JASON LaBARBERA FOR MVP
Jason LaBarbera for AHL MVP.
The odd goaltender out at training camp this season, LaBarbera was sent down to the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings American Hockey League affiliate at the onset of the season.
"You don't want to be that guy who is moping around and being a bad- attitude type of guy," LaBarbera said. "I just had a positive attitude and tried to work on my game. The easiest thing you can do is mope around.
"I just took the opposite and ran with it."
Run with it he did.
LaBarbera was named a First-Team AHL All Star after leading the AHL in games played (60), minutes (3,502), saves (1,802), shots faced (1,931) wins (37), shutouts (seven) and save percentage (.933), while his goals-against-average of 2.21 is ranked second in the league, sparking AHL MVP talk.
A lot of AHL MVP talk.
In fact, the Monarchs are holding an MVP Rally and having their fans sign a petition to show their support of "LaBarbera For MVP." Click here to be a part of it.
"It is pretty flattering for sure," LaBarbera said about the attention. "I don't even know what to say. Obviously, you don't expect anything like that and for them to put that much time and effort in doing something for me.
"They have worked really hard at it and I appreciate everything they have done. The Manchester organization is incredible, one of the best in the American Hockey League."
The team is distributing MVP 35 t-shirts and even granting free admission to anyone who gets their hair cut like LaBarbera.
By the way, LaBarbera currently sports a Mohawk. "I just kind of tried it and I liked it and I just kind of stuck with it," he said of his hairstyle. "I have seen some kids with it, I am sure there parents were not too excited about it, but it is all pretty flattering. It is an honor to have people want to be involved in this."
The honors have been piling up for the All-Star goaltender, who has set franchise records for the Monarchs in appearances, minutes, wins, losses and saves in the season, as well as saves in a game (59 against Hartford on Jan. 5, 2007).
No doubt an impressive resume as LaBarbera looks to join just a handful of repeat winners of the Les Cunningham Award, which is annually presented to the AHL's Most Valuable Player.
LaBarbera also won the award in 2003-04 after posting a 34-9-9 mark with a .936 SV% and a 1.59 GAA, setting an AHL record with 13 shutouts while playing for the Hartford Wolf Pack, an affiliate of the New York Rangers.
LaBarbera's head turning statistics did exactly that to New York management as the 6-foot-3, 230-pound native of Burnaby, British Columbia earned his first NHL win with Mark Messier and the Rangers that year.
Following the lockout, LaBarbera signed with the Kings and earned a roster spot in Los Angeles, seeing his first significant NHL action in 2005-06.
"I was pretty lucky to get a chance to play with Messier and Robitaille," he said. "Guys like that don't come around too often. You have to cherish those moments. You watch them and kind of see what they are doing, because obviously they know what they are doing, they made Hall of Fame careers."
LaBarbera was the first to admit that his '05-06 campaign was 'up and down' as the netminder posted an 11-9-2 mark with a 2.89 GAA and a .900 SV%.
With the Kings off season signing of veteran goaltender Dan Cloutier and the return of Mathieu Garon, LaBarbera was the odd man out at training camp this year and thanks to an NHL rule, he could not be recalled without passing through waivers, where he most likely would have been claimed by another team.
But he made the most of it and now he has the Monarchs in the Calder Cup playoffs with home ice at least through the first round.
"I am thinking about dying my hair purple for the playoffs," he said. "I am game for whatever."
That he is.