Greatest Sabres: No.5 Pat LaFontaine
The Greatest Sabres list continues with No.5; one of the greatest American-born players of all-time and a man who some feel could have done so much more if not for injuries—Pat LaFontaine.
LaFontaine, born in Waterford, Michigan, was drafted third overall by the Islanders in the 1983 NHL Draft. He would develop into a prolific scorer and achieved his greatest feat as an Islander, scoring the winning goal in the Easter Epic—the four overtime thriller in a game seven playoff match up against the Capitals in 1987.
LaFontaine would join the Sabres in 1991-1992 after a contract dispute with the Islanders. He would be traded to Buffalo for a package including former No. 1 overall pick Pierre Turgeon.
In just 57 games with the Sabres that season, LaFontaine posted 46 goals and 93 points, an impressive total to say the least. But it would be the following season where he would not only set his own personal bench mark, but a team record that still stands.
In the 1992-1993 season, LaFontaine would explode for 148 points on the strength of 95 assists. He also nearly matched his career high for goals in a season (54), potting 53 in the 84 games he played in.
That season, he and Alexander Mogilny combined to become one of the most potent combo's in the league with Mogilny picking up 76 goals, also a Buffalo franchise record.
Despite having a big lead and Mario Lemieux being injured for a good chunk of the year, LaFontaine still finished runner-up in the scoring race to Super Mario and earned Second Team All-NHL honors. He would be a nominee for the Hart Trophy, losing to Lemieux.
That postseason, LaFontaine would provide one of the greatest moments in Sabres’ history, setting up the famous "May Day" goal in overtime in the series-clincher against Boston.
The 1996-1997 season, his last as a Sabre, would be the beginning of the end for his career. In a game against the Penguins, LaFontaine was nailed by Francois Leroux with a high hit to the head, knocking him out with a concussion. He would be left with post-concussion syndrome.
Still, he was determined to return, though doctors advised against it. Sabres’ management, in conjunction with the team doctors and specialists, refused to clear him to play and recommended he retire.
LaFontaine still believed he could play and subsequently demanded a trade. He was then dealt to the Rangers for a second round pick in the '98 Draft and future considerations.
With the trade, he managed to achieve something only Jason Dawe and Mike Donnelly have done—play for all three New York-based teams. He would joke about it, saying "I got to play for three great organizations in my career and never once had to buy new license plates."
LaFontaine's career would officially end in March of the next season after he picked up another concussion after colliding with his teammate.
He would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as well as having his number retired by the Sabres and being inducted into the team Hall of Fame.
LaFontaine will always be remembered by Sabres’ fan as a dynamic offensive force. A smooth skater and superb passer, he helped blow the roof off the Aud more times than one could keep track of.
And as someone who has had the privilege of meeting him, he will always be known as one of the true "nice guys."
Next up: Time to find out where mama hides the cookies.
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