It was a milestone night for Justin Fontaine.
After two hard-fought years of paying his dues with the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League riding busses, playing three games in three nights and making a name for himself game in and game out, the 25-year-old made his Wild debut in the team’s 3-2 shootout loss against the Los Angeles Kings.
It was also a milestone night for his alma mater, the University of Minnesota Duluth, as Fontaine became the 50th Bulldog to play in the National Hockey League.
Fontaine follows in the footsteps of notable UMD skaters like Brett Hull, Tom Kurvers, Derek Plante, Curt Giles and Shjon Podein and current Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason.
“It’s a privilege to follow the guys who have come out of the school and played in the NHL,” Fontaine said. “I’m excited to be a part of that group and this is definitely an exciting time for me in hockey.”
Fontaine was a four-year standout with the Bulldogs from 2007-11, helping lead Duluth to a National Championship in his senior year, the first in the school’s history. Along with last night’s game, it’s a time that will forever be etched in his memory.
“Winning that and the few weeks we had after to enjoy with the boys,” Fontaine recalled fondly. “Knowing college was going to be over with, it was a time to take advantage of; it goes by so quickly.”
Playing four years of college hockey helped in Fontaine’s development as a player. He was afforded time to play in every situation while maturing off the ice by attending classes and interacting with non-athlete students in his peer group. At 5-foot-10, the winger believes the college route was best for his development.
“I wasn’t the biggest guy,” Fontaine said. “I think the route I took was the smart route. I enjoyed college, I needed that time to be 22 and develop more.”
While garnering three All-WCHA awards, Fontaine balanced his on-ice production in the classroom, earning a degree in finance.
The Bonnyville, Alberta native made lifetime friends while in school and despite being spread all across the globe due to hockey, keeps in touch with many of his former classmates. Mike Connolly, Justin Faulk and Cody Danberg are a few teammates who participate in an alumni golf tournament with Fontaine every summer.
“We usually meet up two or three times a year still,” Fontaine said. “We arrange a weekend or two a year and get together.”
Per the school’s website, Fontaine joined five other ex-Bulldogs -- Jason Garrison (Vancouver), Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh), Mason Raymond (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jay Rosehill (Philadelphia), Alex Stalock (San Jose) -- whose teams have made their 2013-14 debuts this season while a sixth, defenseman Justin Faulk and the Carolina Hurricane open play tonight.
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