Yvon Labre joined his jersey in retirement yesterday. The last of the original 1974 Washington Capitals will become an assistant coach with multiple duties on the ice, in the stands and on the luncheon circuit.
The deterioration of Labre's right knee ended a 334-game career as a Washington player for the 31-year-old defenseman from Sudbury, Ontario.
"In my head, I would have loved to go to training camp again," Labre said, "but physically I'm not ready. This time, I would have had to fool myself; before, I was fooling everybody else."
Almost every one of his seven seasons in Washington, Labre would go to camp facing an uphill fight for a spot on the roster. Each year, he would insist he would make it, and each year he would.
"Yvon is an amazing guy," said General Manager Max McNab. "He would always do a better job than you thought he would, whether as a player, as team captain or in public relations. Yvon has enthusiasm, he has a good knowledge of the league and he has a way of getting guys geared up."
On Nov. 22, 1980, on the occasion of the Capitals' 500th game, owner Abe Pollin surprised Labre, who was on the injured list, by presenting him with his No. 7 jersey and announcing that no other Capital would ever wear it. At that time, it seemed unlikely that Labre would wear it again, either.
Labre three times fought his way back into the lineup after that, before a devastating check by Buffalo's Steve Patrick dealt the knee a disabling injury on Feb. 14.
"I felt something go right then and ever since I've had nothing but soreness and weakness around the joint," Labre said. "After the season, the knee was examined and some parts were missing. One ligament had completely disintegrated. To make the knee right, I would have needed major surgery. They would have had to rebuild the whole knee and I would have been out a year.
"I started skating at hockey school a couple of weeks ago and I felt good. But when I started to push it, it hurt again. I knew then there was no way."
Labre will work under Coach Gary Green, serving as a spotter in the press box at home games, supervising the conditioning of injured players while the team is on the road and, after an initial learning period, prescouting the opposition. While the Capitals are in Sweden later this month, Labre will remain at Hershey to assist Roger Crozier, Bryan Murray and Ron Ullyot in drilling the remaining players.
A possible additional duty for Labre could be the television color job. That has yet to be settled, with Jack Lynch, Labre's onetime defensive partner, not expected to return.
Additionally, when it does not interfere with Green's requirements, Labre will be asked to perform public relations duties.