Lou Fontinato, Leapin' Lou to the Rangers Faithful at the old Garden, was one of the toughest--and most popular--New York Rangers ever. He played for the Rangers from 1954-55 through the 1060-61 season and still ranks seventh on the franchise's all-time leader board with 939 career penalty minutes over the 419 games he played while wearing the Blueshirt.
This past weekend Fontinato, who also played two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, passed away at the age of 84.
Rangers legend Rod Gilbert spoke with BlueshirtsUnited.com Tuesday morning about Lou Fontinato.
BSU: What are your thoughts on the passing of Lou Fontinato?
RG: We lost a warrior who played for the Rangers, and it's very sad. He was probably the most fierce competitor you've ever seen with the Rangers, most penalized, and most popular at the time. He was crazy popular. The fans at the old MSG just loved him. And boy was he a tough son of a gun.
BSU: We know how tough he was on the ice, but what was Lou like off the ice?
RG: I was pretty close to him because when I played my Junior in Guelph in the late '50's, that was his hometown and at the time he was with the Rangers and would come home after the season. Us Junior players were all aware he was with the New York Rangers and we read The Hockey News and knew how tough he was. Lou would watch our games when he came back home to Guelph, and one time he took me aside and said, 'Hey Kid, you're really good. Keep it up. When you come up to play with the Rangers nobody will mess with you, I promise you.' I said, 'Thank you Mr. Fontinato! Thank you!'. But the bad thing was he was traded to Montreal before my first full year with the Rangers (in 1962-63)!
BSU: So you had to play against him instead?
RG: I play my first game and it's against Montreal and who do i see across the way playing defense against me? Lou Fontinato! He liked me a lot, but he was a different person on the ice. The game starts and he comes across the ice and spears me in the stomach! I go down and I get back up and spear him in the throat! My heart was pounding! Jean Ratelle told me that I lost it completely, but I couldn't;t let him do that to me as I was trying to establish myself in the NHL.
BSU: It wasn't long after that Lou played his final NHL game, against the Rangers it turns out, right?
RG: Yeah, exactly one week later we were back at The Forum in Montreal on another Saturday night, two in a row on their ice; and I'm skating in the warmups and he keeps meeting me at center ice, and he's not saying nice things to me! He's gonna be chasing me all night, but I can't run. I'll have to do something; but on the opening face off Ratelle wins it to me and I dump the puck in Lou's corner. He skates back there, turns away and he rushes towards the boards with Vic Hadfield chasing him. Lou knew Hadfield would hit him so he dropped, tried to make a dirty play to hurt Vic--but Vic expected that type of thing so when Lou Fontinato crouched down, Vic checked him and sent him flying into the boards head first, and he never got up. I started yelling at him, but Ratelle pulled me away because he was really hurt; and as it turned out he never played in another game again. He was actually paralyzed for a little bit before fully recovering. He then retired and went back to work on his farm in Guelph.
BSU: But the two of you stayed on good terms throughout the years?
RG: Absolutely! Whatever happened on the ice was one thing. Off the ice Lou never held a grudge of any kind. He was a good man.