Injury slows LaFleur during his best season

Michael Rand

Brian LaFleur was in the middle of a dream season.
The senior defenseman was near the top of the list of scoring leaders on the Gophers hockey team. He had been playing consistent defense. In addition to helping his team win games, the Bloomington Jefferson graduate was alleviating frustration from his difficult freshman and sophomore seasons.
Everything was falling into place for LaFleur until his shoulder fell out of place. During Minnesota’s game Dec. 27 against Boston College, LaFleur did something he would normally do — he checked an opposing player.
But instead of using the side of his left shoulder, LaFleur impacted the Eagles player with the top of his shoulder. He recalls that it felt a little funny, but not seriously injured.
“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I thought I could keep playing, so I started skating down to take the face-off,” LaFleur said. “When I reached the blue line and tried to move my arm, I realized I’d better get off the ice.”
LaFleur has a grade-three separation of his left shoulder. Gophers athletic trainer Bob Broxterman said the injury is fairly severe in comparison with other separations.
What looked like a routine play at first turned out to be an injury that will likely sideline LaFleur for at least another month. LaFleur wants to be back in time for the North Dakota series in three weeks, but he knows it’s a long shot.
So now, instead of thinking about body checks and slap shots, he is concentrating on his day-to-day functions.
“It’s surprising what you can’t do,” he said. “I couldn’t drive a car. I couldn’t tie my shoes. Sometimes I needed help putting my shirt on.”
LaFleur then looked down.
“It’s tough to tuck your shirt in,” he said, looking at his flannel.
Since the injury, LaFleur has thought about a variety of things. Even though he’s trying to maintain a positive attitude, he can’t help but think about how bad the timing of the injury was.
“I was pretty pissed off, to tell you the truth,” LaFleur said. “I was like, ‘Why does it have to happen now? Why does it have to happen to me?’ I would have rather had it be any of my first three years than this one.”
LaFleur’s point totals have gone up each year since he was a freshman. Last season, when he recorded 18 points, he nearly doubled his totals from his sophomore year. To put his hot start in perspective, he already had 15 points before the midway point of this season.
All his teammates can do is play on without him and wish him a speedy recovery. Although Minnesota hasn’t lost in LaFleur’s absence, the team knows he will be missed.
“He’s probably one of the most important guys on our team,” Gophers senior Dan Woog said. “Losing him really hurts.”
Freshman Nate Miller added, “He was a stabilizing veteran and a good guy. Nobody likes to see that happen, especially to someone like him.”
As much as the team misses LaFleur, he probably misses the team more. Sitting has made LaFleur more antsy than depressed.
“Dan Hendrickson called me from the airport to see how I was doing when the team was waiting to leave for Anchorage,” he said. “That’s when I realized I should be there with the team instead of at home.”
As his 2:30 rehabilitation session drew near on Wednesday afternoon, LaFleur began dreading another day of ice packs and arm exercises.
Watching his teammates pour onto the ice for the start of practice added to the frustration.
“It does suck, but you have to have a positive attitude. Sitting out and watching really motivates you,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to take a little while to get my skating back. Hopefully I can come back close to the level that I was at.”