Pat LaFontaine was a center for all three New York hockey teams: the Islanders, Rangers, and Sabres. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, with 468 goals in 15 seasons. Pat becomes the second athlete in the past three interviews of mine who was selected third in their sports draft. Here are my questions:
BW: What was your greatest achievement and why?
PL: I was fortunate to represent the U.S. at a couple of Olympics, and that was very cool. Probably the greatest achievement was winning the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. The Canadian team featured (Wayne) Gretzky, (Mario) Lemieux, (Mark) Messier, (Martin) Brodeur, etc., and they were the host country. When we beat them in the best-of-three final, it was the biggest U.S. hockey win since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team.
BW: Who is your idol and why?
PL: When I was a kid I loved Guy Lafleur and Gilbert Perreault—two of the fastest skaters and best players around.
Things were a little different back then because there was no Internet. I would have to wait for the newspaper or for the Hockey News to arrive to see my favorite players' stats. I always immediately looked to see how Guy and Gilbert had done in their previous games.
As I developed as a player, it was a bit ironic that I played in the Quebec Junior League and broke all of Guy's scoring records. Later in my pro career, I went to Buffalo and followed in the footsteps of Gilbert as captain of the Sabres.
BW: What was the funniest story that ever happened in the locker room?
PL: This story didn't happen in the locker room, but it was one of the most memorable of my career. I was with the Islanders in 1987 and we were playing the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. The final game of the series went into the fourth overtime period, but neither team could score.
It was after 2 a.m. and I looked around the stands and fans were sleeping!
The organist started playing the theme song from The Twilight Zone.
Our trainer came over and shot cold water straight down my back and said, "You're gonna get one..." I hopped over the boards and covered at the point for Gordie Dineen—one of our defenseman who had pinched on the play. The puck came to me and I just turned and fired it toward the net. It went over the goalie's shoulder and in at 8:47 of the fourth overtime to win the series for us.
The game had started on a Saturday and it ended very early on Easter Sunday morning and became known as the "Easter Epic." It remains one of the longest games played in NHL history.
BW: What advice would you give to someone growing up aspiring to play in NHL?
PL: It is an immense privilege to be able to play in the NHL. I was very blessed and a lot of things went my way to be able to make it. A lot of people think that you have to specialize in one sport from an early age in order to turn pro.
Most of my teammates played a lot of different sports when we were kids. I liked to golf, water ski and play baseball. That helped me develop other aspects of my game and made me WANT to be on the ice even more once hockey season started.
I have a brother who practiced every bit as much as I did, but he never made pro. In order to make it as a pro you have to develop your God-given skills. You can't abuse your body and you need to work hard on your weaknesses. Everyone likes to focus on the things they are good at. But when you focus on the things you are weak at, it makes you a much better athlete.
BW: What was it like playing for the Islanders and then the Rangers?
PL: I loved playing for all three New York teams (Buffalo, too!). The Islanders gave me my first shot and I got to play with great players like Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin. I met my future wife here and grew to love Long Island.
I probably had the best years of my career in Buffalo, and I enjoyed the people of Western New York. It was a thrill to have the Sabres retire my jersey and to score the last goal ever scored at the Auditorium.
When I joined the Rangers, I got a chance to play with Wayne Gretzky, Mike Richter, and to score the 1,000th point of my career. The Rangers were a first-class organization and treated me and my family just wonderfully.
BW: If you weren't a hockey player, what would your job have been?
PL: That is a very good question. At the time I was a teenager, I was hoping to play well enough to earn a scholarship to Michigan State University. My dad was an executive in the auto business, so I might have done something like that.
Since I retired, I have really enjoyed redesigning homes and landscaping. Maybe I would have gone into architecture and design?