The focus hasn’t changed in more than a decade. Joseph LaBate’s primary goal is to play full-time in the National Hockey League.
But if he’s never on NHL ice again, he can make a living in the American Hockey League, hopefully win a title, then stay in the game, take advantage of his degree from the University of Wisconsin – he’s just a French class away – or continues to expand its real estate portfolio. Maybe all of these things.
Whatever happens, he’ll be fine.
That’s the only reason he’s not here.
After six full seasons in the AHL, the 28-year-old, 6-foot-4 striker landed with the Milwaukee Admirals for the season starting Saturday at 6 p.m. against the Grand Rapids Griffins in the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
“I think that’s why you see a guy like him changing teams or moving to a different organization for another chance,” said Admirals coach Karl Taylor. “If you look at the track record here in Milwaukee … there was Colin Blackwell, Jared Tinordi, Freddy (Gaudreau). All of these guys that came got second chances elsewhere, and now they’re full-time NHLers again.
“During my time here, we converted three or four AHL contracts into NHL contracts. That’s very rare. I think people in his situation see that and think, hey, they’re rewarding merit there, it’s not just words, so I’ll get this opportunity. ”
Joseph LaBate played in Wisconsin before embarking on a professional hockey career
LaBate (pronounced lah-BAHT) took part in 2011 as a senior at the Academy of Holy Angels in a suburb of Minneapolis in the NHL Scouting Combine, was drafted in the fourth round from Vancouver and then continued his college engagement at the age of four in Wisconsin away.
“At that age, I wanted to play professional ice hockey and the draft was just a stepping stone to that process,” said LaBate, who scored 83 points in 150 games in Wisconsin with 31 goals and 52 assists.
“It’s a long process and I’ve been through a lot.”
Exactly what LaBate didn’t envision – because who would be doing that as a high school student? – Three seasons were in Utica, New York, and three in Belleville, Ontario. In 296 AHL games he has 99 points (47 goals, 52 assists) and 471 penalty minutes.
His three NHL stays at Vancouver in 2016/17 amounted to a total of 13 games without goals and without templates.
“Life is unpredictable and you just go along with it,” said LaBate. “I’ve had a few injuries in my career that I’ve had to deal with, but I’ve gotten stronger and stronger.
“When I picture my career, I’m not sure if I ever thought I’d play in these cool cities and stuff, but it’s very special. I’ve seen a lot of really cool places in my professional career, met a lot of really special people, so I’m really proud of it and very excited to be here. ”
LaBate brings his hardworking style to the Milwaukee Admirals
Which brings him to Milwaukee, a working-class town with a hard-working team that won the 2020 regular season title when COVID-19 caused the league to end the game prematurely.
(As an aside, it’s also only five hours from home, the value of which was driven home last season when LaBate was essentially trapped on the north side of the U.S.-Canada border.)
“I play with an aggressive style but I think I play a 200-foot game,” he said when asked to describe his game. “I do all the little things – I try – and I try to be as consistent as possible. I am very proud of that.
“I think I’ll bring some leadership to this leadership group. This hard-working style that you have here just goes very well with my game. ”
When asked the same question, Taylor LaBate paid the ultimate compliment: “He’s maybe the hardest-working guy I’ve ever seen.
“Very aggressive. Plays right. But he doesn’t manage his energy. Everything is laid out there and when it is used up he will take care of it. He only has one speed. It’s fun to watch.”
Coincidentally, LaBate will play his home games in the same arena where he first attended an AHL game.
UW teammate Brendan Woods dropped out of school after her sophomore season to finish the year with the Charlotte Checkers, and his second game came against the Admirals in Milwaukee with a few other Badgers on the courts. The two remain good friends and LaBate expects the retired Woods to attend some of his games at the arena.
Ten years after his draft, LaBate still knows the odds he’ll face in the NHL, but he also knows they can’t play a role. Effort leads to success, success brings attention and attention brings opportunities. A chance is what he wants.
“It’s within reach,” said LaBate. “It’s up to me, until the timing, until the right game.
“You just accept the process. I love challenges, I love difficulties. It’s kind of my personality. I love to work hard. If you’re not in the NHL, make the most of it. … I just think about everyday life and do my best every day. ”