By Ian Oland
HERSHEY, PA — One could understand if two top draft picks in the same organization could form a rivalry. There are only so many spots on an NHL roster, and in the end every prospect competes for the same dream: playing in the top league in the world. Chasing that goal requires some amount of selfishness and guardedness.
But in Hershey, playmaking center Hendrix Lapierre and puck-moving defenseman Vincent Iorio are forging their path together. It’s a strategic partnership, but also they just like each other a lot.
“I think we talked for the first time at Canada’s World Junior Camp,” Hendrix Lapierre said in an interview. “I knew Vinny was a draft pick of the Capitals so I introduced myself and he introduced himself too and we kind of clicked from there.”
“We share the same mindset in a way,” Iorio added.
With the Washington Capitals currently one of the oldest teams in the NHL, the two prospects hope their hard work and dedication will translate into an opportunity someday. They want to figure into the big-league team’s long-term plans and be a part of the Caps’ new core. And just like in Hershey, they want to do it together.
Lapierre and Iorio are experiencing a lot of the same things at the same time to start their professional careers. Warning: this might get repetitive.
They are the same age (20) with their birthdays less than nine months apart. They both grew up and played junior hockey in Canada. They were leaders on their respective teams.
The Capitals selected each prospect with their first overall pick in the players’ respective drafts. The Capitals snatched up Lapierre, a talented pivot, in the first round, 22nd overall, of the 2020 NHL Draft while Iorio, a big, slick-skating rearguard, was selected in the second round, 55th overall, in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Lapierre and Iorio made their behind-the-scenes debuts with the Capitals at the same time — the Caps’ 2021 Rookie Camp.
Months later, Lapierre and Iorio were both invited to Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp in December 2021. They both were cut from the roster and did not play for Canada in the 2022 World Junior Championship.
The prospects both participated in the Caps’ 2022 Development Camp over the summer. Months later, they were also at the Capitals’ 2022 Rookie Camp and cut on the same day from the Capitals’ 2022 Training Camp roster: October 2.
Lapierre and Iorio are both now in their rookie years with the Hershey Bears during the 2022-23 AHL season. I would have said “making their professional debuts”, but Lapierre played six games for the Capitals in 2021-22 with Nicklas Backstrom rehabbing his hip and even scored his first NHL goal then. So that’s one difference.
Back in the AHL, Lapierre and Iorio both had major milestones on the same night (October 16, 2022) and on the same play.
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Iorio tallied his first AHL point — a secondary assist — on Lapierre’s first AHL goal.
First career AHL goal for @Capitals 2020 first rounder @Lapierreh29, and it was 😍 pic.twitter.com/V0vmeP0VTq
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) October 16, 2022
These shared experiences, coming one after another, have made the players valuable resources and sounding boards for one another.
The Hockey Pattycake
During warmups, you might lose the two talented prospects in a blur as the Hershey Bears skate chaotically in circles around their half of the ice, getting loose and putting shots on net.
But if you look closely, Lapierre and Iorio share a moment at center ice that is both fun and useful. The Capitals have cup checks between Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson and butt taps between TJ Oshie and Tom Wilson. Lapierre and Iorio have something I’m calling The Hockey Pattycake.
The two prospects will begin passing the puck to each other as quickly as possible until they’re a few feet apart. It’s rapid fire. The routine gets their muscles and hand-eye coordination going. Then they toss several long passes to each other before breaking.
“We tried it one game, not that variation, but we tried just passing back and forth and we ended up winning,” Iorio said. “I’m pretty superstitious, I don’t know if Lappy is or not, but I know he’s pretty dedicated to when he plays good he wants to keep his little routine going. We just kept doing it and it’s fun.”
The first time the friends toyed with the idea was during warmups in a game against the Bridgeport Islanders on November 11, 2022. Lapierre and Iorio puck-juggled and passed the puck around, generally messing around with the biscuit. Iorio went on to score his first career AHL goal later that night — a game-winner — and recorded his first-career AHL multi-point game (one goal, one assist) in the Bears’ 4-3 victory. The W improved the Bears’ record to 6-2-2-0 and pushed the team’s unbeaten streak at home to six games (5-0-1-0) to start the year.
JT might be an Islanders fan, but we are his #1 fans tonight.
After @viorio14’s OT winner, a referee handed JT the puck. Upon hearing it was Vinny’s first goal, JT wanted to give him the puck back.
So a trade – an autographed Vincent Iorio puck for pro goal number one. pic.twitter.com/nCGIb7sPa4
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) November 12, 2022
The next night, in a rematch against the Islanders, the two had a more professionalized back-and-forth. The Hockey Pattycake was born. The Bears won again — this time 2-1 — and the warmie routine has remained ever since.
“We’ve been winning so we just have to stick with it,” Lapierre said. “It gets the hands warmed up as well, we throw a couple passes after so. It’s good, it gets us in our game and our routine and we’ll probably do it hopefully for the rest of our careers.”
Iorio admitted that he has found comfort in the ritual. He has other superstitions that include “putting my left skate on before my right, the same thing with my shinpads and my elbow pads” inside the locker room. He stretches the same exact way. The defenseman added, “as of late, I’ve been going to Starbucks before every game.” That apparently includes playing the role of a DoorDash driver for his BFF.
We’ll just have to take your word for it, @viorio14. pic.twitter.com/KXhkdBgEnG
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) December 16, 2022
“I get an iced black coffee and Lappy gets an iced vanilla latte, so I get for him and I bring it to the rink,” Iorio said, smiling.
“We have a lot of fun and I think our off-ice (behavior), the way we act off the ice and we’re friends helps [our development],” Lapierre said.
He’s not wrong. Lapierre, who at one point this season led Hershey in goals and points, has scored 10 times as a rookie, one of five different Bears to have double digits in goals and one of 19 AHL rookies. His 23 points rank fifth on the team. Meanwhile, Iorio ranks second amongst Bears defensemen in goals (2), points (14), and plus-minus (plus-9). Somewhat incredibly, Iorio’s only taken two minor penalties in 43 games, showing good discipline on the ice.
“The team has been fantastic, the whole staff has been really great, and everyone top to bottom they’ve welcomed us with open arms, all the young guys, and we’re very grateful for that,” Iorio said. “Team success creates individual success and if you’re looking at Hendrix, I mean, I personally didn’t see him blowing up this much in the AHL to start. He’s been on a tear and it’s really good to see and hopefully, as a team we can just continue to build.”
Lapierre and Iorio are not only friends, but roommates. Bears forward Henrik Rybinski is the third wheel in this living situation, and now I am suddenly regretting not interviewing him for this story.
The city of Hershey, from afar, is known for glamorous things like chocolate, concerts, and amusement parks. But in reality, Hershey is quiet — moreso than an outsider might think. The personality of the city likely aids in the development of Capitals prospects and the bonds they create there.
“It’s fun, it’s kind of like a small-town vibe,” Lapierre said. “It’s like juniors a little bit. There’s not much to do other than hockey and preparing your body.
“When we’re at home obviously we have a lot of fun,” he added.
I asked Iorio to pull back the curtain a bit and reveal how the two spend their free time.
“We’re both very dedicated and we watch a lot of hockey, sports constantly, and we’re pretty competitive within the team and within our household,” he said. “Whatever we do, whether it’s cards, playing NHL, Madden, or getting to the rink first, just all that stuff, whoever stays out last for practice. You feed off of it and I think it helps you to get better and drives you.”
“It’s been good so far,” Lapierre said, “and hopefully we can keep pushing each other in the right direction.”
Since the two prospects joined Washington, there have been countless video features done by the Capitals that have either directly or indirectly built the brand of the #Lapiorio bromance.
There was a Rookie Camp mic’d up segment featuring Iorio.
“Where’s Lap?” Iorio says at the 25-second mark, looking for his friend’s approval on a wrist shot. At the 1:19 mark, he needles Lapierre to say something over the mic. “You wanna say hi?” he asks.
“Hello, Washington Capitals fans,” Lappy replies.
At the 2:30 mark, Iorio tells Lapierre, “You look good in white.”
Lappy responds, “You look good in everything.”
“Ooooohhhh,” Iorio says. “Why thank you!”
There was another mic’d up segment that featured both players participating in a three-on-three tournament at Rookie Camp. Lapierre was team captain. He drafted Iorio with his first pick of the prospect draft pool.
“Welcome,” Lapierre says as he extends his hand.
“I’m honored,” Iorio replies back.
And then of course, the Capitals made #Hendrinny conduct a “Best Buds Test” on camera. It was cosmic and maybe a little concerning how well the two knew each other after claiming they didn’t really know each other that well.
We learn that Iorio is “close to his emotions” and that Lapierre’s favorite word on the ice is, tabarnak, a French word that is the English equivalent of the F-bomb.
While the videos are funny and entertaining, the two prospect’s friendship is not some punchline for clicks (though admittedly it does get clicks). The two prospects are sincerely close friends who depend on each other.
“We’re on the same mindset, same track you know,” Lapierre said. “Whatever I think about the game of hockey, he thinks the same thing. We’re kind of on the same vibe when it comes to that so I think we just click right away. I know he wants my good, I want his good, so we’re just trying to push each other every day and make sure we’re getting better.”
While there’s not much opportunity in Washington at this moment, there is writing on the wall that suggests a youth movement is coming soon. The Capitals have only one defenseman (John Carlson) signed through next season and one center, Dylan Strome, signed past 2024-25. Lapierre and Iorio seem to realize they could become important parts of a possible Capitals rebuild when the Ovechkin Era ends.
“We’re just trying to grow together and I think it’s fun having the same age and just trying to grow in the organization together,” Lapierre said. “He’s a defenseman. I’m a forward. So we’re just trying to learn from each other.”
POV: you’re a hockey glove pic.twitter.com/jRSmgoB1JM
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) December 11, 2022
Headline photo: Ian Oland/RMNB
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