EDMONTON - Most ice hockey players dread the day when their playing career comes to an end. Others, like Georges Laraque, seem to relish it.
“After 12 years of fighting it's not a challenge anymore, I’m 33 now and want to try something new,” Laraque said last week about his next career move after the Montreal Canadiens bought him out of the last year of his three-year contract.
A few days later, on July 31, Laraque was unveiled in Vancouver as the new Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada by party leader Elizabeth May. A remarkable career move for Laraque, who made his name as one of the toughest guys in the game where his left hook often caused havoc during 12 eventful NHL-years with 695 games and 1126 penalty minutes with Edmonton, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Montreal.
Although Laraque only became a member of the Green Party this past February, his interest in environmental issues goes back a long way. But last summer they gained momentum and took a radical turn when he made the unusual decision in the world of hockey to no longer use or consume animal products of any kind.
“I became vegan after watching a documentary called ‘Earthlings,” said Laraque. “It made me understand how bad the animal industry is for the environment. I then started doing my own research, and it made me wonder why people eat the things they do when it's obviously not good for you.”
With the help of the Montreal Vegetarian Association and a nutritionist, a specific meal plan - free of animals and animal-products - was created for Laraque that would suit the demands of an NHL player.
He then checked in for training camp with the Canadiens before the 2009/10 season, where his sudden change of diet raised quite a few eyebrows from his teammates.
“They were surprised, but a lot of my teammates then tried it before games as a way to lose weight. Some of them also left out milk and some cut out on certain types of meat, but in terms of other vegan hockey players I don't know of anyone. The only one I know of who is vegan is the Montreal Canadiens GM, Pierre Gauthier,” he said.
But across the Atlantic, in Switzerland, Andreas Hänni, a 31-year-old defenseman with reigning champion SC Bern, was a teenager when he made the decision to give up on delicacies such as Swiss cheese and chocolate, or at least the kind containing animal produce.
“I became a vegan when I was 18, five years after becoming a vegetarian; both for the same reasons, for the respect I have for animals, leading me to the obvious conclusion not harm them,” Hänni said.
Hänni made his debut in the Swiss Nationalliga A during the 1996/97 season for HC Ambri-Piotta, before moving to HC Lugano before the 2002/03 season. He admits that veganism in professional hockey is still practically unheard of.
"The only other I know of is Georges (Laraque). I really respect him for that, being the strongest guy in the toughest league for a long time. He's a great example.”
Although Hänni, 189 cm tall and weighs 103 kg, with three Swiss titles on his resume, he is more than happy to answer questions about his dietary choice. He makes a point of not lecturing his teammates about hi choice.
“I couldn't say that I've influenced teammates so much. First, I'm not a vegan for health, but for ethical reasons. I talk to them about it when they ask me, that's it. But I can't get over how many people say that you can be vegetarian but not vegan, that's absurd! Many talk about possible insufficiencies, but I don't have any. I think it's the most natural and healthy way to eat,” Hänni said.
Hänni is keeping himself busy shaping up for next season’s title-defence with SC Bern and was recently given a new contract. Georges Laraque on the other hand hasn't definitely ruled out on a future return to ice hockey outside the NHL, but will now primarily focus on promoting the link between physical health and the environment for the Green Party in his efforts as a role-model for future generations.
“What is the point being the richest guy in the cemetery? Life is about being active, going places, helping people and being present. As hockey players we are so privileged to be in this position, so we should give something back. Because it's not what you do on the ice that is important, but it's what you do off the ice that matters,” Laraque said.
For more information on Georges Laraque and the different projects he is currently involved with please visit his personal website www.georgeslaraque.com