Hockey Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine is one of the greatest hockey players to skate on Long Island. His career included 15 NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres (eight with the Islanders), playing in 530 games, scoring 287 goals, tallying 279 assists, totaling 566 points in the National Hockey League.
In 1995, LaFontaine won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy awarded due to his fantastic perseverance, sportsmanship and great dedication to the game. LaFontaine was a member of the 1984 Olympics Team USA Men’s Hockey Team in 1984 and in 2017 was named the prestigious honor of being named to the list of 100 Greatest NHL Players. LaFontaine currently resides on Long Island and is a longtime asset to the island, dedicating decades of community service for nonprofit organizations and showing countless acts of kindness, courtesy, and generosity.
TIDE: In 1984, you played for Team USA in the Olympics in Yugoslavia, then two weeks later you’re on the New York Islanders. It’s a week after your 19th birthday—your second NHL game at the Toronto Maple Leafs’, where you had a hat trick with two assists. Can you put it into words?
LAFONTAINE: For me, I was a 19-year-old kid. I guess what puts it into perspective for me is I was 15; my brother and I were doing spring cleaning in Michigan, it was mid-May and my dad called us inside and said, ‘Come on in, the Islanders are in overtime.’ So, my brother and I came in and we were watching the game and little did I know, going back and forth, and then I see Lorne Henning pass to John Tonelli, Tonelli passes to Nystrom, he scores, we’re jumping up and down we’re excited, and you know, you can see the enthusiasm on the rink and the joy of the players, and then I just went, ‘Where’s Long Island?’ (laughs) and I remember getting a map and getting an encyclopedia and looking at the map. So, the Islanders put Long Island on the map for me, for a kid from Michigan who’s 15 years old. Now the irony is, if you told me at 15 that I would have been able to play for the Olympic Team after they won the Gold Medal and my second game in Toronto, which was my dad’s favorite team and he was in the building, I look to my right and it’s Bobby Nystrom and I look to my left and it’s John Tonelli, and I scored my first goal and actually my first three goals and a couple assists and I think, John, Bobby, and myself were the first three stars, we won 11-6 and Al Arbour came in and kicked over trash can because we gave up six goals. You know, everybody talks about it, but it was a dream come true just going that whole ride to the fifth Stanley Cup. My first 15 games as an Islander, everything and more, that exceeded expectations.
TIDE: Describe how exciting it felt getting called up to the four-time defending Stanley Cup Champions and playing with Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, and Clark Gillies.
LAFONTAINE: Well, it was obviously a thrill. Because those guys won Stanley Cups, they were champions on the ice and great guys off the ice and what better place to have a coach like Al Arbour to have players that you just named and Nystrom and working with Bill Torrey and learning from the best. And I still say this today, it’s not even arguable, it was the best five-year run of any sports franchise in the history of sports. Not just hockey; I don’t think there’s anyone that and if you go back and the year earlier they had just lost to the Rangers in 1979, they always went to the finals that year they weren’t too far off.
TIDE: You go to the Stanley Cup Finals in your rookie season. Two questions. First, how exciting was it to be a rookie playing at the pinnacle of hockey? Also, any advice to a young professional that is fortunate enough at a very young age to be playing in the finals knowing it’s very possible you may never get this opportunity again?
LAFONTAINE: You know, it’s moments, it’s appreciation, it’s experience, and I would just say embrace it all. Like you just said, it didn’t come around for me. I was fortunate to have some pretty good playoff runs, win a World Cup, but never back to the finals, and if you look back at a lot of players recently, Henrik Lundqvist retired. It’s not that easy. It’s hard. You have to have amazing coaching, no injuries, and everything has to kind of come together, and then it’s survival of the fittest for two months. But I’ve always said it’s been a privilege and an honor for me because a kid born in St. Louis, I learned to skate there until I was 7 and for me, you never take it for granted and be so appreciative, and it’s hard to tell that to a 19-year-old kid at the time, but I do appreciate it and it’s truly about those experiences and the friendships, and then it helped shape part of my career, too.
TIDE: What are your favorite things to do on Long Island?
LAFONTAINE: I mean, there are so many things to do. You’ve got great restaurants, great beaches, great golf courses, great parks, too. There’s so much. Ride a bike. Just the outdoor life, all the different ports along the water, the wineries, everything. Like I said earlier, on Long Island, there’s so much to offer
TIDE: Do you do any coaching here?
LAFONTAINE: I coached youth sports when my son was playing. I was coaching locally here in Kings Park for a while and really enjoyed it!
TIDE: Outside of hockey, what are you most proud of in your life?
LAFONTAINE: Well, for me it’s my wife and kids. My family, watching them all grow up. And then what the game has taught me. Hockey has been a stepping stone to do what I do now, and that’s involved in different foundations, involved in helping kids that are going through a tough time, from working with children’s hospitals to working with the Dolphin Foundation, the sports for good and the values that sports brings to kids and families. I always say, ‘Score your goals when you’re young because life is all about the assists.’
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