If you have a young up-and-coming star goalie on your team what a lot of teams like to do is have a veteran goalie as the no. 2 behind the starter. The theory is simple. The veteran has experience of nearly every situation possible along with having the mental toughness to take over the net no matter the situation if the starter needs a break. Not only that you want a mentor who can show both on and off the ice how to be the best goalie you can be. What else do you want in the perfect mentor? You want someone who is professional enough that they can take the back seat and recognize their role on the team.
Finding a goalie with all those attributes can be difficult. Athletes are naturally competitive. Goalies are especially competitive because only one goalie can start a game and the majority of the time the starting goalie stays in net the whole game. So it’s difficult to find a goalie that has the talent to be a starter, is professional enough to accept the back-up position, has experience in many situations and has mentorship abilities. In the world of women’s hockey there is no goalie who can do it all like Charline Labonte.
If there’s one thing coaches particularly want out of a goalie is trustworthiness. Coaches want a goalie they can trust and over the years there’s been no goalie that Hockey Canada has been able to trust more then Charline Labonte. Just take a look at Labonte’s resume; she’s been a part of Hockey Canada for over a decade now as Labonte’s first appearance on the international stage was the 2005 IIHF Women’s World Championship.
It’s hard to imagine where a goalie can end up in five or more years. In women’s hockey it can even be more difficult as a player’s career can end early due to lack of opportunity outside of the international events. Labonte though ended up in nearly the perfect situation with being able to learn from one of the best in Kim St. Pierre. If you want to learn about being mentally tough while dealing with eight consecutive penalty kills and not losing your mind with the referee then you definitely want to learn from Kim St. Pierre.
While Charline Labonte learned to not only be a mentor she also showed her prowess as a starting goalie. In her first Olympics Labonte was the starting goalie and won the2006 Gold Medal in Torino. Later in the 2009 World Championship Labonte was named the Top Goaltender of the Tournament. It would take until 2016 for a Canadian goalie to be named Top Goalie again. In fact, until 2014 Kim St. Pierre was the only Canadian goalie with three Gold Medals at the Olympics. Labonte tied that record in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics.
Labonte’s play hasn’t fell off at all recently. For the past two seasons in the CWHL she’s been the undisputed starter for Les Canadiennes the past two seasons. Labonte has also been the winner of the Goaltender of the Year award for the past two seasons in the CWHL. It’s a big deal because her competition is fierce with goalies such as Delayne Brian and Geneviève Lacasse still in the league providing a challenge for Labonte. To shore up her resume these past seasons Labonte has also played twice in the Clarkson Cup Final. Hasn’t won the Clarkson Cup yet but you have to feel as though she’ll win it at some point (4th time the charm?).
While Labonte makes a big impressive off-ice, Labonte brings a big game on-ice. While Labonte is 5’ 9” she plays as though she’s Ben Bishop-sized. Szabados and Schelling are the same size as Labonte yet Labonte seems larger. Why? Because Labonte plays a more aggressive style of play. Not as aggressive as Maschmeyer but Labonte has no problems making a stand on top of her crease to take away nearly the whole net.
Labonte has the hockey IQ to know what the shooter and the puck is looking at when she’s at the top of her crease. This allows Labonte to play more of a positional game. Labonte doesn’t have to perform amazing feats of athletic ability because she knows wear the puck is going and doesn’t require a lot of energy to make those saves. It’s a very calm style of play that you develop as you gain more experience and we know that Labonte has her fair share of experience. Something else to look for when watching Labonte play is when she goes into the butterfly she has one of the widest butterfly’s I’ve seen. You have to be very selective with your shots in order to beat her.
Labonte isn’t the best goalie in the world. Yet she’s possibly the most unique goalie still playing. She’s a fantastic person and athlete. Coaches and fans alike love what Labonte brings to the game. Whether Labonte is on the bench or on the ice you can expect Labonte to have an impact. Whenever Charline Labonte decides to retire (and believe me I hope that day doesn’t come soon), expect Labonte to take up a coaching position within the hockey world and help goalies reach their highest potential.