By Lindsay Kramer
There’s having your career stuck in neutral, and then there’s spinning your wheels. Manchester goalie Jason LaBarbera is illustrating the difference.
LaBarbera, 27, is helping the Monarchs run away with the Atlantic Division. A technicality that’s keeping him stuck in the AHL should make him the league’s most bitter player. Instead, his personality could make him its most valuable.
“I think it’s just the way I am as a person. I don’t want to embarrass myself,” said LaBarbera, who played with the Charlotte Checkers in each of his first two seasons. “Hockey’s not fun if you’re not winning. I’m a here-and-now kind of guy.”
Even more so, he’s a productive one. He paces AHL goalies in wins (30) and save percentage (.933), is tied for first in shutouts (six) and is second in goals-against (2.18).
Overall, LaBarbera has played in 232 AHL games with the Monarchs and Hartford, compiling a record of 122-70-20, a GAA of 2.15 and a save-percentage of .927. His 27 AHL career shutouts lead all active goaltenders and is tied for sixth all-time with J.F. Labbe. LaBarbera is one of 14 AHL goalies who have had at least three 30-win seasons.
That total should have stopped at two. LaBarbera is one of a handful of AHL veterans caught in a rule that prevents NHL squads from hiding players at this level. If he were to be recalled by parent club Los Angeles, he could be claimed on waivers by another NHL team and the Kings would be on the hook for half his salary.
Los Angeles hasn’t been willing to take that risk, even though its top two goalies have missed time with injury. So LaBarbera is left to turn in one redundant showing of dominance after another.
“Who wouldn’t be frustrated?” LaBarbera said. “But there are 20 other guys (in Manchester) who want to play in the NHL. Who am I to hinder that? I’m not a selfish guy.’’
That’s the sort of attitude that makes first-year Monarchs coach Mark Morris’ job a lot easier.
“He’s just been real workmanlike. He’s been pestered by a lot of people about his situation, but truthfully he’s been real professional,’’ Morris said. “He’s allowed our team to mature in the early going. His steady play has allowed us to gain a lot of confidence as a team.’’