So. | F | Eagan, Minn.
Key Statistics: Making the jump directly from high school hockey to the college game, LaBate seemed to fit right in immediately, recording a goal and assist in his Wisconsin debut last October. He played in all 37 games for the Badgers, and led all freshmen in scoring with 20 points on five goals and 15 assists.
What He Does: It starts with size for LaBate, who stands 6-foot-4 with a long reach that provides him lots of options in the offensive zone. He spent much of his freshman season getting used to the more physical play of college hockey, and learning to use his size in the corners, trapping the puck inside the blue line and feeding his linemates in the slot. When he does get open with the puck, those lengthy arms are put to good use unleashing a renowned slap shot that he hopes to utilize more in the coming season.
The Bigger Picture: Coaches for years have preached that without skating skills, none of the other tools in a player’s hockey toolbox really matter. To that end, with all of the hype about his size and shot, LaBate points first to his long stride and his get-up-and-go speed when asked about his skill set. He partnered on a line with senior-to-be Derek Lee at the start of his rookie year, before Lee was lost with a hand injury, which led to some line juggling.
LaBate spent a good part of the past summer in Madison, working out with the team (running the seemingly endless stairs inside of Camp Randall Stadium is a regular part of their week), taking business classes and skating a few times a week. The Badgers have a new on-campus practice facility this season, and will head into a new conference next season. And they’re confident that among all the changes taking place in Madison, a return to the NCAA Tournament will come from LaBate and the other sophomores and juniors who dominate the Badgers roster.
LaBate, on his first game for the Badgers: “I was more nervous than I can even describe. It made me think of my first high school game, which was against Rosemount (Minn.) and I remember the arena was packed. Of course the Kohl Center is about 30 times that size. So it was pretty cool to get a goal in that first game.”