Big and getting bigger. Fast and getting faster. Strong and getting stronger.
It was quite the season for Vancouver Canucks prospect Joseph Labate and his University of Wisconsin Badgers. After starting the season slow, Labate and his team turned it on in the second half, winning the WCHA Tournament and booking a ticket into the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously we started out pretty slow and had a rough start,” said Labate. “Then we pulled together as a team and really turned our season around. I thought we got hot at the right time and went into the playoffs playing our best hockey. We played really well, got some good bounces and were lucky enough to win the WCHA tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament.”
The NCAA Tournament didn’t go the way Labate and the Badgers had hoped after getting eliminated in the opener 6-1 to Massachusetts-Lowell. Some would say the Badgers were lucky making it as far as they did considering they started out with just one win in their first 10 games of the season, but Labate said he and his teammates knew they had a good team, it just took a little while to get rolling. Once they got rolling, they were nearly unstoppable, losing just six times in the final 32 games.
“Coming in we all knew we had a really good team, but at the beginning of the year things weren’t going right, weren’t clicking, but the coaching staff and the core leadership guys stuck with the team and we all believed we had a good team and just stuck with it and I think that showed at the end of the year.”
As for Labate himself, his season mirrored that of his team. He was slow out of the gates, grabbing just two assists in his first 12 games before catching on fire with 21 points in his final 29 games.
“I think my season followed in the same path as the teams. Things weren’t going right at the beginning of the year, it just wasn’t working out, wasn’t clicking, and in the middle of the season I sat down and talked to my coaches and my family and tried to start fresh and forget about the beginning of the season and I think I did that.
“I finished with more goals then I did last year, more points than I did last year and I was pretty proud that I was able to turn my season around like I did.”
Not only did Labate grow as a player this past season, he also grew as a person, in more ways than one.
“I learned a lot about myself this season, not only as hockey player but as a person as well by going through that tough time at the beginning of the year,” said Labate. “I also grew an inch this past season, so now I am close to being 6-foot-5.”
Labate was already big when the Canucks drafted him in the fourth round (101st overall) in 2011, problem is, he hasn’t stopped growing, something he hopes will happen soon so he can focus on filling out and getting stronger.
“I want to stop growing so I can start having my body mature and hopefully it’s starting to slow down now.”
Labate says the growth spurt this past season didn’t affect him that much, not like the spurt he had in high school when he went from 5-foot-11 to a towering 6-foot-3 between his freshman and sophomore years.
After the school year is over, Labate doesn’t plan to take much time off before getting right back into training and hitting the books. He is applying for business school in the summer, with a goal to major in personal finance.
“I get to go home for about a month; I will train at home and spend time with my family in Minnesota and then head back to Madison in the summer, train there, take a couple classes and get a couple extra credits done. Just focus on training, school, my diet and putting some weight on.”
Labate knows how important this off-season is for his development as he heads into his junior year with the Badgers.
“Over the summer I am going to put on some much needed muscle and mass and I am going to come out of the gates next season faster and stronger. This summer is going to be a big turning point in my career as I finally started to stop growing and I think I am ready to start filling out as much as possible.”
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