CENTENNIAL - Ian Laperriere spent nine NHL seasons within a few slap shots of Disneyland, but there is no happier place on Earth for him than a hockey rink.
"I always have fun playing, even if it's just a preseason game," said the Avalanche forward, who always seems to be in a good mood.
Laperriere, 32, might have gotten the most enjoyment out of his career last season, his first in Colorado after stints with Los Angeles, the New York Rangers and St. Louis.
Projected as a grinding defensive forward with an edge to his game - he isn't afraid to drop his gloves when needed - Laperriere nearly doubled his previous career bests with 21 goals, 24 assists and 45 points while playing in all 82 regular-season games.
Laperriere led the Avalanche with 116 penalty minutes, so it wasn't as if he neglected his in-your-face style that can be so maddening for opponents. "Lappy," as he is called by his teammates, can be more than a little yappy. He also plays all three forward positions, kills penalties and even is asked to take the occasional faceoff.
"Last year was a blast," he said. "The main reason was because of the guys in the room. I was in L.A. for so long that you get comfortable, but this locker room was easy to adjust to. In L.A., I had great teammates, but I had issues with one of them; everybody knows which one."
Laperriere was referring to Kings forward Sean Avery, with whom he has had a running feud.
"Here, everybody was great," Laperriere said. "It all starts with Joe (Sakic); everybody follows him. He's a great leader, but he's also a great person."
Some of Sakic's scoring prowess must have rubbed off because Laperriere hadn't recorded more than 13 goals in any of his 10 previous NHL seasons; he netted that many in 37 games in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign while a rookie with the St. Louis Blues.
"He had a great year for us," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. "He brings a lot of excitement and enthusiasm to the group. He loves being at the rink, and all the guys love him. His energy in the room is contagious."
Laperriere is one of five returning 20-plus goal scorers on the roster, and the Avalanche could use a repeat performance from him now that Alex Tanguay is in Calgary, Rob Blake is in Los Angeles and Steve Konowalchuk is in limbo while awaiting test results to determine why an electrocardiogram came up abnormal.
All Laperriere, who signed a free-agent contract with the Avalanche in July 2004, can guarantee is that he'll continue to bring the same work ethic to the rink that he has since learning how to skate while growing up in Montreal.
"It would be great to score goals again, but I can't promise that," he said. "I've been in the league for so many years, and I've never put pressure on myself. I'm just going to go out there and work hard. If the opportunities are there, I'll do my best. If I score, great. I'll try to contribute wherever I can.
"I'm not saying I'm going to score 21 goals again or anything like that. I'm just going to work hard. That's the only thing I can control. I know it's a cliché, but I've been going on that cliché for years, so I'm not setting any goals for points.
"If it's a blocked shot or a fight or something like that, I'll do whatever it takes to help the team. That's how I've been playing my whole career, and I won't change this year just because last year I had a good offensive year."
ETC.: Sakic, still slowed by a hip flexor injury, did not make the trip to Dallas, but Quenneville said he will skate today in Denver. Sakic could play in Saturday's exhibition finale and is expected to be ready for the season opener Oct. 4 . . . The Avalanche on Tuesday reassigned forward Chris Stewart to his junior team in Kingston, Ontario. Stewart, the 18th overall pick in the June draft, did not score in three preseason games. "We think that he still needs to play a lot and to grow as a player," Quenneville said. "He showed some good things in camp. I think his upside is bright." Colorado's roster is down to 30 players. Depending on injuries, the Avalanche might have to cut only three or four more players before the regular season . . . Forward Marek Svatos is expected to play his first game tonight since fracturing his right shoulder in March . . . Quenneville said forward Pierre Turgeon might not be ready to join the lineup until the end of October. Turgeon is recovering from shoulder surgery and recently aggravated groin and hip injuries that nagged him last season.