Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fighting the Battle within after Injury, Lafontaine Battles to Come Back

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fighting the Battle within after Injury, Lafontaine Battles to Come Back

Article excerpt

The curtain of darkness descended in Pat LaFontaine's brain without warning, and it would not budge.

He would be doing something as simple as making waffles for his daughters' breakfast when fatigue engulfed him, leaving him spent. Normally cheerful and extroverted, a born leader and the captain of the Buffalo Sabres, he hid at home for days at a time, unable to face friends or teammates.

LaFontaine, one of the best U.S.-born players ever to skate in the National Hockey League, didn't know the head injury he suffered Oct. 17 would be his most formidable foe. Only now is his life resuming its old rhythms, and he still faces the possibility he will be forced to retire at 32. "A neuropsychologist at the Mayo Clinic said, `Did it feel like someone came along and ripped all the motivation and personality out of you?' I said, `Yes! Where is it? What happened?' " LaFontaine said. "He said that's what can happen. It's almost like parts of you shut down. "I remember being scared because for the first month after that I was very emotional. I was very depressed at times. I just wasn't myself. My wife was a little bit scared because the littlest things would set me off." He was blind-sided during a game on an unpenalized hit by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Francois Leroux, taking the blow on the left side of his head and hitting the right side as he fell to the ice. The impact left him dazed but not alarmed. He had suffered four previous concussions and several instances when, as players say, he had his bell rung and was temporarily dazed. He didn't know his brain, too often battered, could no longer send out the electrical impulses or spur production of the chemicals that kept his body and mind functioning smoothly. He came back a few days later, only to find his hand-eye coordination had gone haywire, his memory was fragmenting and his emotions were riding a roller coaster. A swift, agile skater with great vision and superb passing skills - he has twice scored 50 goals and 100 points and scored 91 points last season after returning from major knee surgery - he was slow and uncertain. Puzzled by his lethargy but unable to shake it, he apologized to his teammates after a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. …

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