What Tampa Bay Lightning fans saw last season from forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie was no byproduct of Hollywood fiction.
Although at times, Labrie admitted, it often felt like that.
In 2003, at the ripe age of 17, Labrie’s future in hockey was not only in question, but more to the point, in doubt.
He had already gone undrafted in the NHL’s annual player selection showcase, but to make matters worse, he also had recently been cut from his junior team, the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Down, but without yielding to the thought of giving up, Labrie split time trying to catch on with another junior club by working the overnight shift at a local convenient store, often missing out on a good night’s sleep.
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 2
SOG: 5 | +/-: -2
“Those are the sacrifices you make,” Labrie said in an upbeat tone from his locker stall last week in Brandon. “Looking back, it’s strange to think about how life has a funny way of working out sometimes.”
Back then, he had planned on becoming a fireman in his hometown of Baie-Comeau, Quebec.
That was until his luck started to change.
Without a hockey job in 2005, Labrie tried out for a senior league team that played only on the weekends, but one that would eventually lead him to a Junior A League club with whom he scored 43 goals in 54 games.
The next season, he found himself back in Quebec’s major junior league before signing with the Vancouver Canucks and playing three seasons for Manitoba of the American Hockey League.
Again jobless in 2010, Labrie’s agent called the Norfolk Admirals, who were looking to add bulk following the injury of enforcer Mitch Fritz, and dvertised the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Labrie as an upgrade to just being a reliable replacement.
Fast forward two more years to the present day, and Labrie sounds as if he is more than ready to showcase his skills.
“I want to dominate right off the bat,” he said. “Every time I step on the ice, it’s ‘go, go, go’ 100 miles per hour. I really want to start the season off hot.”
The AHL season, that is.
Prior to any talks of a potential NHL lockout, it was thought that Labrie could contend for a roster spot with the big club out of training camp. For now, however, he is content with refining his game while playing for Tampa Bay’s top minor league affiliate in Syracuse, where he hopes to build off a Calder Cup-winning championship season.
Labrie spent the majority of the 2011-12 season in then-AHL affiliate Norfolk with a few notable callups to Tampa Bay.
“I know my role, so I worked all summer to improve every day,” he added. “I think right now the AHL is where I’m supposed to be to get better so that hopefully soon I can make it back to that next level.”
He is referring, of course, to the NHL, where last season he notched two assists in 14 games as a call-up skating in the place of injured Lightning regulars.
While his numbers weren’t exactly much to rave about, his gritty style, smart play with the puck and willingness to drop the gloves quickly earned him a jovial reputation that was embraced by both fans off the ice, as well as his teammates and coaches within the locker room.
The Lightning, after all, do not need Labrie to pull off sick dangles or show off a nifty toe drag.
So while he has already proven his usefulness as a fourth-line role player, he set himself this summer on developing more speed to become an efficient two-way player with a chance to claim one of the team’s roster spots in the near future.
Labrie enlisted the help of renowned power skating instructor Barb Underhill and even worked out with Lightning strength and conditioning coach Mark Lambert to improve strength in his posterior chain, which according to Lambert, made Labrie “much more explosive.”
Lambert added he and Labrie also participated in intense Olympic-style weightlifting drills and plyometric exercises, both of which have already made a difference heading into this season.
“We did a lot of work with him this summer,” Lambert said. “Although we only worked with him for a short time, the workouts were intense and they focused on what he needed to build on from an individual standpoint. And yes, absolutely I could see the difference.”
Perhaps sooner than later, Lightning fans may get to witness it too.