By Jim Hagerty
MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Admirals forward P.C. Labrie knew he was going to become a father by 2018.
What he did not expect is what he’d have to go through to be there when his son was born.
The snowy start to the life of Lionel Labrie began Saturday, Dec. 30, when the Admirals boarded a bus to Grand Rapids to take on the Griffins. Labrie’s phone was on; girlfriend Jana Pieuze-Roy could have gone into labor at any moment.
“She texted me. In the bus. Half way,” Labrie told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But, it wasn’t labor. Only cramps, the 12-year pro said. That didn’t stop him from offering to make a frosty beeline back to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena by whatever means necessary. Assured their son was not arriving without his dad present, Labrie proceeded to Grand Rapids with the team.
His assurance would be short lived though. At 2 a.m., he got the call. It was the real thing. Jana’s water broke.
The quickest way to the general Milwaukee vicinity was a 6:30 a.m. flight to Chicago, leaving a nearly two-hour drive to the rink. Time and the odds of arranging a car were not on Labrie’s side. There was a snowstorm. No taxis were running, and private chauffeurs were already booked for New Year’s Eve.
So, Labrie did what any hockey player in that situation would do. He reached out to another hockey player.
The player was Ads’ forward Mark Zengerle, who was asleep in his hotel room when Labrie presented him with an unusual, but not unreasonable under the cirumstances request.
“I was like, ‘Zenger, you played in GR (Grand Rapids) a couple years ago,'” Labrie said. “‘Do you know anybody that would let me borrow a car?'”
Enter Griffins goaltender Tom McCollum, who happened to be watching a movie on the Grand Rapids bus when his former teammate texted him about Labrie’s predicament. As it turned out, McCollum was glad to lend P.C. his Ford F-150. The bus, however, was still about two hours from Grand Rapids, which meant McCollum couldn’t be there make that happen.
But, because McCollum lives nearly across the street from the Admirals’ hotel, and his girlfriend was home, the arrangements nearly made themselves. Another twist: the Griffins were headed to Milwaukee three days later.
Labrie was on the road by 3 a.m., and arrived at the hospital by 6:15, just in time for delivery. That’s not bad time for a 4-wheel drive pickup in near whiteout conditions.
“I was there for only 40 minutes, the last, final pushes,” he said.
McCollum, 28, had never met Labrie but played against him when P.C. was a fan favorite in Rockford. That changed Wednesday, Jan. 3, when the Griffins beat the Admirals, 4-2. After the two chatted, Labrie tossed McCollum his keys, and the goalie followed the Griffins’ bus back to Grand Rapids.
Labrie offered to pay McCollum for use of his truck, but McCullum refused. He accepted the full tank of gas Labrie left him, and was even more gracious that Labrie had the vehicle washed.
“That’s all I need honestly,” he said. “I was happy to be able to facilitate the situation. I was more than thrilled when he texted me that he made it in time.”
Baby Lionel weighed 5 pounds, 15 ounces.
Labrie, 31, made his professional hockey debut in 2007 with the Manitoba Moose. He skated in his first NHL game in 2012 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He skated in 46 games for the Lightning from 2011 to 2014 before signing with the Chicago Blackhawks and spending three seasons with the Rockford IceHogs. R.