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LaFontaine returns to Islanders roots at Coliseum

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Pat LaFontaine arrived at Nassau Coliseum in 1984 and was asked to help the New York Islanders win the Stanley Cup for a fifth consecutive year.

They nearly pulled it off, reaching the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Edmonton Oilers in five games. LaFontaine, who was 19 at the time and New York's first-round pick (No. 3) a year prior, had three goals and six assists in 19 playoff games.

"We went on an unbelievable run," LaFontaine said. "If not for a few injuries and a few guys named [Mark] Messier and [Wayne] Gretzky, we might have won."

LaFontaine was back at the Coliseum on Tuesday, when he will be honored prior to the Islanders game against the Minnesota Wild. Nearly a decade passed between visits to what has been the Islanders' only home, but owner Charles Wang and general Garth Snow each reached out to LaFontaine with hopes of luring him back for what promises to be a special night.

"It's bittersweet," said LaFontaine, who scored 287 goals for the Islanders from 1984-1991. "It's great to see them playing so well, it's great that they're not going too far (to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season). You would love to duplicate this and have it for 10 more years exactly the way things are going. I'm just happy [they won't be] too far away so the diehard fans can still go and support them. But I think it's like anything else … you don't understand what they meant and how much they meant until they're not here."

Tuesday is the first of six regular-season games left on the Coliseum schedule, but the Islanders have all but assured themselves of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. LaFontaine was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in the fall of 1991 and played six seasons there before returning to the New York metropolitan area. He played one season for the New York Rangers in 1997-98 before retiring.

2014-2015 Standings

Eastern Conference
GP
P
ROW
1
71
99
42
2
73
99
40
3
73
97
43
4
73
92
37
5
72
90
37
6
71
89
36
7
73
88
35
8
72
85
32
9
73
84
33
10
72
80
25
ROW = total number of regulation plus overtime wins. For tie-breaking purposes, wins obtained in a shootout are not counted.

And for the past 12 years, he's lived where his career got underway.

"Long Island is near and dear to me," said LaFontaine, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003. "This is our home and this is where it started for me, so it's special.

"[Being at the Coliseum] brings back memories. It's been a while [since I've been here]. It's hard to believe it was 31 years ago [when I first played here]. I had just turned 19."

After failing to qualify for the playoffs last season, the Islanders have a chance to have home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round. Captain John Tavares is tied for second in the NHL in scoring with 74 points (33 goals, 40 assists) in 73 games.

LaFontaine, who believes the Islanders have a legitimate chance of playing deep into the spring, was hoping to have a chance to speak with Tavares during his visit and admires how the he carries himself.

"I really love his leadership, his compete, his passion. I like how he makes players around him better," LaFontaine said. "He's the perfect player for the Islanders to lead them going to the next level. Not only that, he comes across as a class guy and he cares about his teammates and Long Island. I think he's the perfect captain, perfect leader for the future."

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