By Adam Kimelman
The Times Of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – Like the saying goes, John Laliberte could have gone anywhere; he chose to go to the Titans.
And so far, it has looked like the right decision.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound rookie winger leads the team with 10 goals and is second with 18 points, numbers that put him second among first-year ECHL players in goals and third in points.
“When I came down here, I was looking to get a lot of ice time and so far they’ve given me that opportunity,” said Laliberte. “The team has been winning so it’s been easy to contribute.”
And his contributions are a major part of why the Titans are tied for first place in the North Division.
Titans coach Rick Kowalsky said what stands out to him about Laliberte is the rookie’s size and strength.
“What I like about him is the way he protects the puck, how strong he is in 1-on-1 battles. The kid is beyond his years and beyond the ECHL level as far as strength. Especially with the new rules, once he gets the puck, he uses his body and he shields the puck and he’s very strong with his stick. And when he sees a hole he can take it to the net. He can shoot off the rush, he makes plays.
“Yeah, he can shoot the puck, but I like his strength in battles and in traffic.”
That strength was developed over four years at Boston University, where he scored 23 goals in 73 games his last two years. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2002 draft by Vancouver prior to starting with the Terriers, he never signed with the Canucks and was a free agent this summer.
He attended training camp with the Colorado Avalanche, something the Saco, Maine native termed the experience of a hockey lifetime.
“It was huge,” he said. “Just playing with guys like (Avalanche captain Joe) Sakic, watching how they go about being professional hockey players. I learned a lot in those few weeks I was there, watching them prepare for games, prepare for practices. It gives you a good idea what it takes to succeed as a pro. You just learn so much from keeping your mouth shut, sit ting in the corner of the locker room and watching those guys.”
His biggest moment came when he scored against the Los Angeles Kings in a preseason game.
From Denver he was sent to Albany, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. But the contract offer he got from Albany was less than appealing, which led him to the Titans.
“I weighed my options and figured this would be the place to come,” he said. “I’m hoping to eventually move up to the AHL, whether it’s this year or next year.”
If Laliberte keeps playing at his current pace, that timetable could speed up.
“There have been some inquiries about the kid, some phone calls,” said Kowalsky. “I do think it’s a matter of time before he does get a look somewhere in the American League. For now, if he keeps doing what he’s doing, it’ll be sooner rather than later.”