The situation came to a head after the Penguins' best showing of the season, a 7-1 win over Los Angeles three weeks ago in the Civic Arena. Larouche contributed a goal and two assists but griped throughout that he was not getting enough playing time. When Schinkel put him into the game after one spell on the bench he snapped at the coach, "It's about time."
The next morning Larouche was 45 minutes late for practice, and the Pittsburgh brass announced that it was sending him to the Hershey (Pa.) Bears, the club's farm team. It turned out that Larouche's contract gives him the right to veto such a demotion, and when he did just that he was suspended without pay. "A kid like that has to realize he's not bigger than the team," said Bastien. When somebody on a phone-in radio program in Pittsburgh criticized him for missing practice, Larouche called up and protested, lamely, "I didn't miss it—I was just late."
Larouche's suspension lasted five days, during which the Penguins took to the road and beat Colorado 4-1 and tied Cleveland 2-2. Larouche promised the Penguin management that he would mend his errant ways, and he was reinstated. He also apologized to Schinkel and the players for his behavior. And when the Penguins left for Minnesota last week, it was a repentant Larouche who accompanied them.
"I was late for practice because I was oversleeping," Larouche said during the flight. "Maybe the bell rang on the alarm, but I didn't hear it. The suspension gave me a good time to think about things. I realized I was thinking too much about me and not enough about the rest of the guys. I was nervous and tight and not playing too good, but I was wrong to complain so much. A lot of kids my age would like to be in my spot. I know I have to change my attitude."
Larouche went scoreless in Pittsburgh's 3-2 loss to Minnesota, but he skated well and he just missed tying the game in the third period when one of his shots hit a goalpost. Back in Pittsburgh Saturday night, Larouche scored the game's only goal as the Penguins, suddenly a defense-minded bunch, beat the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0. Pittsburgh had not put the puck past Flyer Goaltender Bernie Parent in 262 minutes—more than four games—when Larouche broke in alone with slightly more than seven minutes to play, faked Parent out of position and scored.
Well, could this really be a new Pierre Larouche? The matter was discreetly probed by Penguin Captain Ron Schock, a solid-citizen type who during the suspension had been quoted—inaccurately, he later insisted—as saying that Larouche should grow up. Now he was saying, "Pierre is never going to change—and he shouldn't. He's cocky and a free spirit, and every team can use somebody like that. But he also wants to be one of the guys, and I think he's going to contain himself a little more now."
At least for the moment, Larouche seems to be doing just that. He was on time last week for every bus and plane, and during the games, between shifts, he cheered on his teammates with unaccustomed gusto. In Minnesota, Larouche even threw what looked suspiciously like a body check on North Star rookie Glenn Sharpley, and during one practice session he was properly respectful when Schinkel, catching him taking a breather on the sidelines, hollered, "Hey, what are you waiting for?" Larouche returned promptly to the ice, pausing only to pant, "I'm having trouble getting my wind back after the layoff."
And now let's go back to Hollywood Squares.