It may be hard to imagine now, but there was an extended period in the early 2010’s when Tampa Bay Lightning did not have much success on the ice. After an astonishing run in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, the team slipped sharply as they struggled to make the same list of over-achieving experienced players at the same rate. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, they missed the playoffs, resulting in many big trades that helped shape the future of the franchise.
Despite this struggle, the Lightnings were reassured by the Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch, allies of the American Hockey League (AHL). First, the 2011-12 Admirals set a professional ice hockey record by winning 28 games in a row before winning the 2011 Calder Cup.
After that success, Lightning took them to the AHL approved Syracuse and continued to win. Although they did not capture the back-to-back calder cups, they did make it Returning to the 2013 finals, the eventual champion Grand Rapids pushed Griffin to Game 6.
Among these influential teams, Stanley built a center of young players for Lightning to create a cup-winning champion, with names such as Alex Kilorn, Andrej Pallet, Tyler Johnson and even head coach John Cooper and current general manager Julian Brisbois important. Part of their success.
However, not every player went on to be a star. It’s hard to jump from the AHL to the NHL, and it’s common for a great minor-league player not to find the time to match the big club.
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One such player was Pierre-Cedric Labrie, whose huge personality, big hair and big hits were impossible to ignore on ice. If you follow Lightning at the time, Labry was often in the discussion about being one of the potential origins of moving forward, because he brought the necessary shapes and solid elements like nails to the franchise.
Labrie works his way around the hockey world
Although he has seen only limited action with Lightning, Labry started in 46 games from 2011 to 2014. At that point he made his presence felt with 100 hits and five points in 65 penalty minutes.
At AHL, however, Labry was a well-known danger, as he posted at least 100 penalty minutes in three of his four seasons with the Admiral / Crunch. He created solid scoring numbers with 35 regular-season points in 56 games and nine points in 18 playoff games with the final Calder Cup champions in 2011-12.
Although he was unable to make a role with Lightning, these numbers show that Labrador still had a lot of life in his hockey career. He played for five more AHL teams over the next five years and played two seasons in Germany with Icebaren Berlin before returning to North America in the 2021-22 season with Hartford Wolf Pack. He played 21 games with Hartford before closing the circle and signing a two-year deal with Crunch.
Labry’s return to Lightning is a positive for the franchise
Historically, Labry’s departure from the franchise was significant because it represented a change in Tampa Bay culture. They moved from a marginal playoff team to a competitor who could not afford to have a player on their roster who was simply good, but not good enough.
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At 35, it is unlikely that Labry will return to the NHL with a loaded Lightning franchise looking to win its third straight Stanley Cup. However, his return to Crunch still makes sense, as he can bring a much needed experienced presence to an AHL team that is full of young talent that can help a player learn the ups and downs of the league through his experience.
Also, there’s something funny about seeing Nacho return to Labrie (as fans affectionately call him) almost a decade after he left the franchise. So, even if his NHL playing time was short, every Lightning fan of that era would remember watching Nacho Labry fly around the ice.
Eugene Hellfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who originally came from Tampa Bay. He has written about Lightning for six years, covering everything from their race to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, their first-round upset in 2019, their release from the bubble in 2020. Although he is happy to talk about it, from cow to car to video games, hockey has always been one of his favorite pastimes.