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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Andre Lacroix, Hockey Legend Our Coverage Sponsored by Chuck Perley's Le Pescadeux Restaurant

Andre Lacroix

Le Pescadeux is the only restaurant in New York City that focuses on the French-Canadian culinary migration experience, from the Maritimes through Quebec and down to Louisiana, and not only does it boast one of the finest cuisines in Manhattan but also one of the best restaurateurs as well. Ooooh la la Executive Chef and Owner Chuck Perley can act, dance, sing and BOY CAN HE COOK! This talented guy of the great white way will successfully make his way into your stomach and heart the minute you meet him and visit a new shining star of Peachy's Picks: Le Pescadeux, a treasure of New York. Chuck has proven he is a total peach in both culinary talent and incomparable personality, and also note he has the energy of about a dozen other New York Chefs packed into one: him (inspired and genetically assisted by his mother who is the same.) We love it when we meet multi-talented people and it is also nice to know he is the first actor to EVER speak in a music video in 1985 in a Bon Jovi spot: "In and Out of Love". Covering every cuisine from Montreal to New Orleans, at Le Pescadeux you may feast on a terrific assortment of succulently fresh oysters, Quebec clam chowder, Cajun/Smoked meat Poutine, sauteed Prince Edward Island mussels, and Bouillabaisse Quebecoise, the best anywhere! Le Pescadeux offers a stellar selection of wines and cocktails and the decor is gorgeous featuring a painting by Maggie Mailer (daughter of Norman) and a lovely chandelier. Do not miss the Syllabub for dessert! Tell Chuck that Peachy sent you...
90 Thompson Street
New York, New York 10012

Growing up, Andre Lacroix never thought he would be playing professional hockey but he did know that it was something he’d love to do. At the time, there were only six teams in the NHL and there were so many players trying out for only a few spots. Andre played Midget Hockey in 1959 at the age of 14 for three years and they won three Provincial Championships: this has not happened since. Lacroix thought at age 14 that if he worked hard, he might have a chance to make it professionally someday. 

Back then, the season was from the end of November until mid-February so you did not get burned out playing hockey twelve months a year like players unfortunately do today. Andre also was fortunate to have good coaches who kept reminding him that his size should not be an obstacle as he was 5’8” and 168 lbs. Lacroix played his first years of Juniors in Quebec City and then his first great opportunity came along when he was picked to play for the Montreal Canadiens of the Major Junior Hockey League which was the best junior league in the world at the time. 

Andre played one year in Montreal and the team wanted him to sign a form that would keep him with this team the rest of his life, so he declined. Subsequently, Lacroix was sent to Peterborough in the same league. One of the problems with Andre going to Peterborough was that nobody could speak French in Peterborough and Andre could not speak English. This was probably the major turning point in his career as an amateur and his aspirations of playing professional hockey evolved from here. 

Andre played two years in Peterborough for the Petes, and learned to speak English and won the Most Valuable Player Award two years beating probably the best hockey player he and many of us have ever seen: Bobby Orr. Lacroix won the scoring title one year and finished second the following year. Back then, Andre made $50 a week the first year he played Major Juniors, $55 a week the second year and $60 a week his last year. This was the maximum salary in each respective year then, and players had to pay $30 a week for room and board.

Next, Lacroix played two years with the Quebec Aces after he was done playing Juniors and he was called to play in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1967 with 17 games left to play in the season. During Lacroix’s first year with Aces in 1966, he made $5,000 plus bonuses on an annual basis, and the second year with Aces in 1967 he made $5,500 plus bonuses. Andre played for the Flyers for three years and from 1968-69 he made $21,000 plus bonuses. By 1970, Andre made $26,000 plus bonuses but his career with the Flyers was coming to an end as he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1971 at a salary of $30,000 plus bonuses. At this time, agents for players only were not used like they are today.

During Andre’s second year with the Flyers, a strange thing happened. There were seven French-speaking hockey players on the team and the coach was Vic Stasiuk. The team was in a slump and the coach called a meeting with only the French-speaking players and asked them not to speak French in the locker room or the bus. They were insulted and then they went on to play the Montreal Canadiens three nights later in Montreal and the headline in the Montreal newspaper was that coach Stasiuk did not want them to speak French. The coach was called for a meeting with the President of the NHL and the coach said that it never happened and it had happened. The coach was never disciplined and if today this happened, the coach would never coach another game in the NHL. 

Lacroix was not happy in Chicago and near the end of the season he received a phone call from the owner of a new franchise in Philadelphia in the World Hockey Association. He offered Andre a new contract in 1972 for five years starting at $55,000, increasing $5,000 each year for a final year at $75,000 plus bonuses and perks, which he could not turn down. The Philadelphia Blazers moved to Vancouver after the first year but he had a clause in his contract that allowed him to be a free agent. 

So, Andre then moved to New York with the Golden Blades and signed a new contract in 1973 for 5 years for starting at $80,000 and finishing at $90,000 plus bonuses and perks. The Golden Blades moved to New Jersey before the season ended and he became a free agent again. Andre Lacroix next played in San Diego for three years under another new contract. Lacroix negotiated a contract in 1974 to remain in San Diego for five years starting at $135,000 and finishing at $150,000 plus bonuses and perks. The team was sold to Ray Kroc in 1976 and Andre became a free agent again so he negotiated a new contract with Buzzy Bavasi who was the President of the Mariners. 

The contract was for six years at $175,000 a year completely guaranteed by Ray Kroc who owned McDonald’s-a far cry from where he started at $50 a week! The team folded after the season in 1976-77 and Lacroix became a free agent again and he decided to go to Houston. Andre played in Houston for one year and the team folded and again he was a free agent and decided to go to Hartford in 1978 and play for the Whalers. He was still under a guaranteed contract from Mr. Kroc. Andre Lacroix retired from Hockey in 1980 with the Whalers and he received every dollar that was owed to him.

Hockey has been very good to Andre as he made a lot of good friends in every city he played. Still, he receives letters from fans who want his autograph and Andre tells us he could not have accomplished the success he has had during his playing career if it was not first from his Mom and Dad whom he owes everything to, and all the friends and fans who supported him during his career.

Andre went on to do color commentary for the Hartford Whalers at the end of his career with probably the best play-by-play man in the business: Chuck Kaiton. Andre also tried his skills in the construction business as well as the Ice rink business. Many people ask him what he would have liked to do if he was not a Professional Hockey Player and he thinks he would have liked to have been a lawyer since he negotiated his contracts and he had one of his best friends ever, his attorney now deceased Richard Flaster, put everything in legal terms for him. One mistake Andre made in his playing career was not to have an agent. Back then, it was so political since agents represented players as well as coaches and managers and Andre strongly believes that if he had an agent, he would have coached in the NHL. Peachy strongly believes he still could and that he would be good company for fellow ex-Whalers Joel Quenneville in Chicago and Kevin Dineen in Florida. Today, Andre Lacroix lives outside of Cleveland, Ohio where he still teaches hockey to the young players and he tries to spend as much time with his two children: Andre Jr. and Chantal and his grandchildren. Andre is not only one of the best hockey players the world has ever known, but also he is one of the best all-around class acts in terms of people, and we could not be more thrilled to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker. Peachy Deegan has known Andre Lacroix longer than any other previous individual interviewed on Whom You Know ever.  Peachy Deegan interviewed Andre Lacroix for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is your first hockey memory?
Andre Lacroix: 
My first hockey memory was the first time I played indoor hockey. I did not like it because it was too hard to breathe. It did not take long to make the adjustment and appreciate the indoor rink a lot more than the cold outdoor rink. I played my first indoor hockey game at the age of 14 years old.

Were you always number 4 and if not, what other numbers did you wear?

My favorite number when I grew up was number 16 because Henri Richard who played for the Montreal Canadiens and has won more Stanley Cups than any other player was my size and I liked the way he played. Then every team I played for number 16 was not available so I wore number 7 and when I played for Hartford Gordie Roberts had number 7, so I had to switch to number 4.

Is your license plate still “4ONICE”?

No, I had 7ONICE in California and I had 4ONICE when I moved to Hartford. I gave them up when I moved away from Connecticut

Did you always play the same position or did you switch?

I always played center because I always enjoyed more setting up players than scoring goals. I believe that the center on a hockey team is just like the Quarterback on the football team.

For what teams that you played for did the whole team have to live together as in paying room and board and the like? How did it all work out and do you think it would be a good idea if this happened today?
When I played Juniors in Montreal I lived by myself with a family. When I moved to Peterborough, I had another player living with me and a family. Some Junior teams now buy an apartment building and all the players live together. I also believe that when a player goes from Juniors to the Pros, they should have the players staying with a family because of the adjustment from Junior to the Pros. Crosby stayed with Mario Lemieux.

How did you learn English? We are so glad you did because not everyone in Peachy’s family speaks French, but she took it in school because of all of the fantastic French Canadian hockey players that influenced her childhood.

I learned how to speak English by listening to records that would tell you a sentence in English and then translate it in French. I also learned it by watching Hockey night in Canada and the next morning read the English paper and try to read what I watched the night before. I was also lucky to meet some very nice people in Peterborough who would speak English to me slowly so I could understand and correct me if I did not answer the right way. It was not easy but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

In 1967 when you began to play with the Flyers, were there still only the original six teams in the NHL?
1967 was the NHL expansion and there were 12 teams in the NHL.

Every year as your salary went up, was there a NHLPA (NHL Players Association) then and was there a salary cap? How much was merit able to be a factor in pay increases?

The NHL union was not a strong one and Alan Eagleson was the attorney for the association and he probably had a better relationship with the owners than he had with the players. There was no salary cap but the players were still not making a lot of money compare to other sports. The salaries were going up in the NHL depending on the season you had but the salary never increased as much as they should until the World Hockey Association began. The NHL never thought the WHA would lasted and the NHL players were jumping to the WHA and then the NHL had no choice but keep up with the WHA.. Players, coaches, managers should be thankful for the WHA but they will never admit it because their life in hockey was extended because of the World Hockey Association.

How did you go about negotiating your contracts yourself? Since you have experience in this would you ever want to become an agent?

One of the reason I negotiated my own contract was because I did not know if I could trust the agents or not. Alan Eagleson who was the main agent represented a lot of players but mostly only  was interested in the star players. The main reason I negotiated my own contract was because I wanted to work in a good relationship with the owner. I believed that they were making a big investment in me and I should try to do anything I can to help them be successful. Sometimes you have agent who only cares about the players and not the team and if the team does not do well you might be out of a job. I also knew that my parents would want me to do it that way. I considered becoming an agent but I changed my mind because the players were not loyal to their agents. Some agents could come around and tell a player that they could get them a lot more money and then the player would switch agents.

What were some of your perks that you reference as part of your compensation?

My perks were 4 tickets to every home game, free moving for my family back and forth to Philadelphia and a car of my choice to drive every year.

Please enlighten us about the Golden Blades of New York –did they play in the city? Tell us about your New York experiences please.
The Golden Blades played at the Garden but they would not give us good dates because of the Rangers. I lived in West Orange and most of the players lived close by. I loved New York. I just feel bad that we could not play the full year there. We did not have as many fans as the Rangers but they were great fans. The season was cut too short for me to really enjoy the great city of New York. I have to tell you a very good story about the Golden Blades. The owner of the team would do anything to get publicity for the team. He asked me to have lunch with two beautiful girls who used to feature in Penthouse magazine. They were now working for the new magazine called Viva. They wanted me to pose in the second edition of the magazine. The pictures would be taken in the shower, locker room and other places. I told them I was not interested but they tried to tell me how good it would be for me and the Golden Blades. I finally told them that my brother who is a priest would not appreciate it and I would never do a thing like that to my parents. They agreed to go and ask somebody else.

Did you like the game of hockey better when you were playing as it seems like it was less of a business and more of a genuine passion for the love of the sport?
I am so happy I played when I did. It has nothing to do with salary they make today. As a matter of fact I am really happy for them because I believe we started the salary increase with the World Hockey Association. The players are making a lot more money today but they are not having fun and they are not enjoying the game. It is all about business today and the sport comes second. The players don’t stay with one team anymore so the fans don’t get to know them and it is harder for the players to have friendships with other players.  It was nice when I played. The teams had a Booster club with real hockey fans and we would attend their monthly meeting. They were our biggest supporters. The glass at the arena was short so you could sign autographs for the kids in the warm up. Today the glass is so high nobody can get an autograph anymore unless you pay for it. The players when I played were happy to sign autographs because we felt that the were the people who were paying our salary and it was the smallest thing we can do for the fans.

What did you love most about playing for the Whalers of the WHA and how was the transition from the New England Whalers to the Hartford Whalers of the NHL?

What I liked the most playing for the Whalers were the great fans we had and the good friends that I made while I played there. They liked us not just because we were hockey players but because we were down to earth like them and everybody was sincere about the friendship. The transition from the WHA and the NHL with Whalers was a strange one because the New England Whalers were such a great franchise for Hartford and the Hartford Whalers had a long way to go to be as successful as the New England Whalers were and the management sometimes panicked and made financial decision instead of making a good hockey decision. I believe that as soon as the insurance companies and [Mover and Shaker] Howard Baldwin stopped owning the Whalers the team started going downhill as far as taking good care of their fan base. The price of the tickets went so high that the good people that would have liked to support the Whalers could not afford it anymore. The business aspect of the game had taken over the fun of the game.

Did you play in Springfield as well as Hartford at the time since the Hartford Civic Center Roof collapsed in 1979?
Yes. I did play in Springfield and that was not easy because the rink was not the same size and the attendance was not the same either. The ice was not great either. It was almost a road game for us because we had to drive one hour to play our home game.

We think you may have played for the Whalers when Gordie Howe did with his sons-but this was before Peachy was old enough to go to the games. Can you tell us about that experience?

I became very good friend with Gordie when we played together in Hartford. I also became good friend with Mark because I lived in Avon, Connecticut and so did Mark. Marty lived in Glastonbury so we were not as close. Gordie Howe is probably one of the nicest person I ever met. He was so good with people when he was in Hartford. We used to eat together on the road because we were two of the oldest players on the team and Mark and Marty wanted to hang around the younger players. I still believe to this day that Gordie is the second greatest hockey player who ever played the game behind Bobby Orr.

We remember you and Gordie were among the most active of the Whalers Alumni for the Old Timers games and we loved seeing you both play then. 

Gordie and I both enjoyed playing for Whalers Alumni because we were raising money for the kids. It also gave us a chance to spend more time together. We also saw a lot of familiar faces at the Alumni games. We also had time to share with the other alumni players what everybody was doing.

What should the world know about Chuck Kaiton?

Chuck Kaiton was born to do play by play. I never met anybody who does his homework before every game the way Chuck does it. He knew everything about every player without even looking at his notes. Every time you listened to Chuck Kaiton you could visualize you were watching the hockey game. He could keep the people listening to him regardless of what the score was. The best quality that he has is that he always treated everybody so warmly. He is just a wonderful individual. He always gave 110% every time he broadcast a game. I was very lucky to be able to do the color on the radio with one of the best if not the best play by play man. I learned a lot from my friend Chuck.

How many years were you on the radio with Chuck and what did you enjoy the most about the experience?
I believe I did radio commentary with Chuck for about eight years. He made you so comfortable when you worked with him. He gave me time to give my opinion and we always knew what each other was thinking during the game. I also was the one that would criticize the home team as well as the individual player if they were making mistakes. The players did not like everything I was saying on the radio but I was just trying to be honest and make sure that the people who were listening to us knew I would always tell the truth. I did not want to meet people on the street and tell me I was only saying nice things about the home team. I always did the games knowing at some point a player or somebody in the organization would not like what I said. After my last season doing color commentary, the team advised me they were going to go in a different direction with the radio broadcast. I asked them if I did anything wrong and they would not answer. I believe that they wanted somebody that would be more of a Whaler fan than a honest color commentator. I asked them to provide me with any negative communication from the fans about the way I was doing my job and they could not do it.

Do you think you’ll go back to radio or television as a color commentator or would you start your own show online?
I talked to Chuck about three years ago when I when to visit my daughter Chantal in North Caroline about doing this again together. He said that he would love to do that. He even talked to the Hurricanes about it but it was not in their financial plan at the time. I talked to Chuck and try to see him every time I go visit Chantal in North Carolina. I consider Chuck one of my best friends even if we don’t see each other that often. Anything can happen. I would like to go back because I enjoyed it so much

We are not surprised that you made friends in every city you played in as you are such a fantastic, quality person. Would you like to tell us about each city and how each impacted you and your family?
Philadelphia has probably the greatest hockey fans. I still have a lot of friends there and both Andre Jr. and Chantal were born in Philadelphia.  
Chicago is a great city and everybody who lives there just loves it. I just was not there long enough to enjoy it but it gave me an opportunity to make long term friendships with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.  
New York is New York. Everybody loves New York. There is so much to do and so many great places to eat.  
San Diego is my favorite place in the world. You have the best temperature and you have the beaches and you can go to practice every day in shorts and a t-shirt and you can go home after practice and jump in the pool.  
Houston is a big city where Hockey was not their number one or two or third sport. High School football was their number one sport. It was very difficult to sell hockey in Houston. I played for one of the finest coach in hockey in Bill Dineen.  
Hartford is where Andre Jr. and Chantal went to school in Avon, Connecticut. I decided to stay there for so many years after I retired from hockey because it was a great place to raise the children.

What was being in the construction business and the ice rink business like?

It was hard to be in the construction business because I had to depend on someone else to evaluate the cost of the project. I could go out and get a contract to build something but there was a lot of competition and sometimes you had to bid the job low to get it. The ice rink business is good if you run it but don’t own it. There is hardly any money to be made in the ice rink business. There is too much dead time that you can’t sell and the fix cost is too high. I really enjoyed being a consultant because I knew what the players were looking for in the locker room and what the parents would like when they come and watch their child play hockey.

We remember you also being in the retail business with a store in Avon, Connecticut called something along the lines of Andre Lacroix’s Sporting Goods-would you have another store?

I would not have another Sporting Goods store. Most people today go to the store and try on what they need and goes out and buy it on the internet. It is almost impossible to make it today in that business unless you have a lot of cash to give away or you are so big that you have stores all over the country. I think that small Sporting Goods Stores is a thing of the past. Because of the internet.

What do you like most about the evolution of the NHL?
The one good thing with the NHL is the salary cap. Nobody can go out and outspend the other teams anymore. In the past the Flyers, Rangers, Red Wings would go out and take the best player on a team and make him an offer that the other team could not afford to match. It can’t happen anymore. There are too many teams in the league and the talent is too spread out.

What would you like to change about the NHL today?

I would like the NHL to go to two periods instead of three. There is too much time wasted between periods and it gives a chance for the people who are watching the game on television to go watch another show between periods and sometimes they forget to go back to the hockey game. I would also like the home team to promote the players from the other teams that are coming to town. The home fans already know their players let them know more about who is on the other teams.

Hockey plays a major role in the Winter Olympics; what do you think we’re going to see from the teams around the world during the next Winter Olympics?
I don’t think you will see much difference than in the past. Canada or United States don’t have a lock on the finals anymore. There are too many good players from other countries to give them a good shot at winning the gold medal. The Gold Medal means more to the European players than the Stanley Cup.

Martin Brodeur is an outstanding goalie but I believe his age became a factor late in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The goalie who gets very hot in the playoffs will carry the team to the Stanley Cup. It does not mean the goalie is a great goalie. It just means that he is on top of his game for a good period of time. You don’t have great goaltenders anymore like Martin Brodeur. You have goaltenders that are hot one day and cold another day.

What impressed you most about the play of the Los Angeles Kings this playoff season and do you think they’ll be able to repeat their success?
The team work was excellent and they did not depend on one player to win the Cup. They had great goaltending which you need in the playoffs and everybody played well at the same time. I do not believe they will repeat next season if there is one [Note from Peachy: Andre predicted this before the season was supposed to start, which it still has not] and I might pick Carolina next year to go all the way if there is NHL hockey next season. The team that wins the Stanley Cup normally has problems the following year because the players want a raise and they force the team to make changes. Look what happened to the Chicago Black Hawks. The players have to remember that not one player will win the Cup by himself. All the pieces have to come together and that is why the Kings won the Cup last year.

Do your children and grandchildren play hockey today?

Andre Jr. played at Lake Forest and Chantal played in High School and College. They both still play hockey and Andre Jr. has one son Andre playing now and we think we are going to start another one Anthony very soon. Chantal has a daughter Thea who started but decided that she liked figure skating better.

What do you think we’re going to be seeing from teams this upcoming season?

We are going to see the same as last year. It is all going to depend on injuries. I can’t stress enough the good that the salary cap does for the NHL. The teams can’t go and just get the best player anymore because the league won’t let them go over the salary cap. The difficult thing from a hockey fan point of view is that you don’t see most of the teams play because they are not on television unless you buy the NHL package. It is also very difficult for the hockey fans to get to know the players because the players don’t mix with the fans the way they did in the 70’s and 80’s; Hockey has to do a better job promoting the Stars that are playing on the west coast because the fans don’t see them play often enough.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?

My parents because they let me play hockey under no pressure. They enjoyed watching me play but never rewarded me for scoring a goal. I don’t believe I ever played with new equipment when I played youth hockey. My skates were probably two sizes too big, but I was the luckiest kid on the block.

What are you proudest of and why? 
106 assists with the San Diego Mariners in 1974 because it was like batting 400 in baseball

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
Be involved with a Hockey team at the management level. I would like to be involved with a Professional team at the management level.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?

Winning three Midget Championship when I was 14 ,15,16 years old.  
Most Valuable Player two years in a row in Major Junior Hockey. The Red Tilson award. 
Named the French Canadian Athlete of the year in 1974 over Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne.  
Having the ice rink named after me in my hometown of Lauzon. 
Selected to the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
Rockefeller Center outdoor ice rink

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
I don’t shop

What is your favorite drink? 
Vodka tonic or ice cold beer

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 
 We had a cocktail party where some fans were invited to come and meet the players. I was standing around with three other players and a couple hockey scouts having a drink. One of the players noticed a nice woman coming down a long staircase and he said look at that fat woman coming down and one of the scout said it is my wife. The player tried to cover up by saying that it was a joke. It just shows that you should always think before you say something that stupid.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 

What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
I have not read one yet.

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
I would like to be the owner of a very successful restaurant and be at the door and greet the customers and go and talk to them to make sure they are enjoying their food.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
Have the Rockefeller Ice rink named after me because I enjoyed skating there.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Running a Hockey clinic at the Rockefeller ice rink.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Watch all the people in Manhattan and all the crazy drivers.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 
The Pope. I would like to talk to the Pope about his childhood.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
 I went to see the Sound of music.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world? 
I did a lot of charity work that I am very proud of because I could help so many people in need. I had the Andre Lacroix Foundation for Giving in Hartford where all the money raised went to help people with disability.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
The most underrated is how beautiful the United States is and the most overrated are the Politicians.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 
I liked the interview with Howard Baldwin because I have known Howard for so many years and he is such a great individual and a good friend and also Sporty Peachy.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
I have not tried it because I was never offered one.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
You already know too much.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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