Behind the Bench with…..Doris Labonte

By Stephen J. Holodinsky
After pursuing it for 23 years, Coach Doris Labonte was finally able to lift the Memorial Cup over his head thanks to a 6-2 victory by his Rimouski Oceanic over the Barrie Colts. Hockey’s Future, having caught up to Coach Labonte in a place without computers, had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the past season, Brad Richards, and the Memorial Cup with him and here is what he had to say:

Hockey’s Future: How are you feeling now that you’ve finally reached the pinnacle of coaching in the Canadian Hockey League by winning the Memorial Cup?

Doris Labonte: It’s really great. It was so big before, huge during, and even bigger afterwards! Personally it’s the reward for working so many years in hockey at various levels. It’s also very important for the franchise, all of our fans, the region and the QMJHL.

HF: Going into Halifax what were the areas you thought you could attack each of the teams in and what were the things you felt you had to stop those teams from doing in order to win?

DL:

Halifax Mooseheads-Stop their powerplay and their first line. Put more pressure on their defense.

Barrie Colts-Remain disciplined at all times and match their intensity

Kootenay ICE-Stop their first line (Svoboda, Blatney), beat their defensive scheme.

HF: Did any of the teams surprise you and force you to alter your gameplan during the tourney and if so how?

DL: The Mooseheads were playing their best hockey and were the most difficult team to beat.

HF: What did you tell the team in the dressing room during the first intermission of the Memorial Cup Final against Barrie? Was there anything you saw in that first period that you thought you might be able to exploit?

DL: The Colts were very strong in the first period totaling 16 shots to our 8. What we had to do first was try to get our game on the ice in the second frame. That the game was scoreless after one was the best news for us.

HF: While all teams try to win every year, at the beginning of the season did you see the Oceanic as a serious threat to the Memorial Cup?

DL: Absolutely not! We thought we had a good team. During the season we saw that we were a better team day to day but we never thought nor talked about the Memorial Cup.

HF: Which team in the QMJHL gave you the most trouble this year and why?

DL: The Sherbrooke Castors beats us 3 times in 4 games. Many other teams were big challenges for us. We weren’t ‘unsinkable’ during the regular season.

HF: A lot has been said about Brad Richards in the past two years. How would you compare him now to what kind of player he was when he first suited up for Rimouski?

DL: He was the same player but he improved across the board skill-wise and his confidence grew. He became a better leader on and off the ice and was more concerned about playing a good two way game.

HF: What are the things he still needs to work on in order to excel in the NHL?

DL: He just needs to keep improving all aspects of his game.

HF: What kind of relationship on the ice did Brad Richards have with Vincent Lecavalier while both were playing for the Oceanic?

DL: They were like fingers on the same hand.

HF: Now that both Vincent and Brad are going to be at the Tampa Bay Lightning training camp this fall, do you think it would be a good idea to put them back together given Richards development as a player in the last couple of years?

DL: Absolutely! They were made to play together. Last year the Lightning were looking for someone to play with their great star, they have that player now.

HF SQUINT TEST: When you look at the following players and squint what NHLers do you see and how are they comparable?

DL:
Brad Richards- Pat Lafontaine: A playmaker and a good scorer.
Juraj Kolnik-Brett Hull: Hard shot, good scorer.
Joe Rullier-Chris Pronger: With effort, he’s going to make it.
Jan_Philippe Cadieux-Zigmund Palffy: So fast and dangerous offensively
Sebastien Caron-Patrick Roy: He models himself after him and is a wall in net.

HF: Who haven’t we heard of on the Oceanic that you think will be known in two years and why?

DL: Thatcher Bell-Can do everything on the ice; Michel Ouellet-Great talent who was under-rated in the NHL Entry Draft; Brent MacLellan-A 6’4″ defenseman with talent and attitude.

HF: How did you get your start in coaching? Was it always something you wanted to do?

DL: It came by itself. In the beginning it was just helping kids in PeeWee.

HF: What is the ‘Doris Labonte’ style of coaching?

DL: Humane-Realistic, but not soft! I let the players move and decide inside the team’s system. “There’s a reason for everything”.

HF: Who do you credit with helping you define that style and why?

DL: Technically and personally I learned a lot from Head Coaches I was involved with: Jacques Gregoire, Gaston Drapeau, and Guy Chouinard.

HF: Which player that you have coached epitomized of that style the most and why?

DL: Certainly Brad Richards. It’s the style he needed the most to get more confidence and develop his great talent.

HF SITUATION HOCKEY: You’re playing the Halifax Mooseheads in a tightly contested 2-2 game. It’s the third period and although the Mooseheads are on the powerplay, Sebastien Caron has stood on his head in turning them away. However, Caron has just been injured, and while it’s nothing serious he does need to be stitched up before he can return to play. You’ve just replaced him and the face-off is in your zone to the right of the goaltender with 58 seconds left in Halifax’s powerplay. Who do you send out there and what do you tell them?

DL: Defense-Joe Rullier and Rene Vydareny; Forwards Brad Richards and Benoit Martin. Don’t lose the draw cleanly, clear (the puck) out quickly but (make sure there are) no giveaways in our own end.

HF: Has the idea of coaching in the NHL ever appealed to you? Is it something you would consider pursuing should it arise?

DL: Not any more. 12 years ago it was my main goal but now at 46 I prefer to stay in my hometown with Rimouski.

HF: Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?

DL: Retired from coaching but maybe advising a team.

HF: When the end of the coaching road finally does come, how would you like people to remember you?

DL: As a good person who did something great for his community.

Hockey’s Future and Stephen J. Holodinsky would like to thank Doris Labonte and the Rimouski Oceanic for taking the time to make this interview possible.


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