything I get is team-oriented.

"I can't remember which coach it was, but he told me to play within your limitations. We were all stars in our hometowns, stars in junior, all offensive players at one point. You get to this level, you have to find your niche. It takes awhile, but I realized I wasn't going to be a guy to rush the puck from one end to the other."

Clear evidence of Ladouceur's intangible value to the Ducks came this season when Coach Ron Wilson made Ladouceur and his high-odometer legs a healthy scratch for three games in a row, trying to get more speed into the lineup.

"But what we missed without Laddy was leadership and grit," Wilson said. "Sometimes you have to sacrifice skill and speed in order to get his qualities in the lineup. If other players play better because he's in there, you put him in there.

"[His 900th game] just shows you what persistence and dedication to the game can do. Laddy's limited in terms of skill and speed but he's unlimited in the size of his heart. That shows the ability to do the little things that will keep you in the game a long time."

Ladouceur started his professional career with the Detroit organization in 1980. He was promptly assigned to Detroit's No. 2 minor league team in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"I hate to think it was where they sent guys they didn't have plans for," he said. "Kalamazoo. I honestly thought they were joking. I didn't realize there was such a place as Kalamazoo. As I drove into town, there was a sign that said, 'Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo.' I remember the first thing I did was buy about half a dozen T-shirts that said that and sent them out to people."

He played parts of five seasons with the Red Wings, seven in Hartford and is in his third in Anaheim, which plucked him from the Whalers in the expansion draft. Hartford had him pegged to quit playing and become an assistant coach.

If Ladouceur eventually becomes a coach, he'll have plenty of examples to pick and choose from. He has played for 10 in the NHL: Nick Polano, Harry Neale, Brad Park and Jacques Demers in Detroit. In Hartford, Jack Evans, Larry Pleau, Rick Ley, Jimmy Roberts and Paul Holmgren. And in Anaheim, Wilson.

"I think Laddy was starting to get shuffled out in Hartford," Dollas said. "We picked him up and rejuvenated his career. He's real steady, a good example to the younger defensemen. They see what kind of heart and effort it takes to hang around."

It also takes a willing body, and Ladouceur has been blessed. He's 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, and solid by nature, not by Nautilus.

"If he gets in the corner and gets ahold of you, gets you in that old bear hug, you're not going anywhere," Karpa said.

"He's a big man," Dollas said. "Sort of like a Fred Flintstone guy. He's the last of the cavemen."

Injuries have been few, minor and far between. Ladouceur once went 215 games--nearly three seasons--without missing a game.

"Bumps and bruises," he said. "Nothing major has happened, knock on wood. I had a couple of broken toes, three toes, but they fixed my skate so I could play with them. I just really consider myself lucky. The most I ever missed was about five or six games with a knee sprain in Hartford."

Wilson, only 40 but sometimes an old-time hockey fan at heart, nods his approval.

"Probably today a lot of people only respect players with fancy skills," Wilson said. "He's a guy who always shows up and plays whether he has bumps and bruises or not. He's got a sprained shoulder he's playing with now. He's a throwback, I guess, to the old school."

Whether Ladouceur gets a chance to try for his 1,000th game is largely up to the Ducks, who haven't offered him a contract beyond this season.

"We'll see as the season goes on," General Manager Jack Ferreira said. "He's playing well."

The time may come when he's no longer a regular but still on the team. It looked as if that might have been starting earlier this season when he was scratched.

"When you're healthy and you're sitting out of the lineup, yes, there are questions in your mind," Ladouceur said. "It's tough, you try to think exactly what the reason is. But I've gone through that before, and let's face it, I probably will again. There's a real good chance that there could be a point in my career coming up when I'm not going to be playing every game. They might sit me down and keep me as a seventh 'D' as an insurance policy. In that case, I'd accept that role.

"We talked to try to get another [contract], but I understand why they wouldn't want to do it [before the season]. I'm 35 years old, I understand.

"I'll play it year by year. I want to play as long as I can."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°