During a time when many young players opted for hockey scholarships at colleges in the United States, St. Louis, Missouri-born/Detroit, Michigan raised Pat LaFontaine decided to play in the Canadian junior system. In his only year in the league, he exploded for 104 goals and 234 points and helped his team reach the Memorial Cup finals. Two of the more prominent records he broke were Guy Lafleur's 40-game point-scoring streak and Mike Bossy's 70 goals by a rookie. He also out dueled future NHL icon Mario Lemieux in the scoring race.
LaFontaine was named the outstanding player of the Memorial Cup even though his team was eliminated in the round robin. After the season, LaFontaine was selected as the Canadian Major Junior player of the year. He capped off an exhilarating year by being chosen the first pick of the New York Islanders, the third selection overall, at the 1983 NHL Entry Draft.
Rather than step directly into the NHL, LaFontaine opted to enrich his experience with the United States national squad, which was preparing to compete in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. LaFontaine was one of the team's best performers with eight points in six games, but the U.S. had a disappointing seventh-place finish.
Following the tournament, LaFontaine joined the Islanders. He was allowed to develop at his own pace but was also prevented from playing a major role on a team deep in veterans. In 1986-87, he broke through with 38 goals and scored the memorable fourth overtime period winner against Washington in the seventh game of the Patrick Division semifinals. Later that year he represented the United States at the Canada Cup tournament.
In 1987-88, LaFontaine registered his first of six straight years with at least 40 goals. The following season, he scored eight points in 10 games for the United States at the World Championships. During this period, his exploits went largely unnoticed as the Islanders fell to the lower echelons of the NHL standings. In 1989-90, he led a rejuvenated squad back into the playoffs with his first 50-goal season, but the team fell back out of the post-season picture the next year. In 1991 he was one of the veterans on the U.S. team that lost to Canada in the finals of the Canada Cup. Unable to resolve a contract dispute with New York, he was traded to Buffalo on October 25, 1991, for several players, including scoring star Pierre Turgeon. He exploded during his second season as a Sabre with a team-record 148 points.
LaFontaine was poised to become firmly entrenched as one of the NHL's superstars when a series of injuries began to wreak havoc on his career. He'd already missed 33 games in 1991-92, the result of a broken jaw. In the opening round of the 1993 playoffs against Boston, he banged up his right knee. Pat thought he was fully recovered for play in 1993-94 but lasted only 16 games. He underwent reconstructive surgery for a torn ligament, which cost him the remainder of the season and half of the abbreviated lockout schedule in 1995. His determination to play again earned him the Bill Masterton Trophy at the end of the 1995 season.
Early in the 1996 season, he suffered a concussion that took several months from which to recover. In a cost-cutting measure, the Sabres traded him to the New York Rangers. He wasn't sufficiently healthy to play a full season but did score 62 points in 67 games for the Blueshirts. He also reached the 1,000-point mark on January 22, 1998, a month before he represented the U.S. at the Nagano Olympics. After suffering a second serious concussion, LaFontaine retired at the end of the season with 468 goals and 1,013 points
In June of 2003, LaFontaine was selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. "I am truly thrilled to receive this tremendous honour," said Lafontaine upon receiving the news. "Growing up in St. Louis, I always played for the love of the game and never dreamed this could ever lead to my being a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame."