Sabres retire Hall of Famer LaFontaine’s No. 16

BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) - The Buffalo Sabres beat the New York Islanders to the punch Friday, retiring Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine’s No. 16 in a ceremony prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A native of St. Louis, LaFontaine has yet to have his number raised to the rafters by New York.

Drafted third overall by the Islanders in 1983, LaFontaine scored 19 goals in his rookie season of 1984-85 before recording six straight 30-goal campaigns with New York, including a career-high 54 in 1989-90. He was traded to Buffalo in a seven-player deal involving Pierre Turgeon in October 1991 and spent six seasons with the Sabres before concluding his career with the New York Rangers in 1997-98.

“When we came here in 1991, this community embraced me and embraced my family. Tonight, I just want to tell you it’s my turn,” LaFontaine said. “Thank you to the greatest fans for all of your support. You inspired me whenever I played here. This was a gift in our lives, for my family and I, to play for six years for this wonderful organization, great teammates, players and coaches. But to play in front of you fans was something I will cherish for a lifetime. You are truly, truly the best.”

In 268 games with Buffalo, LaFontaine recorded 158 goals and 227 assists. He set the club record for most assists (95) and points (148) in a season in 1992-93 and established the franchise mark for most goals in a campaign by a center with 53 in 1992-93.

Along with LaFontaine’s family, on hand to participate in the festivities were four of the five players who previously had their numbers retired by the Sabres - Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault (11), the former Buffalo captain’s “French Connection” linemates Rick Martin (7) and Rene Robert (14), and Danny Gare (18). The late Tim Horton (2) also has his number hanging from the rafters.

“I can’t tell you guys how honored I am and how proud I am to join the great tradition and to be up there with you guys,” LaFontaine said. “When I was my son’s age, about 10, I had a childhood idol and I can’t tell you, in my wildest dreams, that I’d ever think that my jersey would be going next to his. He’s truly the king of Buffalo, he was then and he is now, and that’s the great Gilbert Perreault.”

LaFontaine also paid tribute to the late Seymour Knox III, a former owner of the Sabres.

“I was so fortunate to live in this community, and I want to recognize a special man who taught me the importance of kindness and compassion and a man who loved this community so much and loved hockey and loved the Buffalo Sabres,” he said. “I’m also so very honored to have my jersey go up next to his name, and I’d like to thank the Knox family and recognize the late, great Seymour Knox III.”

Despite having his career hampered by concussions, the 41-year-old LaFontaine registered 468 goals and 1,013 points in 865 games. The 1984 United States Olympian was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

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Updated Saturday, Mar 4, 2006