His shoulders are broader, his chest is thicker, his game is better rounded. The mug, however, looks much the same as it did four years ago when doe-eyed, smooth-skinned Pat LaFontaine took the NHL by storm in his first season with the Islanders. When LaFontaine, whose cherubic good looks send hormones raging among the Tiger Beat set, married Marybeth Hoey last spring, he broke the hearts of teenage girls from Oyster Bay to Orient Point. But home and hearth, Marybeth's soothing words after a bad game and her superb carrot cake have had a steadying influence.
These days LaFontaine drives to work in one of those snub-nosed vans ideal for young families on the go. He and Marybeth, a former Wilhelmina model, and Fred, a golden retriever, and Barney, a Lhasa apso, live in an eight-room house on a wooded acre in Huntington, N.Y., 25 miles from the Islanders' home ice at Nassau Coliseum.
Says Marybeth, "You know how they say you can take your work home with you? Well, you can also take your home to work. We're married now, Patty's settled, he's satisfied, and it shows."
Just shy of his 23rd birthday (Feb. 22), LaFontaine is more than halfway through his fourth, and by far his best, NHL season. A midseason acknowledgment of that came when Mike Keenan, coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and this year's Wales Conference All-Stars, selected LaFontaine as one of his centers. In his first All-Star appearance LaFontaine was one of just four U.S.-born players in the game on Feb. 9.
America got its first look at LaFontaine when he was an 18-year-old star of the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team and one of the most talented American players ever. A season earlier, in 1982-83, he had a mind-numbing 104 goals and 130 assists for Verdun of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. By scoring in 43 consecutive games, he broke the record of 40 set in 1971 by Guy Lafleur.
Alas, at the Sarajevo Games the Diaper Line—LaFontaine and fellow teens David A. Jensen and Eddie Olczyk—never made it to the medal round. Team USA lost its first two games, disappearing from the competition even before the opening ceremonies.
After the Olympics, LaFontaine immediately joined the Islanders, who had made him their top pick, third overall, in the '83 entry draft. In his second NHL game he had a hat trick and five points. For a tantalizing month he was sensational, scoring 13 goals, 19 points, in 15 games. It seemed the charmed Islanders, winners of every Stanley Cup since 1980, had taken out dynasty insurance by signing LaFontaine. Says Islander general manager Bill Torrey, "I'm no different from the next guy. You always hope you've got the next Gretzky."
The Drive for Five failed. That May in the Stanley Cup finals the Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers beat the Isles in five games. LaFontaine was disappointing—expectations were so inflated he could hardly have been otherwise. In '84-85, his first full season, the wunderkind was exposed as a one-dimensional teenager who had honed his considerable offensive skills at the expense of learning defense.
"In juniors, when I saw a loose puck, I could just go for it," says LaFontaine. "So I had to make adjustments. And sometimes the maturity level to do that wasn't there."
When coach Al Arbour let him on the ice it was to skate on the third and fourth lines. Arbour says, "Who was he going to take ice-time from? Bryan Trottier? Brent Sutter? Butch Goring? We'd won four Stanley Cups with those guys. You've got to go with those guys."