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Letters to the Editor: A man for all (hockey) seasons

Editor:

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula made news recently, by going back in time and tapping two former team standouts to leadership positions. The selection of Ted Nolan seemed to echo the sentimental journey he has been on, since he rode to the rescue and saved a franchise on the brink of demise.

The choice of Pat LaFontaine, however, was a stroke of genius.

Sure, everyone knows about the great achievements Pat had, on the ice. The tenacious forward was a perennial all-star who still holds the Sabres’ team record for most points in a season. Many also know about his generosity with his time and efforts with many wonderful charitable endeavors.

But it was one night in the fall of 1996, where my admiration of Patrick Michael LaFontaine reached its zenith. Unfortunately for the hockey faithful, it was a game where the ecstasy of seeing Pat on the ice suddenly turned to agony for him and for Sabre fans everywhere.

The team was at home, playing in one of the first games at the then-new Marine Midland Arena. Pat was already facing a difficult road ahead, after suffering one too many hits to his head. The team medical staff and Pat knew that another concussion would probably force the Sabre standout to hang up his skates for good. And then, sadly, it happened.

A vicious blow to the skull, by a Pittsburgh Penguin pugilist, put Pat down and out and silenced the crowd. We all watched with great anguish, as Pat lay motionless on the ice.

After coming to, Pat was soon on his way to the locker room. I was, too. When I got there a short time later, Pat was seated and still in his jersey near his locker. His head was down; his hands clasping his face. He was still dazed, but there was little doubt that his illustrious career was now probably in its waning days. I felt for him.

“Pat, I’m so sorry,” I said, with much trepidation. “You’ve had a great run; you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished out there.”

And here’s where, in my book, the hockey legend became so much more in my eyes. He became a real life hero.

Lifting his head and, with his eyes barely open, he looked right at me and said, slowly, “Terry, thanks. But this doesn’t matter.” He paused a moment and continued. “What matters most to me is my family. My wife, my kids.” And, as he reached out for his father, who was now standing by his side, he grasped his arm saying, “and my dad.”

I was blown away. I smiled and said nothing. But I realized that this man really knew what was important. And, I was proud to know him.

Let’s hope, in the days ahead, that the young men wearing the Sabre uniform, and in the team’s hockey development arm, will listen carefully to what Pat shares and the lessons he can teach them. It just won’t be about hockey; it’ll be about life.

Terry Dunford
Former vice president of communication for the Buffalo Sabres
Hamburg
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