When the Wshington Capitals ran the mile on the first day of training camp. defenseman Yvon Labre started slowly, in the past, before eventually completing the assigned task in a satisfactory 5 minutes 29 seconds.
"If you start last, it makes you feel good when you pass somebody," Labre said.
The Capital's captain is an expert on the subject of starting out last. He is the only man who has been with the Capitals all the way, since day one, through that awful 17-game losing streak the first season and that dreadful 25-game winless string the second campaign. Last season, he enjoyed that passing fancy as the Capitals leaped past Detroit and Colorado, and now he is looking forward to some more leapfrog on the ice.
"Every year you look to be in the playoffs." Labre said, "but this year I haven't thought about anything else.We have just a couple of new guys, but the younger guys have another year's experience. If things come together, we'll be in the thick of things.
"I don't even want to think about not being up there. We had enough of that two-three years ago. If things had kept going like that, I think I'd be retiring. Our employers might have thought about giving it up, too."
Capital gains have not been made without struggle and sacrifice. None has given so much of himself to the cause as Labre. Often with little support in the early days, Labre has fought such battlers as Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Eric Vail and Wilf Paiement, backing down only when an opponent had been hit with a penalty and Labre was too wise to visit the box, too.
Many of those fights were losing efforts, the mauling merely adding its contribution to the constant hitting that takes its own toll. It was during the exhibition season three years ago that Labre was blasted by Kansas City's Dutch Deadmarsh, suffering a shoulder separation that kept him out of the Capitals' first two regular-season games.
Labre then played 1974 in a row before a bruised left shoulder sent him to the stands last Nov. 12. Returning nine days later, he suffered a dislocation of that shoulder and sat out five weeks. Like all hockey players, he has received no guarantee that it won't happen again and again.
"The other day I got a big hit on the shoulder and it sounded the way it does when you crack your knuckles." Labre said. "At night I see myself in the mirror and the left shoulder is a little lower where it breaks off. The doctors say if I take a bad whack, it's going to come out. If it happens again, and happens badly. I might have to have an operation.
"But I played the last hall of the season and it didn't happen. And anybody could do it. You don't need a history of problems to get hurt playing hockey."
Labre figures hockey, with all its physical punishment, beats working in the nickel mines of his native Sudbury, Ontario. Still, he hasn't been quick to jump at the Capitals' contract offers and is presently, like Hartland Monahan and Tony White, playing out his option.
"If I really had to. I'd go somewhere else," Labre said. "But I want to play here. I've never made that any secret. I'm confident my agent, (general manager) Max (McNab) and I can come to a good agreement. We're going to negotiate throughout the season."
Despite his tendency to whack opposing players with his stick, Labre is a good-natured guy with a wry sense of humour.
Last week, Labre weighed in at 203 pounds, adjudged eight pounds over his ideal playing weight.Coach Tom McVie sentenced him to "chain gang" duty, shuffling around the upper concourse of Hersheypark Arena after practice.
McVie, who meticulously checked off the laps of his seven victims, also taunted Lare, comparing pot to pregnancy with the question. "Are you looking for two-bedroom house or a three-bedroom house?"
Was Labre upset by the extrs duty and attendant insults?
"No, it was fun," Labre said. "Every time around when I passed Tommy I'd be like the movie 'Rocky,' I'd sing. 'Feeling Stronger.' I don't care. I'll do what I have to do. I don't mind the hard work I ran some this summer, but I didn't put in the two hours a day they wanted. I put out so much in a day duringg the season. I'm tired and you get the wear and tear, that I don't want to feel like that all summer.
"I have to fight to keep my weight under 200. But I must have had lead in my shoes that day. I checked in at 196 the next day and then Tommy came up and said. 'There's a bit of good news for you.' They raised my ideal weight to 198, so I was actually under."
After Bill Clement was traded to Atlanta, McVie named Labre the team captain and has never had reason to regret it.
"He epitomizes what I think the Capitals should be," McVie said. 'He's a hard worker, the team leader by example. He's what the Capitals stand for - new with not a lot of talented players, but willing to work and not feel sorry for ourselves. Every game Yvon tries to win. I'd like to see him around when the Capitals start to be a winning club. He plays like what we're trying to do."