Pierre-Cedric Labrie has a story to tell.
Labrie, 31, is a forward with NHL experience and one of top offseason signings for the Wichita Thunder, who play the Tulsa Oilers in an exhibition game at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Wichita Ice Center.
But this story has nothing to do with what he’s accomplished on a rink.
This is a story about how the compassion of an opponent helped Labrie arrive just in time to witness the birth of his child, Lionel.
“I’m sure (Lionel) is going to love the story when he grows up,” Labrie said. “I’m going to have to thank him for waiting for me.”
‘I know a guy’
On the night of December 30, 2017, Labrie, then a left winger for the Milwaukee Admirals, arrived in the midst of a snowstorm in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a game the next day.
On the bus ride there, his pregnant girlfriend, Jana Pieuze-Roy, texted him that she was having cramps. Labrie wanted to stop the bus and find a ride back to Milwaukee, but Pieuze-Roy told him not to worry — she didn’t think the baby was coming yet.
Not long after Labrie fell asleep that night in his hotel room, he woke up to his cell phone ringing. It was his girlfriend. Her water had broke. The baby was on the way.
Panicked, Labrie called rent-a-car company after rent-a-car company. They were either closed or reserved for New Year’s Eve parties. He tried to order a driver from Uber and Lyft, but no one wanted to make a 10-hour round-trip drive in a snowstorm.
He was desperate now. He woke up teammate Mark Zengerle, who had played two years for Grand Rapids, and asked if he knew anyone on the other team who might let him borrow a car to drive to Milwaukee.
“I know a guy,” Zengerle told Labrie.
‘Off the ice, we’re humans’
Tom McCollum, a goaltender for the Grand Rapids Griffins, was on a bus ride home from Cleveland when his phone lit up with a text from Zengerle, his former teammate.
“It was kind of funny the way he said it,” McCollum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time. “He was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a question. It’s totally cool if you say no,’ and just kind of explained the situation of what happened.”
McCollum and Labrie had never spoken before. They had never been teammates. In fact, the only thing that linked them was a brushup in 2015 when Labrie threw a punch at McCollum’s goalie mask during a fight. Labrie didn’t even remember it before asking McCollum.
“Oh God, that is so embarrassing,” Labrie said. “If I had remembered that was him, I probably wouldn’t have called him at that time of night.”
It didn’t matter. Less than 15 minutes later, McCollum’s girlfriend was dropping off his Ford F-150 for Labrie.
“That just shows you the type of guys hockey players are,” Labrie said. “Every night we go out there and we hate each other on the ice, but off the ice, we’re humans. I was blessed.”
‘The best feeling I’ve ever had’
Labrie left a little before 1 a.m. and it was a good thing he had a truck because the snowstorm made the roads barely visible.
Through it all, Labrie said he was never nervous or anxious.
“I was just excited,” Labrie said. “I wanted to see the baby.”
After making the trek around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Labrie rushed into the Milwaukee hospital at 6:15 a.m.
At 6:54 a.m. on December 31, Lionel Labrie was born weighing in at 5 pounds, 15 ounces.
“It was the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Labrie said. “I would have never wanted to miss that. I knew from talking to other players who had become fathers that this was something you could never pass up. Everyone told me it was this incredible feeling seeing a baby born, but I didn’t fully realize it until it happened.
“If I would have missed it, it would have been a terrible mistake.”
Funny enough, McCollum’s team traveled to Milwaukee less than a week later and McCollum was able to drive his truck home. Labrie had filled the gas tank, given the truck a wash, bought McCollum’s girlfriend a bottle of wine and even later sent McCollum a signed jersey from Patrick Roy, a goaltending legend who happens to be Labrie’s girlfriend’s father.
Lionel is nearing his first birthday now. He’s beginning to teeth and is getting closer to walking every day.
Almost a year later, Labrie is thankful for McCollum’s compassion that allowed him to be there with Lionel from the start.
“Lionel is doing great, the mom is doing great, we’re all so happy to now be in Wichita,” Labrie said. “I’ll never be able to thank Tom enough. He really is a guy I’ll never forget.”