Last week the 28-year-old became a member of the Vancouver Canucks, helping him fulfill a lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team.
This isn’t the first time he’s been karmically blessed through hockey though; LaBarbera was first the recipient of it during the 2000-01 season as a member of the New York Rangers.
Drafted in the third round, 66th overall, in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Broadway Blueshirts, LaBarbera had yet to suit up with the Rangers until they came calling prior to a trip to Pittsburgh on Oct. 14, 2000.
Not only would LaBarbera travel with the team and don a big league sweater for the first time, he would be backing up his childhood idol Kirk McLean
“He was the guy I always tried to emulate as a kid because I was a huge Canucks fan growing up,” recalled LaBarbera. “It was weird, I got to sit on the plane with him and stuff and then back him up and I thought it was so unbelievable.”
Fortune went a step farther that day as the Penguins waddled eight goals around Captain Kirk before he got the hook with 10 minutes to play in an 8-6 loss
Next thing LaBarbera knew he was living a fantasy at the expense of his idol.
“Unfortunately for him, fortunately for me, it was a tough one in Pittsburgh and he got pulled and I went in and that was my first NHL experience. It worked out pretty good, I got to replace the guy who I emulated. I couldn’t have had a better start to my career.”
First he relieved McLean, now he’s part of the only team that has ever mattered to him. Apparently lightning does strike twice.
“This is my third NHL team, but it’s definitely the most exciting one for me,” said LaBarbera, who spent six seasons in New York’s system before being signed by the Los Angeles Kings in 2005.
“I got to play in New York and LA, big cities so it was obviously pretty cool, but anytime you get to play in the city you grew up in with all your friends and family and everybody watching, it’s been good so far.”
Since being acquired from the Kings for a seventh round pick on Dec. 30
, LaBarbera has started every game for the Canucks in 2009, posting a 1-0-2 record alongside a .944 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average.
With the exception of two easily forgettable shootouts, LaBarbera has been rock solid in helping lend some consistency to a shaky goaltending situation in Vancouver.
Despite this, the reality of LaBarbera’s situation remains grim. He’s the man right now but just as Cory Schneider
was re-assigned following Curtis Sanford rejoining the Canucks on Monday, when Roberto Luongo
returns LaBarbera could once again find himself as the odd man out.
“We all know whose team this is, when he gets back he’s going to get [the starting job] back obviously. I guess we’re just kind keeping the seat warm for him, but I just want to go out there and give this team a chance to win every night and that’s all I can really focus on.
“However it plays out, it plays out, but I’d love to be here for the rest of the year and who knows, maybe even longer.”
In the same way LaBarbera tossed aside his blocker and trapper a few times to fight during his days in the Western Hockey League, he’s prepared to battle for a position with the Canucks. He spent his career trying to get to this point and now that it’s here letting it slip away isn’t an option.
Consistency will be the key to him sticking on the west coast. LaBarbera achieved that in the American Hockey League – a Les Cunningham Award
as league MVP, two Aldege Bastien Memorial Awards
as the most valuable goalie and a pair of Harry Holmes Memorial Awards
for having the lowest goals against average are proof of that – but he has yet to prove it in the NHL.
“I’ve always had that consistency my whole career except for this level and I’ve shown flashes of it here, it’s just a matter of doing it every night.
“At this level, those are the guys that are the best in the league; Roberto’s great every night and that’s why he’s the best goalie in the league.”
If fate does bestow LaBarbera an extended stay in Vancouver, something has to be done about his equipment.
Watching LaBarbera make save
in the last three games was thrilling, especially his grand larceny on Mike Riberio against Dallas
, but it just wasn’t the same with him sporting LA purple.
A new blocker, trapper and a set of pads will be part of LaBarbera’s arsenal in a week or two, alongside a freshly painted mask that will most likely resemble the one he currently wears.
All four members of the rock band Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulric,h Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo) are prominently displayed on his cage and his new mask will also reflect his hardcore taste in music.
“I’m kind of working on the design right now, I’m just trying to come up with ideas. I’ve had some kind of Metallica, either them or their artwork, on my helmet for the last seven years so it’s always kind of been a part of me. I’d like to think they’ve helped me get to where I am as far as motivating me and stuff.”
LaBarbera has seen Metallica live six times with the band outdoing itself every time and thanks to LaBarbera’s girlfriend outdoing herself a short while ago, this mega fan finally got to meet the seven-time Grammy Award winners.
“I got to meet them a couple of weeks ago just outside LA, they were playing in Ontario, California. It was a surprise Christmas present from my girlfriend, she set it all up. I got some autographs and I showed them the helmet and they signed my old helmet and stuff. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever got to do.”
LaBarbera struggles to pick his favourite Metallica song, but even their worst would help liven up the Canucks dressing room before a game.
“I hear a lot of Coldplay around here so I don’t know, I’m not too ecstatic about that,” laughed LaBarbera.
Whether it’s fate or plain hard work, LaBarbera has earned his time in the Canucks spotlight and he’s quite enthralled basking in the glow.