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LaBarbera Captures 2003-04 AHL MVP Honors

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


Courtesy of www.ahl.com

The American Hockey League announced today that Hartford Wolf Pack goaltender Jason LaBarbera has been named the winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's most valuable player for the 2003-04 season, as voted by players and members of the media in each of the league's 28 cities.

Already named a 2003-04 First Team AHL All-Star and winner of the "Baz" Bastien Award as the AHL's top goaltender, LaBarbera has put together one of the most impressive seasons in league history, rewriting the record books along the way. He ranks among the AHL's leaders with his 1.60 goals-against average (second), .936 save percentage (third) and 13 shutouts (first), all marks which had never been surpassed in the league's first 67 seasons of play. LaBarbera, who appeared in four games with the New York Rangers this season and earned his first NHL win on Mar. 5, also has a league-high 32 wins and ranks fifth with 3,268 minutes played.

Only two other players have ever captured all three AHL goaltending honors: Jean-Francois Labbe (Hershey, 1997) and Martin Brochu (Portland, 2000).

The Burnaby, British Columbia native was at a loss for words. "This is so cool! I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams I'd have a season like this. I never, ever thought about it."

Wolf Pack General Manager Jim Schoenfeld says LaBarbera's motivation is not personal recognition. "This goes to show what an athlete can do when given the opportunity. Barbs is an unselfish, hardworking young man whose motivation is not individual success, but making sure he never lets his teammates down. The way the team plays in front of him is a testament to that approach."

The 24-year-old LaBarbera did not lose a game in regulation over the first two months of the season (8-0-3-1), and was unbeaten in 14 straight (11-0-3) from Jan. 30 to Mar. 17. His 32-9-9 mark for the year (.730 winning percentage) has led Hartford to the Atlantic Division championship, and to within two points of the best record in the entire league. LaBarbera has surrendered just 87 goals in 57 appearances, and the Wolf Pack have allowed just 150 goals in 2003-04, second-fewest in the league and well beyond the previous record for an 80-game season (176).

This award, which was first presented in 1948, honors the late Les Cunningham, a five-time AHL All-Star and three-time Calder Cup champion who averaged better than a point per game over his 10-year career with the original Cleveland Barons. He left the AHL in 1947 as the league's leading scorer with 579 career points.

LaBarbera is the seventh different goaltender to win the award in its 57-year history, joining Johnny Bower (1956, '57, '58), Denis DeJordy (1963), Gilles Villemure (1969, '70), Pelle Lindbergh (1981), Jean-Francois Labbe (1997) and Martin Brochu (2000). Other previous winners include Carl Liscombe (1947, '48), Fred Glover (1960, '62, '64), Mike Nykoluk (1967), Doug Gibson (1975, '77), Paul Gardner (1985, '86), Jody Gage (1988), John Anderson (1992), Randy Robitaille (1999), Derek Armstrong (2001), Eric Boguniecki (2002) and Jason Ward (2003).

As it concludes its 68th regular season on Apr. 11, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 80 percent of all players to compete in the NHL this season have been AHL graduates, and over 400 players have taken the ice in both leagues in 2003-04. The Calder Cup 2004 Playoffs get underway next week, with 20 teams vying for the honor of capturing the league's coveted championship trophy.

RELATED LINKS:
4/7/2004 - LaBarbera Garners AHL's Top Goaltending Award
4/1/2004 - LaBarbera Named a First Team AHL All-Star
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