Pat LaFontaine, vice president, hockey development and community affairs with the NHL, has known Dave Andreychuk for more than 25 years. They were linemates, with undeniable chemistry, with the Buffalo Sabres in the early 1990s. Since, their paths have crossed many times, as opponents on the ice and as ambassadors off of it. Now, each is involved in growing the game they loved so passionately and excelled at so completely; LaFontaine with the League and Andreychuk with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here, LaFontaine, a 2003 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, reflects on the magic they created together and the characteristics that have led Andreychuk on the long and winding road to his own induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.
Dave Andreychuk is going into the Hockey Hall of Fame and it is an honor richly deserved.
I know because I lived part of his journey with him, serving as his center for a short time with the Buffalo Sabres almost 25 years ago. It may have been short, but, man, was it sweet!
In hockey, there have always been lines; they are part of the history and allure of the sport.
As a kid growing up in Detroit it was the "Production Line" with the Detroit Red Wings, the "French Connection" in Buffalo, the "GAG Line" with the New York Rangers, the "Triple Crown Line" with the Los Angeles Kings and the "KLM Line" in Detroit.
You think of all the great lines in hockey and there hasn't been one line that I can think of that had all three guys score 50 goals, or all three guys had 100 points. It's rare and that is across 100 years of chemistry and line combinations.
Yet, we almost did it.
Andreychuk, Alexander Mogilny and myself almost made history happen during the 1992-93 season before Dave got traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. I finished with 53 goals, Mogilny had 76 and Andreychuk finished with 54; 29 with us, 25 with the Maple Leafs in just 31 games!
This line just clicked; it was chemistry that you rarely find among three players in sports, any sport. You find it a lot with two; every team has two. Rarely can a team put three players together consistently with great chemistry for a long time.
We had a one-two-three punch. We had the speed, we had the size, we had the skill. It was a lot of fun! I can't believe nobody ever gave our line a name -- maybe if we spent more time together.
Andreychuk was great for us because he just let Alex and I go and he would read off us and position himself. He played that unsung hero on our line. It was some of the most fun I ever had playing.
I was fortunate to play with some unbelievable players on the New York Islanders, the Sabres and the Rangers during my career, but probably never was I on a consistent line like I was with Andreychuk and Mogilny in Buffalo for more than two seasons.
Andreychuk was a big part of what made that line so special. Size? Andreychuk had it. Hands? Andy had those too. Net-front presence? Couldn't be moved. He was so deceptive, probably one of the most deceptive skaters in the League because of his size. On the power play, he was right up there with the most dangerous guys; his reach was phenomenal.
When he was in front of the net, you had to watch him because he was so dangerous. You think of the guys that were good in front of the net: Tim Kerr, Phil Esposito. There's very few guys that made a living in front of the net like that. That was one of his greatest gifts; his hand-eye coordination was the best in my mind, picking pucks out of the air and tipping them on net or smacking home rebounds. It was unbelievable how he could get his stick on shots and rebounds. His positioning was so good, you couldn't move him. If you put the puck toward the net, it was either a rebound or a tip for him.
He was so consistent. Look at his career: 18 of 22 seasons with more than 20 goals. Nine with more than 30 goals, three with 40 goals and two 50-goal seasons. He consistently produced across a long period of time.
Look at how his career continued to evolve after he left Buffalo. He continued to move toward becoming that complete player. He made the players around him better, through his play, through his example, through the intangible things he did. They say the sign of greatness is longevity and consistency.
He was a player that just checked off all the boxes.
His talent was always there, and he matured in his leadership because he was put in situations and circumstances that allowed that. You only grow from what the game teaches you and you grow from the teams, coaches and players you are with. He was the same player later in his career but he evolved into more of a leadership role, which I think was a natural thing for him. He was the captain of a Stanley Cup-winning team in Tampa Bay.
He was always a character guy, wanted to win, did what it took to win. He tried to lead by example.
He brought a high-level game consistently, game in and game out, year in and year out. He was always a threat. You always had to watch out for Andreychuk on the ice.
Since he retired, he has remained great for the sport. That's the thing about hockey, it's about the full engagement. The game has given you so much and it still lives inside you even after you retire. That is true of Dave.
Humility may be one of Andreychuk's most important characteristics and it has served him well. He never had to talk about himself or be the center of anything.
What's great now, is he can be around that Lightning franchise and be one of those character pillars for the organization. It's one thing to be that way on the ice, but it's important that it transcends the game and happens off the ice, too. He has done a phenomenal job in that regard. You look at that Lightning organization and have someone like general manager Steve Yzerman, assistant general manager, director of player personnel Pat Verbeek and someone like Andreychuk as examples; it's fantastic.
I couldn't be more proud or happy to see him go into the Hall of Fame. So excited to be there for him. It's a well-deserved honor.