Father of DWC hockey bids farewell

Paul LaBarre walked through the doors of Conway Arena late Saturday not exactly knowing how he would feel.

His wife, Beverly, said she couldn’t come.

A big sigh.

"She said, ‘I’ll just cry the whole game,’" LaBarre explained.

That’s because the final men’s hockey game in the history of Daniel Webster College was a celebration and a funeral all rolled into one. The end of Eagle programs, obviously, is a sad ongoing tale, but this was different. This was the end of 25 years of blood and sweat for one man, LaBarre, who created and nurtured what had been for the first 22 years, a non-varsity program. Then the school made the bold move to go varsity three years ago. And, of course, it was short-lived as the DWC doors are set to close in May.

LaBarre gave a quick sigh.

"It’s mixed feelings," he said. "I thanked the kids after the game for sticking it out, representing us, the institution. Came a long way – 25 years. … There’s all kinds of little ghosts that are flying around out there that are part of the program. I’ve got great memories. … It’s been great."

But the end had to be gut-wrenching. The Eagles suffered through a 1-23-1 season, losing the last game to Castleton. LaBarre – who has held several jobs with the DWC administration, retired but still teaches part-time there – beat the bushes for players for a long time. His name will always be with DWC hockey. He was glad to transition to varsity with Eric McCambly, a Bishop Guertin alum the school hired to be its first and only varsity coach.

"I guess it’s too soon to see the end of a program, you know," McCambly said. "We were just getting started, and it’s over. It’s emotional in a lot of ways, and frustrating. At least we got to play some of the top teams in the country, and a lot of guys got to play at this level and see what it’s all about. …

"I have a deep appreciation for Paul for what he established here for many, many years, fielding a competitive program; making the American Collegiate Hockey Association (the non-varsity national umbrella) known here; what he’s meant to the college, the community, and Conway Arena."

LaBarre also helped bring the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) weekend-long championship tournament to Nashua as a Conway staple for several years on Presidents Day weekend.

When LaBarre was working the program, did he ever think it would come to an end?

"There were a couple of times I didn’t think we’d have enough players," he said. "One year I graduated 18 players, and they were all good, and we had to start over again."

LaBarre didn’t really have an inkling the school would go NCAA Division III varsity, and he felt great about it. Too bad they didn’t clue him in ahead of time.

"I started recruiting right away," he said. "Players and parents would come to me. It made recruiting a lot easier."

McCambly, meanwhile, did a great job bringing varsity players in at a high volume over three years. But this year a lot of good ones left the school after the closing announcement.

Those who stuck it out for the season remained on the ice Saturday for photos, some fighting back tears.

"It’s pretty crazy," sophomore forward Joe Hawkins out of St. Clair, Mich., said. "A lot of guys have played three years here, pretty much dedicated our whole lives to the team."

When the final buzzer sounded?

"No words," Hawkins said. "It’ll be a big change. We put all that work in and now there’s nothing left."

That’s just a couple of years. Think of the work LaBarre did for 25. He spent the first couple of varsity years and some games this season with McCambly on the bench, but something didn’t feel right doing it on Saturday. He watched from ice level behind the glass.

"It was emotional driving over," he said. "I kept going."

A few alums showed up. When it was over, LaBarre walked on the ice, shook hands with them and the players, shook hands with the Castleton kids and the officials.

The fall teams went through the same thing, and men’s and women’s basketball will play its final home games late this week. But few had the long-term, emotional involvement of LaBarre, The Father of DWC Hockey.

"Everything I did, I did for the students, for the kids, for the institution," LaBarre said. "Over the 25 years, our teams were great representatives of Daniel Webster College, of the students, and I’m proud of that.

"It’s a great place. Yeah, we put it behind us, but in May, the whole thing’s going to crumble.

"And that hurts. Many, many people – not just me – put blood, sweat and tears into it.

"I just wish that it could have gone on."

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_TomK.