Posted: Wednesday November 1, 2006 5:25PM; Updated: Sunday November 12, 2006 7:07PM
Now 41 and in fighting trim, LaFontaine is still bursting with boyish enthusiasm.
Brian Cazeneuve will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
From time to time, people remind LaFontaine how much his good works have impacted them. Last March, just hours after the Sabres retired his jersey No. 16, he went out to celebrate with friends and family close to HSBC Arena. A man he didn't know offered to buy LaFontaine a drink and told him he'd been a patient at Children's Hospital in Buffalo when LaFontaine bought a box in the luxury suites for some of the patients there.
To raise funds, LaFontaine has solicited donations from the corporate world and received at least one large gift for each of the three rooms: George Ross, Donald Trump's right hand man on The Apprentice, helped build the room in Westchester; Sabres owner Tom Golisano supported the one at Buffalo Children's Hospital; and Morgan Stanley donated to help build the one in New York City. In addition, LaFontaine wrote a book about it -- Companions in Courage -- in 2003 with all proceeds going to the organization. He has hosted a billiards night, a casino night, a golf tournament and even a pond hockey tournament on his own backyard rink where corporate groups have flown in to skate 3-on-3 against the likes of actors Michael J. Fox and Dennis Leary and former players Clark Gilles, Glenn Anderson and Cam Neely.
The triathlon fulfills a dual purpose. LaFontaine had always pondered the vague notion of completing a triathlon after he retired, but he left the game prematurely after a series of concussions. He had heard the story of a 72-year-old man and a 70-year-old nun who finished an Ironman competition after dark and was inspired to run his own. Each time, he raised money for his charity and is expecting to pull in $45,000 for his effort this weekend.
"Of course people think I'm crazy," he says. Mike Richter [the former Rangers goaltender who also retired because of concussions] wants to do a triathlon, so it proves you have to hit your head pretty hard to be able to do it. My agent (and Godparent of LaFontaine's children) Donnie Meehan sent me a donation and an additional $20 so I could get my head fixed."
LaFontaine continues: "Hockey players spend time on exercise bikes, but we are not built to run and swim. There are times I think I spent 15 years as a pro athlete. I don't need this. But what gets me through training or those moments when you cramp up a little bit is the thought that, okay, there's a greater cause here. Kids are worrying about much more the sore muscles and I'm telling them to keep going."
Even in retirement, the man who scored over a thousand points in a brilliant NHL career is still racking up valuable assists.