LaFontaine stood tall in return to Michigan

Gophers goalie faced old teammates and a rowdy student section against his former school

by Julianna Landis

    Minnesota goaltender Jack LaFontaine has history with the Michigan Wolverines, and it’s something that has spurred questions since the preseason. Last weekend the questions finally got concrete answers when LaFontaine and the Gophers faced off against Michigan for the first time this year.

  LaFontaine spent two seasons with the Wolverines before spending a year in junior hockey with Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and ultimately rejoining college hockey with Minnesota. Those three years of experience make him the most seasoned of goaltenders on the roster for Minnesota, and head coach Bob Motzko said that as such an athlete there wasn’t anything special he felt LaFontaine needed to hear. Motzko told LaFontaine that he was happy for him, but their talks before the game were more focused on the long-term instead of just one game, Motzko said. 

   Something that LaFontaine had to contend with in his return was the voracity of Michigan’s student section, dubbed “The Children of Yost” after former Wolverines football coach and arena namesake Feilding Harris Yost. The fans doled out volleys of chirps about him, said Lafontaine, “I take it for granted when I played there, I always knew they were enthusiastic but you start to play against them and you realize, ‘Wow, they are ruthless.'”  While LaFontaine insisted none of the chirps he heard were clean enough to repeat, he did say that the insults got oddly personal. “They knew too much stuff, it was weird, we’ll leave that out, but they were interesting… they had ex-girlfriend dirt, I mean they had everything, man. They were good.” 

  Even with the crowd set against him, LaFontaine had a standout night in the Friday game, making a season-high thirty-three stops in the double-overtime thriller. There had been a lot of buildup to the match given LaFontaine’s time in Ann Arbor, but he said that once he got into a flow of the game and faced a few shots it was like facing any other opponent, “The first three shots, obviously, you know, breathing a little heavy… I think it was the ten-minute mark in the first period where I started to really find myself, my game and calm down a little bit. It just became a Wolverine versus Gopher hockey game at that point.” LaFontaine said.    

  Defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf said that playing in Yost Arena is one of the few places he still gets nervous about as a senior and that LaFontaine responded well in the tough environment on and off the ice, ” I guess we’re kinda used to the chirps but that was kind of an ultra-sensitive one. He handled it great and kind of shut down the student crowd at the end of the game, so good for him. Great karma.” 

   With the matchup sometimes being made out to be something bigger than it was, LaFontaine said the team was very supportive of him and helped to ease some of the nervousness he felt before the game. It’s something he is better learning to handle as he gets older, LaFontaine said, “The anxiety’s always going to be there for me, it’s all about managing it and then embracing it. I’m naturally going to be nervous, I think being nervous is a good thing, it helps me prepare. I’ve got to use that as power, and I’m slowly learning that as a twenty-one year-old.” 

 Minnesota will begin a long home stretch this weekend with a series against Penn State.