It's an hour before game time at the Verdun Auditorium. In the lobby a concessionaire stands behind a table piled with souvenirs that include pucks with LaFontaine's name and face stamped on them and lapel buttons with his picture. "They sell like hot cakes," says the concessionaire as he works a machine that stamps yet another LaFontaine photograph onto yet another button.
Upstairs in the press box are scouts from the Minnesota North Stars and the New York Islanders who have come to watch LaFontaine. These two teams are represented because each has an excellent chance of winding up with the first pick in the draft. The Islanders hold the New Jersey Devils' No. 1 choice, and the North Stars have the Pittsburgh Penguins' top choice. Either New Jersey, Pittsburgh or the Hartford Whalers, who have retained their first selection, will finish with the NHL's worst record and thus get first crack at LaFontaine.
If the team that drafts LaFontaine wants to move him into the lineup immediately, LaFontaine says, "I'd probably go. But if it's possible, I'd like to play in the Olympics." If he's drafted by either Minnesota or the Islanders, he might well end up representing the U.S. in the 1984 Games. North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne has said he "would be agreeable" to letting any eligible player try out for the Olympics before turning pro, and the Islanders usually leave their draft picks in junior hockey for a while.
But the Olympics are nearly a year down the road. On this night, LaFontaine scores two goals, including a short-handed one from behind the net, banking the puck off the goalie's skate. In the dressing room afterward, he is filmed and interviewed by a television crew from the Detroit CBS affiliate, photographed by a magazine and questioned by a gaggle of local sportswriters. It's nearly 45 minutes after the game when LaFontaine leaves the dressing room, only to confront a line of autograph seekers extended like a gauntlet from the dressing-room exit to the front door of the rink. A little boy proffers a pen and program.
"Hey, what's up, buddy?" says LaFontaine as he signs his name.
"No English," says the boy to the American hockey star who is signing his way toward the front door and to stardom beyond.