Recently, I had the honor of interviewing a New York Islanders legend, Pat LaFontaine. LaFontaine played with the Islanders from 1984-1999, accumulating over 560 points in his tenure on the Island. LaFontaine is in the hall of fame and was named as one of the NHL’s best 100 players’ in its first 100 years. Currently, LaFontaine is the Vice President of Hockey Operations with the NHL. He has very interesting stories to share about his time in hockey.
What are your responsibilities with the NHL?
“I am the Vice President of Hockey Operations of Community Affairs. I am in charge of the overall development of all hockey leagues. I also bring the leaders of the game together to discuss rule changes, community relations, things of that nature. When you hear a player get suspended for “x” amount of games, I am one of the people in charge of administering that sentence.”
What was your greatest Islander moment?
“My greatest personal moment with the Islanders was my first goal, my first game, and my first hat trick. Those types of things are moments every hockey player remembers. Walking onto the ice for my first game in the NHL was so surreal. It was crazy playing alongside players’ I idolized as a kid. My favorite team moment was the Easter Epic, we were down 3 games to 1 and came back to force a game 7. What many people forget was we were losing to start the game. We ended up going into overtime, well 4 times. I had the chance to throw the puck to the net and I was fortunate to see it go in. We had a special team that year!”
What was it like playing for Al Arbour?
“Having Al Arbour as my coach was one of the best experiences of my life! He was such a great mentor, he made you a better teammate and a better person. He always knew what to say to get you going. I always say he was the Vince Lombardi of hockey. I was lucky to play for a coach that really cared for his players’. His passing was a great loss to the Islander organization and the sport of hock key. It’ll never be the same without him.”
What was it like going from the 84′ Olympics the NHL?
“Playing in the Olympics matured me as a player. Representing my country was one of the proudest and most humbling experiences of my life. Playing with the Islanders and the Olympic team was everything you dream of as a kid. I learned a lot as a hockey player and what it takes to win. When I joined the Islanders I was thrust into a situation where you can’t take a step back. I will always cherish that Islander team.”
Did you have any superstitions during your career?
“Yes, I had my superstitions. Everyone did during those days and they still do today. I would knock on all sorts of things. Whenever I played a good game I would make sure I used the same warm up and pre-game ritual. If I had a lucky stick where I scored a ton of goals with it, I would keep that stick as long as possible. If it had a crack in it I would get electrical tape to fix the stick. Superstitions are a weird thing, but you fall for them.”
What was it like being traded from the Islanders to the Sabres?
“It was tough leaving the Isles and Long Island. It was a home to me. I met my wife there, I had my first daughter there. It’s not something you can leave easily. The Islanders ownership was going through a transition period, the owners moved to Florida and as a player, you felt the owners weren’t committed to building a winner. It takes an effect on the players’ mindset. Looking back it gave me a great opportunity to play with Mogilny, Hasek, Fuhr, etc. 2 other of my children were born in Buffalo. The community there took me in and made me one of them. It was a tough transition but I was lucky to have the experience, it allowed me to grow and mature as a person.”
Why has your number 16 been yet to be retired by the Islanders?
“That really isn’t a question for me. In hockey, I was just hoping for a college scholarship. I never could’ve believed I would have a 15-year career, receive all the accolades, and play with the players’ I did. Everything that came with the game of hockey was a bonus. I met my wife because of hockey, I had my kids because of hockey. It was a core of guidance of my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be the man I had today.”
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in 2016.