by Mike Ulmer
It is, says Jason LaBarbera, a bit like college.
“The NHL and the AHL are different money-wise,” he said. “The cities are different and because the guys in the NHL are older, they go home to their families. But in the American League, a lot more guys are single so they’re more likely to go in a group of seven or eight for dinner.”
That’s why for many, the AHL represents the good old days, a time when the game and the life was simpler. It’s why players invariably take the good (the friends, the times with teammates), with the bad (the disappointments and the travel) and remember only the good.
“Obviously, everyone wants to play in the NHL,” LaBarbera said, “but the biggest thing is to enjoy what you are doing. This is our life and we love it.”
LaBarbera, a 27-year-old backstop for the Manchester Monarchs (top affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings), is the starting Canadian All-Star goaltender for the 2007 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic, scheduled for Ricoh Coliseum on January 28-29. He will be opposed in the PlanetUSA net by Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens) star Jaroslav Halak.
Over the last decade, LaBarbera has played in the Western Hockey League, the NHL, the AHL and the East Coast Hockey League. He logged 29 games for the Kings in 2005-06.
LaBarbera has played more minutes and faced more shots than any other goalie in the AHL this season. He ranks second in the league in wins (21), third in GAA (2.23), second in save percentage (.932) and tied for first in shutouts (five).
LaBarbera thinks the AHL style of play, more scrums and turnovers than in the NHL, can work in a goalie’s favor.
“There are more broken plays than in the NHL and it can be a bit more scrambly. But that can be good training for a goalie.”
As he heads to his second AHL All-Star Classic, the former AHL MVP considers himself a much better equipped goalie after his time in the NHL last season.
“To me, I’ve really developed my game and gotten it where it should be to be in the NHL,” said. “I think I’ve improved a lot.”
For ticket and event information, visit http://www.torontomarlies.com/news/07allstargame.asp