TAMPA — You would never know it watching the first few days of Lightning training camp, but Pierre-Cedric Labrie said he used to "skate like a moose."
But the big left wing also assured, "We took care of that."
Indeed, watching Labrie on the ice at the Tampa Bay Times Forum has been like watching a controlled whirlwind. His jersey flapping in the breeze during line rushes, the 6-foot-3, 236-pounder — whom coach Jon Cooper called "just a bear out there" — beat opponents to pucks along the boards and snapped off wrist shots that consistently went top shelf. By a very rough estimate, he is the team's top goal scorer.
It is just practice, but it is difficult to identify a player putting more effort into his roster fight.
"That's what I do," Labrie, 26, said Friday. "It's practice, game energy, forecheck, backcheck, always go as hard as I can. Every shift I give 100 percent. That's the way I am."
By now, Labrie's story is well known, though it is worth repeating to understand his passion.
Out of hockey at age 17 after he was cut from the junior Quebec league, Labrie worked the night shift at a convenience store, sleeping on boxes until awoken by customers ringing a bell. He worked at a restaurant as a chef's assistant, pulling chicken off bones, flipping burgers, preparing potatoes and salads.
Labrie restarted his hockey career from scratch, going from a weekend rec league to junior A, juniors, the AHL and finally the NHL, including 19 games last season with the Lightning in which he had two goals, three points and 30 penalty minutes while averaging 8:33 of ice time.
"I'm blessed," Labrie said. "I know what it is working 40 hours a week and trying to go to school. I know how hard it is, and I totally respect that. I want to spend as much time as I can here to make sure I don't go back to that routine too fast."
Labrie is physical and can fight, two elements Tampa Bay sorely needs. But his skill set and consistency are works in progress, though he is much sharper, much like his skating after two summers working with instructor Barb Underhill.
Still, in a highly competitive camp in which Tampa Bay can choose from a deep reserve of prospects, Labrie is not guaranteed a job, though with a personality as big as his mop of curly red hair, he is easy to root for.
"Just a special person, a free-spirited guy," said defenseman Mark Barberio, who last season roomed with Labrie at AHL Syracuse.
Said center Tyler Johnson, another Syracuse teammate, "Even when he goes out and meets strangers, he's their best friend right away. He just has that charisma about him."
He also loves to give hugs, and when he does, "you're not getting out of it, that's for sure," Barberio said. "If you haven't seen him in a while, that will prompt a hug. Just seeing him in the morning, that will get you a hug."
As for how Labrie has performed at camp, "Really well," Cooper said. "He's been shooting it hard and hitting the net." Actually, Cooper joked, "I'm trying not to look. I don't want him to walk in and say, 'Did you see that? I want to be on the power play.' "
Not to worry, Labrie said, "I just want to be in every game helping my team."
NEW VIEW: Practices Monday and Tuesday at the Times Forum are now open to the public. Enter Gate B at 11:30 a.m. Scrimmages both days also will be streamed live at tampabaylightning.com.