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My Journey to the NHL - Jason LaBarbera

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

BC native, Jason LaBarbera, started his career in Abbotsford before moving down to Portland, trekking to New York, Hartford, LA, and back home to Vancouver and it's been a long road but one that he'll be the first to say, is definitely worth all the miles.

As a goalie, he's typically playing for one of two positions on a team compared to defence and forward positions and there's always immense pressure on the net-minder but one that LaBarbera continues to learn from.

Like everything else, nothing comes easy and LaBarbera is a true testament of hard work and perseverance to achieving a goal and making a dream come true.

LaBarbera shares his tales on his road to the NHL.
How old were you when you got your first pair of skates?

I was five but I don’t remember anything about getting them.  

I don’t remember how it all started. When I was 3 or 4, I’d always check the hockey stats in the paper and I guess it all started from there. 

How did you decide to be a goalie?

Actually, the very first time I played, I was actually a player and after that I’ve been a goalie. After my first game, I was always a goalie.

I have no idea how it happened it’s just one of those things that kind of intrigued me and was one of those natural things where I always played hockey at home by myself with one of those Hot Wheels tracks, a stick, and an apple box. I would shoot on myself and that’s how it all happened.

I had two younger brothers, Matthew who is about 15 months younger and Adam is five years younger. I wanted to go in net so it wasn’t one of those situations like they threw me in or anything like that.

What was your first hockey team?

The Abbotsford Flying club. I was five and I remember we had blue jerseys and I think that’s about it.  One of the guys I played with in Abbotsford ended up playing in Hartford too.

Growing up, the rink was my...

Fun place. We were at the rink a lot, obviously. It was me and my two brothers so if I wasn’t playing, one of them was playing so either we were on the ice or we were running around the Langley Civic Centre, playing hockey with our jackets.

What role did your family have in your hockey career?

They were huge. Having brothers, I could play with them a lot. Having your parents drive you to practices and there were a lot of early mornings. All the support they showed is incredible. None of us get here without our families being there so I’m always very grateful for that.

What is your favourite hockey moment?

There’s lots. In peewee when I was in Langley, we had to go to the Quebec peewee tournament. We had to go in a round-robin with North Delta, Vancouver Thunderbirds, and Abbotsford.

Only three teams get to go but four of us wanted to go so we had to play Abbotsford for that fourth spot in an elimination game and it ended up going into a shootout and we won in a shootout. I made the last save and my parents were jumping over the glass, it was a huge thing so it was pretty cool.

I was always the only goalie because growing up in Langley, there weren’t enough kids. I remember in one year in atom, I played 129 games - it was a lot of hockey games.
What's going on in this picture (right)?

I think I was nine or ten. We beat Surrey in a one game playoff, we had a good rival that year - and Scott Hannan was actually on the Surrey team.

I remember because he had a hard slap shot and I was always scared of him. At that age, if a kid could shoot, it was a big deal so for me, I was always scared of him or hoped he wouldn’t get the puck and someone would check him. If he didn’t shoot or missed the net, I would always have a sigh of relief.

But the tournament was cool, we always had good teams in atom. We knew them well and I think we were the top two teams in the League and we both made it all the way to the final. It was in Surrey and we ended up beating them so it was pretty cool.

Who was your hockey hero growing up?

Everyone always says Wayne Gretzky is their hockey hero but Kirk McLean was always the guy I grew up watching and he’s the one I tried to emulate.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Have fun. It’s a fun game. As stressful as it is, even for kids now, especially if parents are hard on them, but I would say just to go to the rink and have fun.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to get into the NHL?

Same thing. It’s not easy to get here and you have to work hard and have a little luck too, but if you can keep your head on the straight and narrow and not get caught up in the bad things in life. But the biggest thing is just to have fun with it.

What is the biggest obstacle you've had to face to get to where you are now?

Your head, probably. The mental mind games you play with yourself. Even now, it’s tough, you ask anybody, mind games are tough. Sometimes you make a lot of stuff up, you question yourself, confidence and all that kind of stuff, that’s the biggest thing.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been playing, you’re always fighting that.

Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?

Yes, for sure. It’s kind of cool - my buddies do a good job of keeping me pretty humble - but for them, it’s pretty cool and obviously for me too, but you try not to think about it too much because you don’t want to be overwhelmed by it.

When it’s all said and done, you sit back and think about it then. It’s always fun to go back and think about some of the guys you play with and realize you’re one of the few that made it.
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