Tom Laidlaw

"(Tom) Laidlaw plays defense the way it is supposed to be played," said New York Islanders legendary coach Al Arbour back in 1985.

Arbour then continued, " He almost never makes a mistake, he takes the man out in the slot, is mobile enough to get the puck out of his own end by skating it, or, more likely, hitting the open man with a precise, accurate, pass. If he gets a chance to rush he'll take it, but he understands that is not his job. And he plays it the way most defensemen did in the old six-team NHL."

Tom's playing style was a throwback to the old six-team era, an art form almost extinct in today's hockey He never tried to be fancy with the puck, he just concentrated to do his job and that was to keep his opponents and the puck away from his defensive zone.

Tom was born in Brampton, Ontario where his father Don was a district fire chief. Tom grew up idolizing legendary Gordie Howe. Tom first played for the Bramalea Blues and then played four seasons for Northern Michigan University (CCHA) while he majored in speech. He was also a good football player.

At NMU he was coached by Rick Comley who had a great influence on the young Tom.

"He stuck with me when I would make a mistake and sent me back out there," Tom recalled. "He helped me personally, and in my life. And he helped my hockey."

Tom quickly gained reputation for his toughness. Many years after he had left NMU people still talk about how he broke his stick over his head, purposefully, following his first goal at NMU.

In 1980 he helped the Wildcats advance to the NCAA championships before bowing out to the University of North Dakota. Tom was selected to the All-NCAA tournament team in 1980. He also was a CCHA First All-Star in 1979 and 80. All in all he scored 90 pts in 124 games for NMU.

NY Rangers selected Tom in the 1978 draft (78th overall). He immediately took a regular shift from opening night (October 9,1980 vs. Boston) and never looked back. During his first four NHL seasons Tom only missed 2 out of 320 games. Then in his 5th season he ruptured his spleen against Boston (January 5,1985) and missed 19 games.

Some people compared Tom to Ranger legend Harry Howell. It didn't take Tom many years before he was constantly paired up with rookies on defense to "break them in".

On March 10, 1987 Tom was traded to Los Angeles where he played for almost four years. He retired in 1990 while playing a few games for Phoenix Roadrunners (IHL).

Among teammates Tom was simply known as "Cowboy".
"I like Westerns and my boyhood hero might have been described as any cowboy. I like watching football, driving my jeep, country music and anything to do with hockey. My favorite actor is John Wayne for obvious reasons.", Tom said back then.

Tom always accepted his defensive role and not being in the spotlight of things.

"You don't win the Stanley Cup without defense. All the wheeling and dealing up ice with the puck is great for the fans, but not for the coach if you get caught out of position. Defense still wins in the NHL," Tom said.

Laidlaw's philosophy was simple: Don't let 'em through. Maybe it could have been dubbed as Laidlaw's Law.

Speaking of law, Laidlaw went on to become a prominent NHL player's agent in his off-ice career.


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