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LaFontaine's NHL debut with Carolina is memorable, in a forgettable way

Just five days after his final game as a Minnesota Gopher, goaltender Jack LaFontaine got his first taste of the National Hockey League, on a memorable night that he and his new Carolina Hurricanes teammates may want to forget.

Jack LaFontaine warms up
Former Minnesota Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine made his NHL debut with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, playing the final 15 minutes of his team's eventual 6-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Raleigh, N.C. Jaylynn Nash / Carolina Hurricanes
Jaylynn Nash / Carolina Hurricanes

If you have ever played goalie in the last 20 minutes or so of pick-up hockey – when skaters on both sides are tired, backchecking has disappeared and defense is clearly an optional concept – you may understand how former Minnesota Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine felt in his National Hockey League debut.

LaFontaine, who had signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes just five days earlier, was sent into the crease for the final 15 minutes of his team’s eventual 6-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, Jan. 13, in Raleigh, N.C.

The Hurricanes are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, have statistically some of the best defense in the NHL, and are contenders to win their second Stanley Cup this season. None of that was evident from what happened on the rink versus Columbus. Carolina starting goalie Frederik Andersen was repeatedly hung out to dry by a depleted Hurricanes defensive unit, and the visitors scored to make it 4-0 with 14:57 to play in the third period. That’s when LaFontaine, wearing jersey number 80, got the call.


Just 30 seconds into his first NHL stint, the Hurricanes gave up yet another breakaway, and the first pro shot that LaFontaine faced ended up in the net, when the Blue Jackets’ forward Cole Sillinger scored on a wrist shot to make it 5-0. Jack Roslovic beat LaFontaine on another Columbus breakaway later in the period, making it 6-0.

The rookie goalie’s final stat line was notable, and not in a good way. In total, LaFontaine faced three shots, and gave up the two breakaway goals, finishing with one save. Asked about the decision to play LaFontaine in a game that was already lost, Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said it was more about giving Andersen a break on a night when the defense was porous.

“We were giving up breakaway after breakaway. I’m not going to leave Freddie in there to keep having that,” Brind’Amour said. “I figured maybe we’d throw the kid in and we’d decide we better not give those up, but that’s not what happened, unfortunately. I hate that we threw him in for that, but he got his feet wet a little bit.”

With a home game versus the Vancouver Canucks scheduled for Noon CT on Saturday, there is a chance that LaFontaine could make his first start and with that in mind his new coach said getting the new goalie a taste of the NHL, even in a blowout, was a good thing.

“I don’t regret it. It’s a good chance to get him in there and see how the pace is and everything,” Brind’Amour said. “We weren’t winning the game but we got him a little (taste of) this is how fast it is and this and that. I don’t regret that.”

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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