Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Jana Pieuze-Roy expected a baby in the new year.
Instead they got a story about a snowstorm bad enough to scare a Canadian, and an act of kindness that would turn a hockey bruiser into a 6-foot-3, 228-pound teddy bear.
And they got Lionel.
Although the littlest Labrie got an early start on the party, he waited just long enough.
“We played here on Friday, left for Grand Rapids on Saturday and she texted me. In the bus. Half way,” said Labrie, who plays left wing for the Milwaukee Admirals.
“She’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m having some cramps.’ I’m like, ‘Tell me right now. I’ll stop the bus and get a ride from here.’ She said, ‘No, I’m going to be fine.’ ”
So Labrie and the Admirals completed their 4 1/2-hour bus ride around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, hoping to carry the high from a home-ice victory over Chicago into an evening game against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“I went to bed around midnight, and at 2 a.m. the phone rings,” Labrie said after practice Thursday at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
The first flight out of Grand Rapids to anywhere close would have got Labrie to Chicago at 6:30 in the morning, and he’d still have had a 90-minute drive to Milwaukee.
“Her mom, for two kids, (labor was) less than six hours,” Labrie said. “I knew I had really a small gap.”
Other options were getting him nowhere, and time was wasting.
His last thought was to wake up Admirals teammate Mark Zengerle, who spent two seasons as a Griffin. It couldn’t hurt to ask him for ideas, right?
“I was like, ‘Zenger, you played in GR (Grand Rapids) a couple years ago,’ ” Labrie said. “ ‘Do you know anybody that would let me borrow a car?’ Because I called taxi drivers, there’s a bad storm, no one wants to take me to Milwaukee. With the New Year’s Eve parties, all the chauffeurs for the private cars are reserved.
“He’s like, ‘There’s a guy on the other team. He’s a really good guy.’ ”
The Griffins were headed back from a night game in Cleveland when Zengerle’s text message popped up on backup goaltender Tom McCollum’s phone. McCollum was watching a movie. He can’t sleep on the bus.
“It was kind of funny the way he said it,” McCollum said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a question; it’s totally cool if you say no,’ and just kind of explained the situation of what happened.”
Although the team wouldn’t be back to Grand Rapids for another 90 minutes, McCollum lives virtually across the street from the Admirals’ hotel. His girlfriend was at home. McCollum wasn’t going to need his Ford F-150 for a couple of days anyway, and the Griffins were headed to Milwaukee two days later.
McCollum didn’t think twice about helping out someone he'd only run into on the ice.
“I’ve never actually met PC, but I played against him a bunch when he was in Rockford,” McCollum said. “He’s one of those ... you can just tell he’s an honest hockey player.
“Especially the tough guys, they always seem to be the nicest guys off the ice. Again, knowing that he’s been around for a few years and knowing he’s an older guy, those are the kind of guys you trust.”
Although McCollum doesn’t have children, he’s seen the effect fatherhood has had on teammates. He had a good idea of what getting home would mean to Labrie.
“If he didn’t let me, I would have been panicking,” Labrie said. “I would have been walking the street, like, ‘Hey, you. How much you want, you drive me to Milwaukee right now?’ I was, like, panicking. I need to get there.”
Before 3 a.m. local time, Labrie was on his way. And before long the lake-effect snow picked up to a near whiteout.
“Good thing I had the big truck of the guy,” Labrie said, showing a video from along the way. “It got worse.
“(It’s) so nerve-wracking, driving through. Soon as I passed that, my eyes start getting (strained). I have to stop, like, 15-20 minutes, and just lay there.”
Then he pressed on.
“Got to the hospital at 6:15,” Labrie said. “And deliver the baby at 6:54.
“I was there for only 40 minutes, the last, final pushes. Here we go. I missed all the contractions earlier, the toughest part, when she doesn’t have the — what do you call it? — the epidural.
“She was with her mom. Thank God she was here or I don’t know. Everything turned out good.”
Lionel weighed in at 5 pounds, 15 ounces.
“Just like me,” Labrie said, “tiny.”
Labrie was being serious, too; he knows he was a small baby although he'd have had to ask his mother for the specifics.
McCollum and Labrie actually met for the first time Wednesday, after the Griffins beat the Admirals, 4-2. They had time for little more than hello and a handshake. Labrie returned McCollum’s keys, and McCollum followed his bus back to Michigan.
“He offered to pay me for (using the truck),” McCollum said. “I just asked him to fill it up with gas, and he was nice enough he washed it for me before he gave it back. That’s all I need honestly.
“I was happy to be able to facilitate the situation. I was more than thrilled when he texted me that he made it in time.”
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