A tall and mobile defenseman, Jacques Laperriere was a key component of the Montreal Canadiens' success during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Standing 6'2" and possessing an enormous reach, the lanky defender was a consistent impediment to opposing forwards. His poise and ability to move the puck forward after breaking up the play was crucial to the Habs' outstanding transition game. Many opposing skaters became annoyed with Laperriere's persistence, but he was rarely coaxed into taking a bad penalty and was never intimidated.
The Montreal Canadiens scouted the tall teenager while he was playing in the system of his hometown of Rouyn, Quebec, in the heart of the province's mining country. He spent a year of Junior B with the Brockville Canadians, which proved to be a test for the young francophone. Following this season, he was developed in the Habs' junior and minor pro franchises in Ottawa-Hull and Montreal before joining the NHL on a full-time basis in 1963-64.
Montreal fans were treated to an impressive rookie season on the part of the young defenseman. Laperriere scored 30 points, made few defensive errors and calmly influenced the pace of the game night in, night out. His solid debut was acknowledged when he was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year and the accolades of the demanding Montreal fans and media. He also garnered selection to the NHL Second All-Star Team.
Through the remainder of his career, Laperriere's style was constant, as were his numbers. He never scored more than seven goals and registered between 30 and 40 points five times between 1963-64 and 1969-70. His poise and reliability were key components in Stanley Cup triumphs in 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1969. Following the 1965-66 season, he was presented the James Norris Trophy and was an NHL First Team All-Star after both the 1964-65 and 1965-66 seasons and a Second Team selection at the end of the 1969-70 schedule.
As Montreal entered the 1970s, the Orr- and Esposito-led Boston Bruins were the talk of the NHL. They seemed a sure bet to win the Stanley Cup after a record-breaking season in 1970-71. But in the quarterfinals, Laperriere and the Habs were ready for them and upset the mighty Beantowners in seven games. They later bested the favoured Black Hawks to earn a surprise Stanley Cup triumph. This may have been Laperriere's greatest post-season, as he accounted for four goals and 13 points while dictating the pace of the game whenever he was on the ice. Fittingly, he was sent out by coach Al MacNeil to defend the 3-2 lead in game seven against Chicago and was the first player to hug young goalie phenomenon Ken Dryden when the final buzzer sounded.
Two years later the rock-steady defender was on hand again when Montreal won its second Stanley Cup in three years. Laperriere recorded the top plus-minus rating in the NHL while utilizing his mobility and reach to full extent. Once again the Habs vanquished the frustrated Hawks, this time in six games. Laperriere's return from an injury early in the finals was crucial to the Habs' championship.
Unfortunately, a serious knee injury cut his season down to 42 games in 1973-74 and he was forced to retire with six Stanley Cup rings and nearly 300 career points. Laperriere's excellence received the ultimate validation in 1987 when he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After retiring as a player, Laperriere took on the position of coach of the Montreal Junior Canadiens prior to the 1975-76 season. Partway through the following year he resigned, as the pressure and violence at the amateur level caused him to sour on his new profession. In 1980-81, he returned to the Habs as a part-time assistant to head coach Claude Ruel. The following year he began a 16-year tenure as an assistant coach with the club. He served under six different head coaches, including Stanley Cup wins with Jean Perron in 1986 and Jacques Demers in 1993.
Under Pat Burns from 1988 to 1992, Laperriere kept the Habs' defense corps near the top of the NHL. Prior to the 1997-98 season, Laperriere was reunited with his old boss in Boston, where he continued to function as one of the top assistant coaches in the game.