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Goalie gains wisdom on the winding road of a hockey career

By: Randy Pascal – Playback

 | Jan 28, 2014 - 10:34 AM |
Kevin Labelle wets his whistle. The 17-year-old Nickel City Sons goaltender shares some lessons learned as he chases his hockey dream. Photo by Randy Pascal.

Kevin Labelle wets his whistle. The 17-year-old Nickel City Sons goaltender shares some lessons learned as he chases his hockey dream. Photo by Randy Pascal.

Perhaps more than any other position in sport, hockey goalies are prone to wild swings of emotion.

Make the tiniest mistake and the puck is likely behind you. Stand on your head and you can almost singlehandedly propel your team to victory.

Like most puck-stoppers, Kevin Labelle of the Nickel City Midget AAA Sons tries hard to maintain an even keel. It's a challenge that has, at times, extended beyond the surface of the ice.

Like many young hockey players, Labelle would hit his mid-teens dreaming of the OHL draft.

That goal, however, seemed a lot less likely when he was cut from the local Minor Midget AAA team while entering his draft year.

"That was one of the hardest things in my career, so far," he said.

Yet, things happen for a reason. In Labelle's case, his path would veer towards Nickel City and the Great North Midget League.

Overall team defense was not their forte and Labelle would face shots. Lots and lots of shots. As the saves accumulated, his confidence returned and the well-spoken netminder was often the difference-maker.

"I felt that I had the potential to get drafted,” he said.

Last April, Labelle was selected in the seventh round of the junior draft by the Barrie Colts. His first OHL training camp went well and he earned the chance to play in the Blue and White intrasquad game before being sent home.

Filled with excitement, Labelle was ready to take the next step. Once again, his dream would be re-routed.

"My exact thought was that I've got to make a junior team, I've got to play somewhere other than Nickel City," he said. "Not to be rude or anything, but Nickel City was honestly my last option."

Hard to blame him. Watching others in a similar situation signing their cards, Labelle looked for an opportunity, for a chance to show what he could do.

"I couldn't make a junior A team because nobody wanted to use a 16-year-old card on me," he said candidly.

Under Hockey Canada guidelines, junior teams are limited to just two players from the most recent OHL draft year on their roster.

"I went back to Nickel City and made the best of it," Labelle continued.

Indeed. His work with the Sons — so often earning the praise of Head Coach Joel Whissell — drew the attention of the Colts yet again.

A few months into the 2013-2014 season, Labelle was invited to join the OHL practice in Barrie. In a very short time, the 17-year-old has learned plenty.

"You always have to be ready, you can't second-guess yourself and you have to be confident," he said. And that's some true hockey wisdom.

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