May 14, 2015

Leo Labine

Leo Labine, naturally nicknamed "The Lion," was a ferocious competitor on the ice in the 1950s and early 1960s.

How tough? Old time hockey scribe Dick Beddoes included him on his all-time Mean Team, along with the likes of Ted Lindsay, Eddie Shore and Sprague Cleghorn. Beddoes called Labine "tougher than a church steak."

Labine hailed from Haileybury, Ontario and was a spectacular junior scorer in Barrie, leading the Flyers to the Memorial Cup championship in 1951.

Labine joined the Boston Bruins on a full time basis in 1952 and emerged as a pest and penalty killer extraordinaire. He also contributed offensively decently, maxing out at 24 goals in 1954-55. Otherwise he was a regular double digit goal scoring threat.

But it was other traits that would get him to and keep him in the National Hockey League. He was a real physical player, skating around as an unrelenting agitator. He loved to trash talk and use his stick to hit other things than the puck. He was a natural fit with the always dastardly Boston Bruins, where he was, of course, a fan favorite. His battles with Rocket Richard, especially in the 1952 playoffs, were legendary.

Labine was still a newcomer, more or less, in the playoffs in 1952, but he quickly introduced himself to Richard. It was Labine who knocked Richard out with a viscous hit only to have the bloodied and groggy Rocket return late in the game to score the winning goal against Boston goaler Sugar Jim Henry. The after-photo of Rocket, who always claimed not to remember the moment due to getting his bell rung, and a respectful Henry is one of the most famous photos in hockey history. But that story all started courtesy of Labine's attack.

Labine was also noted for his presence in the dressing room and off the ice, always lightening the mood with an endless bag of jokes and pranks.

Labine wound down his career with a season and a half in Detroit before heading west to play in the sunshine of Los Angeles with the WHL Blades.

Labine returned home to Ontario after his hockey days were done, and was a noted amateur baseball star.  Labine passed away from liver cancer in 2005

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