Pat LaFontaine back representing Islanders after lengthy rift: ‘You can’t sit back and look back’

ELMONT, N.Y. — Pat LaFontaine likes to joke with one of his former New York Islanders teammates, Lorne Henning, that his famous secondary assist on Bobby Nystrom’s Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 6 of the 1980 Final against the Philadelphia Flyers was only his second greatest assist. 

In LaFontaine’s eyes, Henning’s greatest assist was introducing the Hall-of-Famer to his next-door neighbor, Mary Beth, in Huntington in 1984. Three years later, they were married.

“I started out as an Islander, I played almost eight years here,” LaFontaine told amNewYork during the opening of The Park at UBS Arena — a 155,800 square-foot season-long outdoor experience that features the first two public pond hockey rinks, food trucks, a beer garden, and carnival games. “I played a lot, learned a lot, grew up a lot, met my wife here. Long Island’s home, this is our home. We raised our kids here and I have great memories.”

It was one of many high points during his time with the Islanders. LaFontaine scored 287 goals across parts of eight seasons in New York, including six years of 30-plus goals and 54 in 1989-90. He’s one of three players in franchise history to score 50 or more goals in a season.

He’s tied for fifth on the franchise’s all-time goals list and his 566 points rank eighth — one of the greatest forwards the organization has ever known in its 51-season history. 

But LaFontaine’s appearance as an ambassador for The Park at UBS Arena is one of what had been just a few involving the Islanders ever since a messy split with the organization and a period in which it seemed he was wiped from the organization’s annals.

Pat LaFontaine Islanders
Pat LaFontaine during an appearance on NHL Network during the opening of The Park at UBS Arena (Dennis DaSilva/New York Islanders)

LaFontaine demanded a trade ahead of the 1991-92 season after former owner John Pickett and ex-general manager Billy Torrey refused to renegotiate his contract. He was sent to the Buffalo Sabres in a blockbuster that saw Pierre Turgeon flipped to the Islanders. After six seasons in Buffalo, he finished his career in 1997-98 with the Rangers.

In 2006, three years after he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame which included a night in which the team honored him at Nassau Coliseum, LaFontaine was brought on as a senior advisor to former owner Charles Wang. He would stay for only six weeks, resigning out of protest after general manager Neil Smith was fired. 

He was omitted from the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2012. When he and another former Islander, Steve Webb, biked 550 miles from Toronto to New York to raise money for charity, the Islanders only highlighted Webb. 

Despite being one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history, he has still not been inducted into the Islanders’ team Hall of Fame, which has enshrined 12 players since its establishment in 2007.

“I’ve always moved forward,” LaFontaine said. “I made principal decisions during my life where I’ve gone and then you just move forward with your life. You can’t sit back and look back.”

The changing of team ownership — Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin took over as majority owners in 2016 — has helped fix the relationship between LaFontaine and the Islanders. In November, he appeared in Riverhead, NY for the opening of Suffolk County’s first year-round skating facility which was named in honor of the Islanders’ first team captain, Ed Westfall.

One month later, he was at UBS Arena representing the Islanders again — a concept numerous fans might not have thought possible ever again.

“I always believed that moving forward would kind of guide you,” he continued. “It’s the road less traveled, a little bit, but things always seem to work out in the end and the right thing comes around and rises to the top. In my opinion, that’s always the way I’ve always lived my life.

“It feels good to be here… I love seeing the fans and the players and them having this special home.”

As an organization, the Islanders have advanced by lightyears over the last decade. Once facing the very real threat of relocation while playing in a deteriorating Nassau Coliseum, they were also tenants at the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, the Barclays Center — a nightmare partnership that ultimately saw the Islanders return to a downsized Coliseum as UBS Arena was being constructed. 

Going to an Islanders game was never about the fan experience in terms of amenities. That was something the franchise simply couldn’t afford. 

Now, LaFontaine gets to revel in just how far they’ve come.

“I’m excited for the fans because nobody has this. This is one-of-a-kind,” he said. “Kudos to them. I love the fact that the community has this opportunity. It invites people to come in and have this experience. It’s a destination. The beauty of this is the rinks, the beer garden, the carnival… It’s so exciting. For it to be right here and then you can go have an NHL experience — think about a young kid, their first time they ever skate and then they go watch an NHL hockey game.

“What an experience. How could you not sit back and smile for six, seven hours and create memories with your families and Islanders fans for decades to come? I was here in ’84. We’re talking 40 years to see it come full circle and see the smiles of the next generation. I’ve always believed as athletes, I say that if you’re a true leader in your sport or a servant to your sport, you want to leave it better than you found it. This is for the Island. That’s pretty special.”

For more on the Islanders like this Pat LaFontaine feature, visit AMNY.com

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