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Former NHL heavyweight Laraque shows softer side in new biography

NHL player Georges Laraque jokes around with a Haitian boy outside Grace Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 8, 2010. During a NHL career that lasted more than a decade, Georges Laraque was almost exclusively known for how well he could use his fists. But the former heavyweight opens up in a new biography and shows there's a lot more to him than fighting and hockey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-NHLPA

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NHL player Georges Laraque jokes around with a Haitian boy outside Grace Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 8, 2010. During a NHL career that lasted more than a decade, Georges Laraque was almost exclusively known for how well he could use his fists. But the former heavyweight opens up in a new biography and shows there's a lot more to him than fighting and hockey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-NHLPA

TORONTO - While overcoming the odds to carve out a NHL career that lasted more than a decade, Georges Laraque was known almost exclusively for how well he could use his fists.

But there's a lot more to the former heavyweight than fighting and hockey.

Laraque opens up and tells his own side of the story in "Georges Laraque," co-written with Pierre Thibeault. The book is subtitled "The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy."

It takes readers from Laraque's difficult upbringing in Montreal through his career in the NHL while touching on subjects ranging from racism to Laraque's humanitarian trips to Haiti and Tanzania and his decision to become a vegan.

"I break stereotypes in that book," he said in a recent interview. "The vision that people have is of this black tough guy and all he did was fight for a living. I try to show more than that."

Laraque also manages to sprinkle in enough anecdotes to satisfy the hockey fan. A skilled forward in his minor hockey days, he began fighting in the QMJHL in an effort to realize his dream of playing in the NHL.

When first presented with that opportunity by former Edmonton Oilers coach Ron Low in 1995, Laraque turned him down and asked to be sent back to junior instead.

"All the things I told him to justify myself were in fact pure lies to hide the real truth," Laraque writes. "There was only one reason I wasn't going to play in the NHL that year and it had nothing to do with the excuses I gave him.

"That reason? Fear."

Laraque eventually overcame his fear and developed into arguably the best fighter of his era. Over time, he also gained a reputation as a straight shooter who enjoyed speaking to reporters.

However, some of those relationships were challenged shortly after the release of his book when media outlets, including The Canadian Press, focused on passages where he claimed steroids had been a problem in the sport and called Wayne Gretzky "the worst coach I've ever played for."

After those stories were written, Laraque was asked about little else while promoting the book.

"If you read the entire book, those two little things are outdone by so many other things that I'm talking about," he said. "The goal of the book is not even to talk about hockey, it's to talk about other stuff."

He was concerned his message would get lost.

Laraque embarked on the project with hopes that his story could serve as inspiration to others. Growing up to immigrant parents and playing a predominantly white sport, he was a longshot to ever see the bright lights of the NHL—yet he managed nearly 700 career games with Edmonton, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Montreal.

He truly is the "NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy."

In retirement, he's continued to passionately pursue other interests and become the unlikeliest deputy leader of the Green Party, the unlikeliest vegan and the unlikeliest environmental activist, among other things.

Laraque is comfortable in his own skin. That much is clear after reading about his life.

"If I started to live my life by worrying about what people thought of me, I would live in a bubble on the moon," he said. "When I joined politics and the Green Party, I got criticized. Once I became vegan, I got criticized. When I started defending animals, I got criticized.

"Everything I do I get criticized, but I don't care because that's the stuff I believe in and put my heart in to."

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"Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy," Georges Laraque with Pierre Thibeault, Viking Canada, 288 pages, $32.00.

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