By Mark Staffieri, CWHL
One of the finest goaltenders in the world, Labonte made a big splash at the 2006 Torino Winter Games in a gold medal effort for Canada. She logged 180 minutes of ice time and led all goaltenders with a goals against average of 0.33% and a save percentage of .976. Prior to her debut with the Canadian National Team, she stood between the pipes for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. As a result, she was featured on a hockey card issued by Upper Deck in their 1999-2000 UD Prospects set (card #54).
Her tenure with the McGill Martlets stands as one of the most legendary in the history of CIS women?۪s ice hockey. She is among a rare group of players that has competed in five CIS National Tournaments, claiming the gold medal in 2008, 2009, and 2011, respectively. A multiple First Team All-Canadian, Labonte is the CIS all-time leader in shutouts, and holds over 15 different goaltending records with McGill. A veteran of the Montreal Axion and Laval Le Mistral in the former National Women?۪s Hockey League, Labonte is looking to resume her professional career in the CWHL and add a Clarkson Cup to her list of accomplishments.
CWHL: When you had the opportunity to play for Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL, how did you feel in your first game?
Labonte: I was so nervous before the start of the game. I remember looking at the Canadian flag during the national anthem and my body was shaking. It was my first big game, I knew everyone was watching and wanted to see if I really was good enough to play at that level. My team played amazingly in front of me, which gave me a lot of confidence. We ended up winning 7-4!
CWHL: Over the years you have been featured on several hockey cards. In 1999, Upper Deck featured a card of you for the very first time (number 54 in the set) in their Prospects set of 1999-2000. What was it like the first time you were on a hockey card?
Labonte: It was very weird to see myself on a prospect card. I never imagined I would ever end up on it. I guess that year was just a bunch of "firsts" for me and I simply tried to enjoyed everything and learn as much as possible.
CWHL: Before choosing to play hockey for the McGill Martlets, did you have any offers from NCAA schools?
Labonte: Yes I did get approached by some teams, but quickly, we realized it would be impossible for me to play in the States because I had already played in the QJMHL, which is considered pro. Therefore, staying in Canada was the only option, which ended up being the best one as I got to play and got a degree from McGill University.
CWHL: How much have you learned from McGill coach Peter Smith?
Labonte: Peter is a great hockey coach, definitely one of the best in the country. But I think I learned even more from him about life in general. He taught me a lot, including all of the little details that really make a difference in life.
CWHL: What stands out as your favourite moment during your McGill career?
Labonte: All of my 5 years have been amazing, yet all different from one another. Winning our first national championship at the end of my 2nd year and 2 more during the following years are for sure my top moments. But above all, I think the friendships that I have made and the experiences I have shared with my teammates will remain my favorite aspect of my McGill career.
CWHL: You are one of the few women in CIS hockey history to have played in five CIS National Hockey tournaments. What was your favourite memory of participating in those tournaments?
Labonte: When you play a varsity sport, Nationals are the reason why you are training and working so hard throughout the season. I was fortunate enough to be able to take part of it all of my 5 years. Before 2007, the McGill Martlets had never won a national title. So having the chance to win the first title of the McGill Martlet history was a privilege and a great honor.
CWHL: It was recently announced that the 2006 Canadian women?۪s Olympic hockey team will be nominated into Canada?۪s Olympic Hall of Fame. What was your reaction the first time that you heard the news?
Labonte: We had a great season in 2005-2006 and ended it with an Olympic gold medal around our necks. It such a great honor to be recognized and nominated for the Olympic hall of fame.
CWHL: What was it like to meet Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky?
Labonte: Here are two of the best hockey players who have ever played the game. I remember watching Gretzky play and I thought he was a complete player. Great leader, humble, hard worker, and respected. It is always a privilege to meet these people and listen to their stories. Even now, they can still teach us many lessons.
CWHL: If you win the Clarkson Cup, you will be the eighth woman (and second goaltender) to be part of the Triple Gold Club (women that have won Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, Clarkson Cup). How exciting would that be for you?
Labonte: The Clarkson cup is the Stanley cup of the CWHL. Women’s hockey has come a long way and current players of the league are the reason why the Clarkson cup is possible today. Everyone wants to win it and knows the hard work that has been put in the league to assure a good functioning. I am extremely excited to the idea of joining the league and I am hoping one day to be able to touch the cup as well.
CWHL: If you are selected first overall, what would it mean to you?
Labonte: Obviously it would be a great honor considering all of the amazing players who are hoping to join the CWHL next year. However, this is not my main focus. To be honest, it would not bother me that much even if I was selected the very last. All I want is to be able to attend a camp, make the team, improve, compete, have fun and play the game that we are all so passionate about.