Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Press Release

NEWARK, NJ – Steeped in tradition, a campus flush with the perfect blend of historic structures and modern design, a long, proud athletic tradition and a top-10 hockey program, the University of Notre Dame is the dream school for many a player across the United States. For New Jersey Rocket forward Kevin Labanc (’95 birth year – Staten Island, NY), that dream has now become a reality. This past weekend, the Staten Island native completed a whirlwind stretch of time that began with a selection for the inaugural MJHL Prospects game, by committing to the Fighting Irish and Head Coach Jeff Jackson for the 2014 season.

“This whole process happened very quickly,” commented Labanc. “There were about six or seven schools that I knew were interested, but Notre Dame showed interest after Festivals and after sitting down with everyone, once Notre Dame offered, I had to accept. It’s the perfect mix of academics and athletics and it just felt like the perfect place for me to continue my playing career. You can’t say no to Notre Dame”

Labanc, who has quickly shot up the national rankings over the spring and summer months, is hoping to use Notre Dame as a springboard to the NHL. “Notre Dame has a great history of sending players on to the pro ranks,” commented New Jersey Rockets Head Coach and Director of Player Development Bob Thornton. “Kevin received offers from some of the top programs in the country. Coach Jackson and Notre Dame will provide Kevin with the perfect place to develop and grow, as a young man and as a player.”

Labanc, who picked up 46 points (13G 33A) in the regular season, knows that his best hockey is still ahead and that he cannot rest on his accomplishments. “There are definitely parts of my game that need improvement,” offered Labanc. “I need to continue to develop my shot, as early in my career I was more of a pass first player, and I need to continue to get stronger; as the competition gets older and tougher, I need to be able to physically compete not just use my skating skills.”

Many times, in the world of Junior Hockey, players who have already committed to the next phase of their playing careers, sit back and coast or become complacent. Not the excitable Labanc. “Kevin is the first one on the ice and the last one off the ice,” offered Thornton. “He is the hardest worker in the program. His dedication to physical training with Coaches (Doug) Holewa Tand (Tony) Samms has been phenomenal. They ask…he does. They push and challenge Kevin and he meets them without fail. He is a very special player – very mature for being a late ’95 player, which I think is part of the attraction of Kevin as a prospect.”

This coming season, with the prospect of joining the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL (who selected Labanc this past spring) looming, Kevin is only focused on playing Junior A hockey. “Before last season, I didn’t think any of this was possible,” commented Labanc. “The coaching staff has worked so hard to develop me that I have to pay them back by being the best player I can be.” Knowing the challenge to continue pushing himself, Labanc already has a plan in place for the 2011-2012 season. “I have to work hard to better read the situations put in front of me,” Labanc said. “For the first time, I am having plays run for me, and I have to make sure I make the correct reads to put my team in a position to succeed. My goal is to average at least a point, point and a half, per game and for me to reach that goal, I have to push myself in practice.”

Managing the locker room is always a difficult task and can be even harder if jealousy rears its ugly head. Many times dissention in the locker room can lead to problems on the ice. There are little, if any, concerns for the upcoming season. “The great part about our organization is that we constantly are moving players,” offered Thornton. “Whether it is from the Junior B to the Junior A level or onto the USHL, or as is the case with Kevin, the collegiate level, kids who play for the Rockets know that their moment may not be right now, but that the entire staff will see to it that the players who commit to the organizational ideals and philosophy, will advance and continue their playing careers. So this year, with many of Kevin’s Junior B teammates now playing Junior A, to them Kevin is one of the boys and that playing with a player of his caliber only makes them better as players and enhances their chances of moving ahead.”

Kevin credits his parents, Milan and Anika, with raising him the right way and according to Thornton, the right upbringing cannot be overlooked or overvalued in this accomplishment. “Kevin’s parents really did a great job with his upbringing,” Thornton said. “Throughout this entire process, Kevin has remained humble and hungry and that is a credit to his entire family.”

With training camp upcoming, Coach Thornton is excited about the upcoming season. “This is going to be a great season for the New Jersey Rockets Juniors Program,” Thornton said. “We congratulate Kevin on his accomplishment and this will be the first of several announcements this season. We wish Kevin nothing but the best as he continues his playing career.”

(Nathan can be reached at fourniern@students.nescom.edu)

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