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Labelle enjoying team with winning culture and living back at home

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Caleb Labelle is thrilled to be back home and playing for his local Junior A hockey squad, the Kam River Fighting Walleye, this season. – Photo courtesy of Kam River Fighting Walleye

By Sam Laskaris

THUNDER BAY – Caleb Labelle is rather content these days.

That’s because after a handful of seasons of being billeted while suiting up for various teams, Labelle, a member of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg, is back home and playing for his hometown squad.

Labelle, a 6-foot-5 framed defenceman, is on the Thunder Bay-based, Kam River Fighting Walleye, a Junior A squad that participates in the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL).

Labelle, who turned 19 on Jan. 5, had left home at the age of 15 to go play in the Greater Toronto Hockey League where he lived with his minor hockey coach Darcy Tucker, a former National Hockey League player.

Labelle then started the 2022-23 campaign with the Lindsay Muskies in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, but after suiting up for just three games with the Muskies, he was dealt to the Hearst Lumberjacks who compete in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Labelle, however, requested an off-season trade from the Lumberjacks.

Fighting Walleye general manager Kevin McCallum swung a deal to bring Labelle home for the 2023-24 campaign.

“He grew up in Thunder Bay,” McCallum said of Labelle. “And we watched a lot of video on him. It was a no-brainer for us to bring him here.”

Labelle said he is happy to be living back at home with his parents; plus, he gets to see a lot more of his two older siblings, a sister and a brother, who live nearby.

Another bonus is that he is part of a solid organization. The Fighting Walleye are the defending SIJHL champions.

“I wanted to go to a team with a winning culture,” Labelle said.

The Fighting Walleye was battling for top spot in the standings of its eight-team league in early January and Labelle believes the team is capable of winning another league championship this season.

“We have a really solid team,” he said. “We have a lot of depth. As long as we stick to the coaches’ plans, I think we can win it again.”

Labelle is a stay-at-home defenceman.

“I like to take care of my own first,” he said.

But he has chipped in a bit offensively, scoring twice and adding three assists in his first 19 appearances with the Fighting Walleye.

Labelle eventually wants to work in the health and nutrition industry, perhaps as a dietitian. He also wants to be a personal trainer on the side.

But he still hopes to play hockey for a long time. He has two seasons of junior eligibility remaining.

He’s hoping to crack the roster of a team in the higher-calibre Ontario Hockey League or Quebec Maritime Junior Hockey League next season, but if that isn’t in the cards, he’d gladly return to the Fighting Walleye.

Labelle is also hoping to play at the collegiate level.

“With his work ethic, there’s going to be opportunities for him in a couple of years to do that,” McCallum said.

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