Top Goaltender Signs NHL Deal With Carolina
CHN Staff Report
Jack Lafontaine, the reigning Mike Richter Award winner and a 2021 First Team All-CHN member, has left Minnesota, signing an NHL deal with the Carolina Hurricanes.
It’s a rare move, to say the least, seeing a star player leave a contending team mid-season. Carolina, who drafted Lafontaine in the third round in 2016, has been desperate for goaltending help.
Instead, it’s the Gophers that will now be desperate in net. Coming off a weekend sweep of Michigan State, Minnesota is No. 8 in the Pairwise and in first place in the Big Ten. Now Minnesota is left with junior Justin Close, who has appeared in just parts of six games over three seasons, and freshman Brennan Boynton, who has not appeared in a collegiate game.
In a statement, Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said, “We would like to thank Jack for his contributions to the Gophers program, and we wish him well as he begins his professional career.”
With Carolina short goaltending due to injury, Lafontaine may play in the NHL sooner than later.
“We’ll play it by ear and see how things are here with the goalie situation,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell told the Charlotte News & Observer. “We definitely want to give him a chance. … We’ve got to find out what we’ve got here.”
The 6-foot-3 Lafontaine, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, played his first two college seasons at Michigan, putting up pedestrian numbers. He transferred to Minnesota after the 2017-18 season, and after sitting out a year, had a solid junior campaign with the Gophers in 2019-20.
Last season, Lafontaine broke out with a 22-7 record, 1.79 goals against average and .939 save percentage. He elected to return to Minnesota for a post-grad year after the NCAA granted players an extra season of eligibility due to COVID-related issues.
This season, Lafontaine’s numbers have dipped — .900 save percentage and 2.69 GAA.
“We love his athleticism and consistency and can’t wait for him to start his professional career,” Waddell said.
Close has played just two games in mopup duty this season.
If there are hard feelings among his Gophers teammates, it wasn’t showing publicly. Freshman Matthew Knies, himself a high-round NHL Draft pick and Lafontaine’s roommate, tweeted Sunday, “Nobody more deserving than Jack! I couldn’t be more proud of my roommate and I’m so appreciative of everything he’s done for @GopherHockey, he’s truly made me into a better person and player. Thank you to Jack for your contributions to gopher hockey, I love you with all my heart.”