At first glance it seemed Yvon Labre had a rather unspectacular career for the Washington Capitals.
Take a second look. He was the first Washington player to get his number (#7) retired by the team.
Labre was not a flashy defenseman but was a dedicated athlete who hung in there when Washington survived their inaugural season in 1974-75 by winning only 8 games out of the 80. He worked hard and determined and refused to quit, no matter how one-sided the odds were. In the early years of the Capitals,it often seemed that Yvon was taking on whole teams by himself. He didn't mind dropping the gloves although he didn't win many of his fights.
Yvon came out of the juniors after having played for the Markham Waxers in Jr. B and Toronto Marlboros in the OHA. He was Pittsburgh's 3rd choice, 38th overall in the 1969 Amateur draft.
He was cut from the team in his first training camp and spend his first pro season with the Baltimore Clippers in the AHL. He never quite got a regular spot on the Penguins blueline and only played 21 games for the Pens in 1970-71 and 16 in 1973-74. Between 1971 and 1973 he spent his playing time in the AHL (Hershey Bears).
He didn't become a regular in the NHL until Washington claimed him from Pittsburgh in the expansion draft on June 12, 1974. Yvon saw a lot of ice time and was one of Washington's few bright spots during that 1974-75 season.
"I was happy," he said "It was a chance to play regularly. But they were tough times. They were very tough. I always thought we could have won more games. But there is a snowball effect to winning and the same thing happens when you're losing. I always felt that the team itself could have played a lot better. But we didn't.
He played one more full season before injuries started to hamper him. Virtually every training camp that he went to from that moment on was an uphill battle thanks to the many injuries. Each year he would insist he would make it, and each year he would.
It was during Washington's 500th game on November 22, 1980 that team owner Abe Pollin surprised Yvon (who was on the injured list), by presenting him with his # 7 jersey and announcing that no other Capital would ever wear it again
Sadly enough Yvon's career ended prematurely when he took a devastating check from Buffalo's Steve Patrick on February 14, 1981
" I felt something go right then and ever since I've had nothing but soreness and weakness around the joint. After the 80-81 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. In my head I would have loved to go to training camp again. But physically I wasn't ready. I would have had to fool myself, before I was fooling everybody else when I was injured," Yvon said.
At almost 32 Yvon wasn't ready to sit out a whole year to eventually come back. Yvon surrendered to the odds and joined his jersey in retirement - a great honor for any professional athlete.
”There were a lot of good memories, but my best one has to be the retiring of my jersey by surprise. I had no idea it was being done," he said.
"Not in a million years would I have thought that could happen, yet it was happening to me. I don't fit into the category with Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito and those guys. No way. But here it was, happening to me. But I will always, always have a special place in my heart for the Washington Capitals and Abe Pollin."