On Friday Jack LaFontaine stopped 23 shots in a 4-1 win. On Saturday he stopped 21 pucks in a 6-3 win. On Sunday, LaFontaine left the Minnesota Gophers and signed an entry level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes turning pro. Minnesota will play the final 2 months of the 2021-22 season without a goaltender that has actually started an actual game.
The 2020-21 Mike Richter Award winner flirted with signing with the Hurricanes in the off-season but returned to Minnesota for his fifth season of eligibility. However the Hurricanes were in significant trouble regarding their goaltender situation as according to Luke DeCock of the Charlotte News Observer.
“Faced with a wave of goalie injuries throughout the system, with Antti Raanta a late scratch Saturday with an upper-body injury and AHL goalies Eetu Makeniemi and Beck Warm both injured”
LaFontaine will have a chance to earn immediate playing time with the Hurricane’s AHL team the Chicago Wolves and depending on injury status could actually see time in net for Carolina. As for why Lafontaine left the Gophers in the middle of a season...well money talks.
The signing bonus is actually $88,500, apparently a typo in the press release— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) January 9, 2022
As a senior entering the professional ranks after the season he wouldn’t be guaranteed any money, but Carolina is desperate, and so Laffer took the money and ran. Bob Motzko may be more excited in private, but his public statement in the U press release announcing the signing sure doesn’t make him sound like a happy man at the moment.
“We would like to thank Jack for his contributions to the Gophers program, and we wish him well as he begins his professional career”
So where does that leave the Gophers?
Well this gif pretty much says it all.
Minnesota has 14 regular season games left this season. A pair of rescheduled games against Alaska at home this upcoming weekend and then 12 straight Big Ten games to finish the year. Your new starting goalie for Minnesota is junior Justen Close. Close is from Kindersley, Saskatchewan and apart from starting and winning both exhibition games against St. Thomas and the US Under-18 team a week ago he has played in six career games and has amassed just over once actual games worth of playing time in those six games of mop-up time.
Close was signed three years ago to be the #3 goaltender. He was never expected to see extensive action. Minnesota’s now backup Brennan Boynton is a freshman who has yet to appear in a single game, exhibition or actual. His missed a good chunk of the early portion of the season with injury and illness, but it’s probably not a good sign that he didn’t play a single second in either of the two exhibition games a week ago.
Couple that with what appears to be Ben Meyers—the Gopher leading points getter, Brock Faber—their best defenseman, and Mathew Knies—their best freshmen off to play for Team USA in the Olympics for at least the first three weeks of February, and Minnesota is in deep, deep trouble.
Minnesota sits in first place in the Big Ten at the halfway point, but it’s going to take a miracle level of performance from Close to keep the Gophers anywhere close over the next seven weeks. Let’s hope he can do it, but it is in no way shameful if he can’t.
Congrats to Jack Lafontaine, and hopefully he succeeds in the AH:L and or NHL. From all accounts he has been a great teammate, but he has definitely left his team in a deep deep hole at the moment.