BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
Dave LaBaff will be the first person to tell you that he wasn’t looking for a new head coaching position when the women’s hockey head coaching job opened last spring at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
After all, LaBaff had spent the past 10 seasons at SUNY Canton, including two as an assistant coach and eight as head coach of the Roos women’s ice hockey team.
“I didn’t even know the Wilkes hockey job was open,” recalled LaBaff, a native of Potsdam, NY. “My wife was the one who let me know.
“She is originally from the northern part of Pennsylvania. She is involved in hockey too and put this job on my radar.
“Once I got to Wilkes to interview I saw how amazing the players on the team were. The atmosphere on the campus was amazing as well.
“The high end academics was something I took into consideration. In the end it was an easy decision for me to make because everything was trending in the right direction.”
This season has not been as successful as LaBaff had hoped. Through the teams first 23 games their overall record was 4-17-2, included a conference record of 4-12-2.
“We were looking at having as successful season as possible for the graduating seniors,” said LaBaff. “And like every other team, we’re looking ahead to building the future and have been doing a lot of recruiting.
“I think our future looks good.”
Interestingly, three of the players on this seasons Wilkes roster are natives of New York State. They include: Emma Guzdek (Amherst), Rachel Morey (Buffalo) and Abby Miller (Webster).
Hockey has always been a part of LaBaff’s DNA, especially going back to his days growing up in Potsdam.
“I grew up with a pond in my backyard,” remembered LaBaff. “My brother and I would go back there all the time and we were usually joined by other kids in the neighborhood.
“I grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan. Patrick Roy (Canadiens goalie) was my hero.
“I kind of latched onto the goalie side of things. It took off from there and hockey has been a big part of my life ever since.”
Following his graduation from high school it was on to SUNY Morrisville where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Performance and Health Promotion. He also played three seasons of hockey as a goaltender for the Mustangs.
LaBaff remained at Morrisville for the 2011-12 season, serving as an assistant coach with the men’s hockey team. From there it was on to SUNY Canton.
When it comes to hockey, LaBaff regards the north country very highly.
“I think the north country is a hockey hotbed,” stated LaBaff, who coached SUNY Canton women’s hockey teams to four postseason appearances. “You’ve got four university’s tucked in the middle of nowhere.
“You’ve got two really great Division I programs in both men’s and women’s hockey. Two really good programs in Division III in Canton and Potsdam.
“Add to that SUNY Plattsburgh, where my wife played hockey, who has a tremendous program with all of the national championships they’ve won.”
Why did LaBaff get involved in coaching hockey?
“I had no idea this was going to become my life,” stated LaBaff. “My senior year at Morrisville my head coach, Brian Grady, asked me if I wanted to stay on for another year as an assistant coach, getting paid a $4000 stipend for the season.
“I learned a lot that year. And then came the opportunity to move on to SUNY Canton as an assistant coach with their women’s hockey program.
“I love coaching women’s hockey. It’s great to be able to have some kind of an impact on people’s lives.
“And when I look back at it, had you asked me when I was 18 if I was going to become a coach in the game, I would have said ‘no way.’ And here I am today.”
When asked what would be the first thing that comes into his mind when you say “Potsdam” his answer came very quickly.
“The ice storm of ’98,” remarked LaBaff, who transitioned the Canton Women’s hockey program into the Northeast Women’s Hockey League (NEWHL) during the 2019-20 campaign. “I think a lot of people from up there remember that.
“I just remember being able to skate through everyone’s lawn. Our school’s winter break got extended for an additional two weeks. Growing up in the north country was great because it is such a tight-knit area.
“The north country will always be my home,” concluded LaBaff. “We get up there whenever we can to go see my mom and dad.
“We enjoy our time up there but I know I won’t miss the cold weather. That’s for sure.”
(Photos by Wilkes University Athletics/Women’s Hockey)