Patrick Michael LaFontaine (born February 22, 1965) is an American former ice hockey center in the National Hockey League (NHL) who spent his entire career playing for the league’s New York-based teams; LaFontaine skated for the New York Islandersfrom 1983 until 1991, the Buffalo Sabres from 1991 until 1997, and the New York Rangers from 1997 until his retirement in 1998, scoring 468 goals and 1,013 points along the way before his career was ended by concussions. His 1.17 points per game (1,013 points over 865 games) is the best among American-born ice hockey players, active or retired.
Although he was born in St. Louis, LaFontaine grew up in Waterford, Michigan (his father, a Chrysler executive, moved the family to the Detroit area in 1972) and graduated from Waterford Kettering High School. LaFontaine began his junior career with theVerdun Juniors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) during the 1982–83 season). In his only season in the QMJHL, LaFontaine contributed 104 goals and 130 assists for Verdun. LaFontaine’s 234 points was tops in the league and he was awarded the Jean Béliveau Trophy as the top scorer, out-dueling future NHL icon Mario Lemieux. His outstanding rookie season broke many records, including Guy Lafleur‘s 40-game point-scoring streak and Mike Bossy‘s 70 goals by a rookie.
Other awards LaFontaine received that season were the Michel Brière Commemorative Trophy as the MVP of the regular season, the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Mike Bossy Trophy as the best professional prospect, and the Frank J. Selke Commemorative Trophy as the Most sportsmanlike player. Also in 1982–1983, Pat Lafontaine was chosen as the CHL Player of the Year.
On October 1, 1981, the New York Islanders traded Bob Lorimer and Dave Cameron to the Colorado Rockies for the Rockies’ (later market rival New Jersey Devils‘) first round draft pick in 1983. Pat LaFontaine was selected by the Islanders in the 1st round as the 3rd pick overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft with the draft pick they had acquired from the Rockies. LaFontaine started his NHL career after representing the United States in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
He appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals in only his rookie season, although the Edmonton Oilers won the series and ended the Islanders’ reign of four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships. LaFontaine distinguished himself with a strong performance, scoring two third-period goals during the Islanders’ 5–2 loss to the Oilers in the fifth and deciding game of the series.
However, his arrival was concurrent with the beginning of the end of the Islanders’ dynasty, which was steeped deep in aging veterans. LaFontaine would have a promising career ahead as one of the team’s best players, but he was unable to reverse the Islanders’ gradual slide.
In the 1987 playoffs, LaFontaine scored a famous goal in the 4th overtime period of the seventh and decisive game between the Islanders and Washington Capitals, known as the “Easter Epic“. The game was started on Saturday, April 18, and concluded just before 2 a.m. on the 19, Easter Sunday. “It was the most memorable moment in my hockey life,” he later recalled. “Even today, wherever I go, people come up to me and start telling me where they were during the Easter Epic.”
The Islanders continued to struggle and in 1989, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974. In the first game of his next series, in 1990, LaFontaine suffered the first of many concussions, after a controversial, open-ice hit by James Patrick of the New York Rangers. He fell on his head and was unconscious while being taken off the ice on a stretcher. Famously, his ambulance was delayed en route to the hospital by Ranger fans who tried to turn the ambulance over. He was lost for the remainder of the series.
The 1990–91 season was another strong season for LaFontaine, but the Islanders did not have a good season, finishing a dismal 25–45–10. LaFontaine, frustrated with his situation on Long Island, turned down a four year, $6 million contract offer and refused to report to the Islanders for the start of the 1991–92 NHL season. Three weeks into the season, on October 25, 1991, LaFontaine was traded, along with teammate Randy Wood, to the Buffalo Sabres for four players, including former first overall pick Pierre Turgeon.
LaFontaine exploded offensively in the 1992–93 season with a personal-best and team-record 148 points (53 goals and 95 assists). The 148 points are also the most points ever scored by an American-born player in one season. His play-making ability enabled his linemate, Alexander Mogilny to set a team season record with 76 goals, (both LaFontaine’s 95 assists, 148 points and Mogilny’s 76 goals still stand as the Sabres’ team records for a single season). LaFontaine finished as runner-up to Mario Lemieux in the scoring race and earned a spot on the postseason NHL All-Star Second Team. He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Lady Byng Trophy as the most sportsmanlike player.
In the 1994–1995 season he was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.
LaFontaine is one of four players in NHL history to skate for all three teams based in the state of New York. The others were Mike Donnelly, former teammate Jason Dawe andMartin Biron, who accomplished the feat with the Rangers in the 2010-11 NHL season. But LaFontaine played his entire career in the state of New York while Donnelly also played for the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars, Biron played for the Philadelphia Flyers and Dawe also played for the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators. LaFontaine once joked about it, saying “I got to play for three great organizations in my career and never once had to buy new license plates.”
The 1996–97 season was the beginning of the end of his career. In a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, LaFontaine was hammered by François Leroux with a high hit to the head, knocking him out with a concussion, and resulted in post-concussion syndrome. He was determined to return, even though the doctors advised against such an attempt. Sabres management, in conjunction with team doctors and specialists, refused to clear LaFontaine to return, and recommended he retire. LaFontaine, still believing he could play, was traded to the New York Rangers in a cost-cutting measure  for a 2nd round draft choice in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and future considerations on September 29, 1997. During his one season with the Rangers, he tied for the team lead in goals scored, and recorded his 1,000th career NHL point.
In a game against the Ottawa Senators on March 16, 1998, LaFontaine accidentally collided with teammate Mike Keane and suffered another concussion. LaFontaine missed the remainder of the season and all of the next season, announcing his retirement formally on October 12, 1999.
Since 2001, the Pat LaFontaine Trophy has been awarded to the winner of the Rangers-Islanders season series, with money paid by the losing team to the charity of LaFontaine’s choice.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 3, 2003. “I am truly thrilled to receive this tremendous honor,” said LaFontaine upon receiving the news. “Growing up in St. Louis, I always played for the love of the game and never dreamed this could ever lead to my being a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.” He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in that same year.
On March 3, 2006, the Buffalo Sabres retired LaFontaine’s number 16. He was also inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 2004. LaFontaine was voted the 3rd greatest Buffalo Sabre in the teams 40 year history
In 2007, LaFontaine was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1997, LaFontaine founded the Companions in Courage Foundation, an organization that builds interactive game rooms in children’s hospitals throughout North America.
In 2000, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society bestowed the Patriot Award on LaFontaine in recognition of his contribution to military morale throughout his career. In 2002, LaFontaine was given an honorary GOAL! Award, sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation, for having overcome depression and lived in the community through volunteer work.
In April 2003, LaFontaine was recognized with the International Humanitarian Award by the Gift of Life Foundation, an organization promoting the cure and treatment of children suffering from heart disease in third world countries.
In March 2004, LaFontaine was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Detroit. In March 2005, he was named recipient of the James Keller Award by The Christophers organization. Since 1987, the Award has recognized individuals who have contributed in a meaningful way to the well-being of young people.
As of 2011, LaFontaine has been part owner of the Soo Eagles of the NAHL.
Back to the NHL
On June 7, 2006, the Islanders announced that Pat LaFontaine would return to the Islanders as Senior Advisor to the Owner. This was short-lived, however, as LaFontaine resigned in protest only six weeks later on July 18, the same day that Neil Smith was fired by the Islanders.
In March 2006, Pat LaFontaine’s #16 was retired by the Buffalo Sabres and raised to the rafters of the First Niagara Center (formally HSBC Arena), joining other Sabre legends Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert (a.k.a. The French Connection), Tim Horton and Danny Gare.
During the 2009-2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, LaFontaine appeared in an NHL cross-promotional commercial for Honda, featuring Neal Broten, Mike Richter, and himself constructing a pond hockey rink and playing a pick-up game with neighborhood children.
LaFontaine also appeared in EA Sports Cyberathlete Commercials where the 3-D version of himself scored a goal while a member of the Buffalo Sabres.