Saturday: After making his NHL debut on Thursday where he played just 2:11, Laberge has been returned to Utica.
Laberge is at Devils practice this morning and could very well make his NHL debut with the club in the coming days, perhaps even in tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Should Laberge get the chance to make his NHL debut, it would be a wonderful moment for a player who has been through so much on his path to such an opportunity.
Laberge’s pro hockey journey began in traditional fashion: after three seasons as a top-six power forward in the QMJHL with the Rimouski Océanic, including a campaign spent as their captain, Laberge signed an AHL deal with the Texas Stars.
A power forward capable of chipping in solid offensive numbers in junior, Laberge became more of a fourth-line grinder at the AHL level, and didn’t see his name on the scoresheet often. As a result, his standing and role in Texas slowly eroded as the team opted to give bigger opportunities to other players. He also suffered an injury that cost him valuable momentum and a full two months of his second campaign with the Stars.
After scoring just seven points in 2018-19, Laberge’s time in Texas ended. He had planned on heading to Manitoba on a professional tryout agreement with the Winnipeg Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Moose. But his plans had to grind to a halt, as his father had been diagnosed with cancer.
Laberge made the decision to pause the chase of his NHL dream and opted to stay closer to home rather than continue in camp with the Moose. Laberge later explained the decision to Devils team reporter Amanda Stein saying, “I wanted to spend the time with my father,” which led Laberge to forgo AHL opportunities. Laberge “wasn’t sure if [he] still wanted to play hockey,” but opted to remain in the game by playing in the semi-pro LNAH alongside taking on work in construction.
In 2020, Laberge re-joined the ranks of professional hockey, returning to the state of Texas to join the ECHL’s Allen Americans. He began to excel there, finishing with 17 goals and 42 points in 55 combined regular season and postseason games. Laberge then signed with the Devils’ ECHL affiliate, the Adirondack Thunder, for the 2021-22 campaign but quickly played his way back into the AHL by scoring 10 points in 12 ECHL games.
Laberge spent most of 2021-22 with the Utica Comets and last season spent the entire year in Utica, avoiding a single reassignment to the ECHL. So far this season, Laberge has scored three points in eight games for the Comets. He’s not a scoring forward like he was in junior, but the six-foot-two grinder can rack up hits, penalty minutes, and plays with a lot of energy.
Should he end up making his NHL debut, Laberge will likely do so in a limited fourth-line role. But just making it to this point, a point where he has an NHL contract in hand and is now on an NHL roster for the first time, is a remarkable achievement for a hard-working player who just a few years ago was playing semi-pro hockey and had one foot outside of the game.