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Libby had a plan to succeed

Sport: Hockey (Boys)

Posted: March 15th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Libby had a plan to succeed

BY RACHEL LENZI

Blethen Maine Newspapers

Only a few days after Jeff Libby suffered an injury that ended his professional hockey career, his father gave him some invaluable advice about the situation he found himself in.

"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 hockey 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 standout who was paralyzed from injuries sustained 11 seconds into his first collegiate shift.

"It was hard to feel bad for me when I could still drive and play golf and play hockey," recalled Jeff Libby, a former Waterville Senior High School 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."

More than nine years later, 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. He will be the keynote speaker at Sunday's Class A Hockey State Banquet, which begins at noon at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center in Lewiston.

Libby will precede the four finalists for the Travis Roy Award -- Biddeford's Tony Dube, Falmouth's Derek Kump, Messalonskee's Matt DelGiudice and Lewiston's Jon Roy -- given annually to the state's top Class A senior hockey player. Each finalist traditionally delivers a speech about the importance of overcoming adversity, and Libby will share his story of overcoming adversity and of the place that the game of hockey has in his life.

Scott Rousseau, the Falmouth coach and the president of the Maine Class A Coaches Association, approached Libby to deliver the keynote address and believes that it will resound with high school hockey 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 he turned 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. Libby, however, 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."