Hockey Hall-of-Famer and former New York Islanders great Pat LaFontaine suffered his first concussion - that was known publicly - in Game 1 of the first round 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs series against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Entering the offensive zone, LaFontaine was hit by a combination of James Patrick and Chris Nilan and fell down hard on the back of his head. LaFontaine was taken off the ice on a stretcher; brawls ensued toward the end of the game. After the Islanders won Game 3 in 2OT on Brent Sutter's game-winner, they trailed the series 3 games to 1, but LaFontaine returned for Game 5 just six days later.
Returning to play six days later wouldn't happen in today's NHL, but concussions still do. LaFontaine is working to do something about that.
Per the press release, In collaboration with one of the premier neurologists and concussion experts in the world – Dr. James Kelly, LaFontaine, Valor Hockey, and the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA), an affiliate of USA Hockey, have designed the first helmet in six years to earn a five-star safety rating.
"The Valor helmet provides game-changing protection and performance through innovation. The design and technical features of the helmet are focused on the effort to significantly reduce the impact of both linear and, importantly, rotational forces."- Pat LaFontaine
Some have been critical of the National Hockey League for lagging behind what the science has told them can help cut down on concussions and protect the short and long-term safety of its players. Years after LaFontaine, star center Eric Lindros suffered from concussions throughout his career, and his younger brother Brett, a former first-round selection of the Islanders, had his career greatly impacted for the same reasons.
Things may have been slow to evolve, but thanks for former players like LaFontaine, progress is now being made, ignorance is waining and safer helmets are being worn by players by all ages. But there is still a lot of work to do and minds to change.
Earlier this week in The Hockey News, Stan Fischler spoke with "Patty" and talked about his mission to improve safety in the game of hockey and offered a great quote that captures his motivations for doing this type of work in retirement.
"If I had this Valor helmet that night at The Garden, I'm sure that my career would have lasted a lot longer than it did! I have a saying in life; 'Score your goals when you're young because when you get older, life is about assists," said LaFontaine. "And as for the Valor helmet, it's an assist to the future of The Game!"