March 17, 2010

Message that just calls to be heard

RACHEL LENZI

— By

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Jack Milton, Thursday, June 13, 2002: Jeff Libby, a former University of Maine and pro hockey player has opened "rivalries," a sports bar in the Old Port, Portland.

Staff Writer

Only a few days after Jeff Libby suffered an injury that ended his pro hockey career, his father gave him some invaluable advice.

''You learn there's a lot more to life than just playing hockey,'' said Libby, who lost his right eye in 1998 after an on-ice accident during a minor-league game. ''Two days after the accident, the first words out of my dad's mouth were, 'Before you feel sorry for yourself, think about Travis.' ''

Major General William Libby, now head of the Maine Army National Guard, reminded his son of Travis Roy, the former North Yarmouth Academy and Boston University hockey player who was paralyzed from injuries sustained 11 seconds into his first college shift.

Now Jeff Libby will be the keynote speaker Sunday at the Class A hockey banquet at noon at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston. He will precede the four finalists for the Travis Roy Award -- Tony Dube of Biddeford, Derek Kump of Falmouth, Matt DelGiudice of Messalonskee and Jon Roy of Lewiston -- given annually to the state's top Class A senior hockey player.

Each finalist will talk about the importance of overcoming adversity, and Libby will share his story and of the place hockey has in his life.

''It was hard to feel bad for me when I could still drive and play golf and play hockey,'' said Libby, a former Waterville High and University of Maine defenseman. ''But you learn there's a lot more to life than just playing hockey. There's the importance of education, the importance of family, the importance of being healthy.''

Libby is married with two children, holds a degree in finance and is the co-owner of Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill in Portland's Old Port.

Scott Rousseau, the Falmouth coach and president of the Maine Class A Coaches Association, approached Libby to deliver the keynote address, which he believes will resonate with high school players.

''His experience has a lot to offer, and it's something to be shared with high school kids,'' Rousseau said.

''He was a late bloomer as a player but as he progressed, it was a cautious progression. If Maine didn't work out, he had a plan.

''Jeff did it right. He had a plan that if hockey didn't work out, there was something else in place. Life after hockey is far more important than hockey. Jeff would be playing in the NHL had he not been injured, but he had the rest of his life in order.''

After he graduated from Waterville in 1992, Libby spent a year at New Hampton (N.H.) School before walking onto the Maine hockey team.

He played for three years for the Black Bears before turning pro after the 1996-97 season, joining the New York Islanders' organization.

But his professional career ended in November 1998 after Libby, a defenseman with the Lowell Lock Monsters of the American Hockey League, lost his right eye in a freak on-ice accident in Newfoundland.

The heel of an opposing player's skate struck Libby just below the eye and less than a week later, his eye was surgically removed.

He eventually returned to Maine, where he was an assistant coach at Falmouth High and at the University of Southern Maine, and continues to play in local adult hockey leagues.

But Libby understood where hockey stood in the grand scheme of his life.

''To me, hockey was my life but I always had a backup plan,'' Libby said.

''I knew it wasn't the only thing in my life. I wanted to play Division I but I knew I had a plan if that didn't happen. Even after I got hurt, one month after the injury, I finished my degree at UMass-Lowell.

''It's great to love hockey and to enjoy it. I'd love to be back at 18, playing hockey, but enjoy it. Don't make it your life.

''Take something from the sport and apply that to your life.''

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

rlenzi@pressherald.com

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