October 1, 2001
Pat LaFontaine watched Eric Lindros' Aug. 20 news conference and
noted the familiar trimmings: a rapt audience of reporters, a full
dais of new bosses and teammates and the guy at the microphone
talking about recovery and concussions and the start of a new era.
"I could certainly put myself in that situation because I had been in
that situation," said LaFontaine, who held a similar news conference
in September 1997, to announce his own return from a concussion-
induced layoff to play for the Rangers after 14 seasons with the
Islanders and Buffalo Sabres. "It brought back some good memories,
because the year before, I never thought I'd play again."
LaFontaine was 33 and seemed ready for retirement when he suffered a
concussion near the end of the 1996-97 season with the Sabres. He was
cleared neurologically that summer by Dr. James Kelly - a Chicago
specialist who has examined Lindros on several occasions - and the
Rangers acquired LaFontaine for a draft pick.
LaFontaine had been an Islander for 7Â½ seasons but had no hesitation
to play for the hated Rangers - something Lindros, as a former Flyer,
did have misgivings about.
"It was nice to see both sides of that rivalry," LaFontaine
said. "That one year with the Rangers was great."
Of course, it didn't end well. LaFontaine had 23 goals and 62 points
in 67 games and gave the Rangers incredible depth at center behind
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. But in his 68th game, LaFontaine
collided with teammate Mike Keane and was knocked out cold, suffering
another concussion. He missed the rest of the season and decided to
retire in August 1998.
"I realized I wasn't 100 percent and that there's only so many times
you can go through this," said LaFontaine, who had three concussions
in his career, half the number Lindros has. "It's been nice to have
He is sure that Lindros isn't ready to retire, either. "I'm sure if
he hadn't tried to come back, he would have regretted it forever,"
Where LaFontaine, who finished his career with 1,013 points, was a
finesse player, Lindros is a bulldozer. Several people, including
Rangers general manager Glen Sather, have said Lindros needs to adapt
his game to his fragile health, but LaFontaine knows that won't be
"It's like telling anybody to change - it's not that simple," said
LaFontaine, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., with his wife and three
children. "He's a physical player who is skilled, but brings a
special element with that potential for the big hit. Maybe there are
some circumstances where he'll be more conscious, but he's only 28,
in the prime of his career."