Tampa Bay Lightning
First NHL goal for Lightning's Labrie's quite a moment
At age 17, when most future NHL players in Canada are gearing up for their draft year, Pierre-Cedric Labrie worked overnight shifts at a convenience store after being cut by the Quebec Remparts, a major junior team.
On Tuesday, almost nine years later, Labrie celebrated his first NHL goal in his 26th career game, finding a loose puck and throwing it at the net, where it slid by Ottawa's Craig Anderson.
Labrie, 26, never saw it go in, but he realized he scored when the crowd erupted.
“There was a lot of traffic, so when there is a lot of traffic I just whacked at it and it went in,” Labrie said.
“I've had better chances that didn't go in, so I was happy to finally get that monkey off my back.”
The popular locker-room figure — teammates call him “Nacho” after the fictional wrestler “Nacho Libre” — received plenty of praise as he made his way back to the bench and down the line to bump gloves with teammates, as is tradition for any goal scorer.
“It was a thrill for everyone to see him score his first NHL goal; he deserves it,” said center Steven Stamkos, who has enjoyed those glove bumps 205 times in his four-plus-year career, including the game-winner Tuesday.
“We were all excited. And he came by with that little knuckle sandwich there, everyone was saying a couple of words that I can't repeat, but all finishing off with, 'Atta boy, Nacho.' So, we were all excited for him and it couldn't happen to a better guy that has worked extremely hard to not only play a game in the NHL, but hopefully make a name for himself in this league.”
Following his stint at the convenience store, Labrie fought his way back into hockey. He came up from the lower junior ranks around Quebec before landing with his hometown Baie-Comeau major junior team at age 20, scoring 35 goals and 63 points in 68 games. He turned that into a three-year stint with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League before landing a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay's affiliate to start the 2010-11 season.
He parlayed that into his first NHL contract and made his NHL debut last season, appearing in 14 games with the Lightning. A big part of the Tampa Bay affiliate's record run to an American Hockey League championship last season, he worked to become more than just a physical presence.
“I've been a part of this for three years, to see this kid grow, and it's been remarkable to go through the journey with PC,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who coached Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate before replacing Guy Boucher in March. “He's become much more mature. He had the tools, he just needed an opportunity. There was a lot of focus that fighting was his game and that was it and how he would stick around.
“But you watch him, when that big train gets going, he is a pretty powerful skater. He can get around the ice. He's worked on his skill. He's worked on protecting pucks. He's worked on his shot and he has slowly worked on his game. …We put him in situations where we thought he could succeed and he jumped on the opportunity. That's how guys make it and that's how guys don't.”
His teammates were probably more excited about his first goal than he was.
“To see him get rewarded, to have a goal like that, and that's just kind of his thing, a little grease in it, it's great for everyone,'' said center Tyler Johnson, a teammate of Labrie's since last season in the AHL. “He really bumped up the bench and everybody was excited for him. He's just one of those players' guys, everybody just loves to be around him and it's fun to see.''