Hockey Nomad Labenski Finds Love In Ohio

By Tom Archdeacon
Dayton Daily News

They have been married less than a year, so they’re still learning some things about the way life together is going to be.

After a decade as a hockey itinerant — playing for 11 different teams in six states and two countries — Dayton Bombers defenseman Greg Labenski and his wife, Joyce, a Beavercreek High School graduate who works at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, bought a home in Fairborn.

“So now I’m doin’ dishes, taking out the garbage, taking care of the lawn,” Labenski said with a smile.

As for Joyce, living with her new husband has taught her one thing: Hockey players are a superstitious lot. And that’s why Greg now looks more like Abe Lincoln than the guy she married last June.

He hasn’t shaved since the end of the regular season. That was 46 days — and three playoff series victories — ago.

“Some guys grow mustaches or goatees when their team gets to the playoffs. Others shave everything. Our guys have grown beards,” Labenski said. “It’s a superstition a lot of hockey guys do in a lot of leagues.”

While it might be common practice, it’s still pretty novel around here, where the Bombers — who open their ECHL championship series with the Idaho Steelheads on Wednesday in Boise — are playing in the postseason for the first time in five years.

And one of the big reasons for that is Labenski. At 29, he’s the Bombers’ oldest player and their most traveled. He’s the team captain and, in coach Don MacAdam’s words, “our best defenseman.” He has championship experience — his Kalamazoo (Mich.) Wings won the United Hockey League title last year — and best of all, he became a talent magnet this season.

“When we signed him last summer, he gave us instant credibility,” MacAdam said. “Signing a player of his caliber told other guys good things were happening in Dayton. That helped us add other players.”

In truth, Labenski coming back to Dayton — he played here six seasons ago — had as much to do with Cupid as it did the coach.

He met Wright State student Joyce DeDiemar when he played here in 2001, and though they fell in love, their romance remained mostly long distance as his hockey took him to Lafayette, La., Houston, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kalamazoo.

“A lot of people said, ‘You’re crazy to do a long-distance deal,’ ” Labenski said. “And I’m sure people told Joyce, ‘You met a professional athlete; you can’t trust them.’ But we went into this slow — she has a good job here; I had my career — we committed ourselves to each other, and there was trust.”They’d talk regularly by phone. Joyce would drive to games she could catch on weekends, and in the offseason, when he didn’t have commitments back home in Canada, Greg was here.

Marriage changed all that.

“This year has been so good for so many reasons,” said Joyce, who admitted she’s even gotten used to the beard. “At first it was pretty scratchy, but it doesn’t bother me now.”

Besides, she knows as hockey superstitions go, it could be worse.

“I had a roommate once who used to keep his hockey stick in the bathroom, right next to the toilet,” Greg said with a laugh. “He said he was treating that stick bad so when he took it out on the ice, it’d do good things for him. It’d produce some goals, anything so it wouldn’t have to go back in there next to the toilet.”