Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pat Lafontaine Autograph Card

The heated debate over hits to the head inspired me this post...

Sometimes you look at your collection and wonder: ''where the hell did I get this card from''? That's the case here: a seemingly cut-up Pat Lafontaine autographed card.

First things first, the card is from Pinnacle Brands; it's a 1996-97 Be A Player card, the Link 2 History inserts (#LTH-8B). It is signed in black sharpie over the white of his Buffalo Sabres uniform, so if you look fast, you might miss it; he also added his number. Some Pinnacle/Be A Player cards come signed in the pack, with no identifying labels, and I think it's the case here; I also have a Trevor Linden card (albeit not a die-cut insert) that came signed, with the pack wrap guaranteeing an autographed card, but the signed card was his regular card with the regular back - I'll post it here soon.

Another reason why I think it came from a pack is that I have met Lafontaine twice, but I don't recall having had him sign anything when I did. Not just that - if I would, I likely would have chosen a New York Islanders jersey, or the New York Rangers' one with the Statue of Liberty in front, although I like this particular Sabres jersey, on par with their actual old one from the 80s - not the current version they wear that sports the jersey's number in front, football-style, those are terrible.

Pat Lafontaine, born in St. Louis in 1965, is my favourite American player of all time. He played his junior hockey in Montréal, where he edged out none other than Mario Lemieux in his very first season to finish with the league scoring lead. He broke Mike Bossy's record for most goals by a rookie (70) and Guy Lafleur's 40-game point streak. He was named season MVP, playoffs MVP, rookie of the year, best professional prospect, most sportsmanlike player, and the CHL Player Of The Year.

Chosen third overall at the 1983 NHL draft (a pick originally belonging to the Colorado Rockies, but that they'd traded to the Islanders for Bob Lorimier and Dave Cameron early in the 1981-82 campaign), Lafontaine represented the United States in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, a team that finished 7th of 8, as the Soviet Union (featuring Tretyak, Larionov, Makarov, Fetisov, Krutov, and Kasatonov) won gold. Following the Olympics, he joined the Islanders and helped them reach their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup final, that they lost the the Edmonton Oilers. In 1987, he scored the winning goal in the fourth overtime of the Easter Epic, the longest game I have ever seen. Also in the playoffs, this time in 1990, against the Rangers, James Patrick hit him hard enough to give him his first concussion; he was unconscious on the ice for several minutes, and when the ambulance left the building to take him to a hospital, passionate (and stupid) Rangers fans tried to hijack and change the vehicle's course, delaying his arrival to the hospital.

By the 1991-92 season, the Islanders were a joke, and Lafontaine asked out; he and Randy Wood were traded to the Sabres, pretty much for Pierre Turgeon and three hangers-on. Teaming up with Alexander Mogilny and feeding him for 76 goals, he completely re-wrote the Sabres record books (95 assist, 148 points), once even finishing second in NHL scoring, behind Lemieux, making him a finalist for both the Hart and Lady Byng trophies. As a Sabre, he also faced my hometown Habs and favourite Nordiques a ton of times, and was a pleasing sight every time.

Injuries got the best of him, though, with three seasons in Buffalo in which he played less than 25 games, and he'd end his career with the Rangers in 1997-98, playing alongside Gretzky, thus becoming only the third player ever to play with all three New York State teams, prompting him to say:
I got to play for three great organizations in my career and never once had to buy new license plates.
As a Ranger, his career ended in March 1998 when he accidentally collided with teammate Mike Keane, although he would only officially retire the next year's October, 19 months later. The hit gave him what is officially his sixth concussion but could in fact be his ninth or tenth, as hits the head and post-concussion syndrome were not things that were being looked into in the 90s, and Lafontaine's courage and determination always made him want to get back on the ice, even in tremendous pain; in fact, the reason why he was traded to the Rangers in the first place was that the Sabres' management and doctors wouldn't let him play in his condition, and he requested to be moved.

He was inducted in the Hockey Hall Of Fame on November 3rd, 2003, capping an amazing career that could only have been better if direct hits to the head had not been allowed or tolerated.

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