The clickable menu for the first nine entries of the ‘Back to School’ series on Hurricanes prospects below the AHL level or just moving up to the AHL is HERE.


Today’s ‘Back to School’ article makes a well-timed return trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan following a big weekend win to kick off the football season.


Jack LaFontaine

LaFontaine is one of two netminders who were part of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2016 NHL Draft class. LaFontaine is a Canadian-born goalie who played for the Janesville Jets in 2015-16 before joining the Michigan Woverines for his freshman season in 2016-17. LaFontaine boasts good size at 6 feet 3 inches tall and is also noted for his athleticism in most scouting reports. He split ice time in a crowded crease in 2016-17 and finished with a 3.34 goals against average and .911 save percentage in his freshman season in 2016-17.


Interview with University of Michigan Goaltending Coach Steve Shields

About the Interviewee

Steve Shields is the Goaltending Coach for the Michigan hockey program. After a standout career as a player at Michigan from 1990-1994 that saw him become the first NCAA goalie to reach 100 wins (finished with 111), he went on to a successful 12-year professional career including 10 years in the NHL. Shields played for Buffalo, San Jose, Anaheim, Boston, Florida and Atlanta and finished his NHL career with an 80-104-40 record.


Interview on Jack LaFontaine

Canes and Coffee: How would you describe Jack LaFontaine’s 2016-17 season as a freshman at the University of Michigan?

Steve Shields: I would describe his season as a great foundation building time of Jack’s career.  He might describe it differently because he wants maximum success right now, so it was really great to see him commit to putting in the work when there weren’t a lot of opportunities to get tangible game results. Jack was a raw talent, rough around the edges and what he did last season was create a road map for himself where he now recognizes what he needs to do every day to reach his goals. That should give him great confidence.


Canes and Coffee: What areas of focus do you see for LaFontaine over the offseason and entering the 2017-18 season in terms of improving and taking the next steps in his development as a young netminder?

Steve Shields: Agility and skating have been a major focus in his off season. These areas of goaltending are becoming more important all the time, so he must do the required work to keep up with everyone else, plus the extra work it takes to rise to the top.


Canes and Coffee: From working with LaFontaine for a full season, what areas of his game jumped out as strengths and/or advanced for his age and stage of development?

Steve Shields: Jack’s desire and attitude are his biggest strengths as an athlete. As a coach you get excited to see this simply because it’s the part of the game that can’t be taught.   

Skating is also becoming a strength of his as well.  He was 18 years old and just growing into his frame, so getting through that time when nothing feels great because it’s constantly changing, was important for him to go through for nothing more than to gain the confidence in himself.


Canes and Coffee: What is the outlook for the goalie position at Michigan entering the 2017-18 season?

Steve Shields: We were in a unique position last season with 4 goalies, one being a Senior. This season we have 3 returning goalies. With a new head coach the expectations will be high, and Jack is in a great position to have success.


Interview with David Nasternak and Anthony Ciatti from MGoBlog

About the interviewees

David Nasternak (Twitter=@NastyIsland) hails from MGoBlog where he does a myriad of behind-the-scenes tasks.  He also covers the majority of Michigan Hockey games, pushing Corsi and shot/possession statistics.  Some writing, mostly numbers.

Anthony Ciatti (Twitter=@ACiattiis a 10+ year Michigan season ticket holder and lifelong goaltender. He has appeared on the MGoBlog podcast to talk UM Hockey and has also written prospect reports as a guest at Arctic Ice Hockey covering Jets prospects that played for Michigan. Anthony is also tip-toeing toward adopting the Hurricanes. Since the Wings are in the gutter, he will be watching more Canes hockey this year as he likesthe approach they’re taking, thinks Bill Peters is a good coach and once bought a set of goalie pads from Scott Darling on eBay.  


Interview on Jack LaFontaine

Canes and Coffee: How would you describe Jack LaFontaine’s starting point entering the 2016-17 season as a college freshman?

David Nasternak: Unfortunately, expectations coming into the 2016-17 season were not that high for Michigan overall.  They lost a TON of NHL talent in the offseason, and this was going to be a Goalie and Defense reliant team.  The defense was one of the worst I’d seen in all my years watching Michigan, but the goaltending was pleasantly surprising.  JLF came in relatively touted as a 3rd round pick, and when he got his chances he did not disappoint.  Most of his stats don’t necessarily bare that out because he was behind a shoddy defense and an offense that struggled to score 5v5, but he kept Michigan in games much longer than I anticipated either by sheer volume of saves or stressful situation saves.

Anthony Ciatti: LaFontaine played the 3rd period of the Michigan Exhibition game vs the University of Windsor, Ontario.  For those who don’t know the CIS (Canadian College) teams are mostly inferior to an NCAA team and the exhibitions are traditionally not close at all.

In this game, however, Windsor actually out-chanced Michigan and LaFontaine stood on his head to preserve a 2-0 win (including an empty-netter). The Michigan faithful were all freaked out over a CIS team outplaying Michigan, and it was a harbinger of things to come.

Initially LaFontaine’s athleticism and talent stood out from that limited viewing, and I had thought he would eventually win the starting job.


Canes and Coffee: How would you describe LaFontaine’s 2016-17 season in terms of taking the next steps in his development as a young netminder?

David Nasternak: I thought JLF had an encouraging season, overall, especially for a freshman.  He was in a bit of a weird circumstance because he rotated with 2 other goalies and had a couple of injuries, so his playing time was nowhere near consistent.  Also, Michigan’s team defense was abysmal.  He was forced to save breakaways and odd man rushes on a regular basis…and there were many times that he did.  He had his share of soft goals and poor clearances, but if you watched any of Michigan Hockey last season, goaltending was about the last possible thing to blame.  That being said, he had his ups and downs but generally was more up than down.

Anthony Ciatti: In one word, “underutilized”.  I think, given the season the team had and how obvious it was that they were not good, it was suboptimal to play the goalie with the highest ceiling in only a third of the starts.  He went two months between starts in Dec-Feb.  Although all of Michigan’s goalies played well last year it made no sense, to me at least, that the goalie with the most potential and one of the top freshmen recruits on the team didn’t get more chances.  I am extremely optimistic about LaFontaine because I think his ceiling is quite high, and the team hasn’t produced a legit NHL goalie since Al Montoya in 2005.  LaFontaine has a chance to break that streak.

When given the chance, he played mostly well.  When you consider he was an 18-year old freshman playing for a bad team he looked even better.  It didn’t help that the team scored a whopping 1.55 goals per game in his appearances, but someone looking to point out a negative could look at the 1-7-1 record. The team finished with its worst record since 1986-87, so it was a challenging environment for LaFontaine. The team itself had one of the worst Corsi % in the entire NCAA, so he was playing for a legitimately terrible team.  

LaFontaine’s stats are weird.  On the surface they look middling.  He was 3rd on the team in save percentage but 1st in Save Percentage close by a wide margin.  Browsing through his game log he did have one game where he lost 5-1 at Penn State where he made 53, yes FIFTY THREE saves.


Canes and Coffee: From watching LaFontaine for a full season, what do you see as his strengths that he can build on working toward the NHL someday? What areas of his game leave room for improvement as he continues to develop as a young player?

David Nasternak: The things that stood out to me while watching JLF were his positioning and athleticism.  He looked very comfortable in the net and moved well, even in traffic.  He also seemed to know where he was supposed to be given the situation/puck placement, relative to the defense around him.  Positioning could easily be attributed to Michigan’s fantastic goalie coach, but the athleticism is all JLF.

I look forward to watching JLF grow a little more in his consistency in his strengths.  Also, I want to see him just play more games.  He only appeared in 12 games for Michigan, last season (again, weird three-goalie scenario).  Playing a full season at this level -or at least getting 20-25 games- would provide a little better sample size.

Anthony Ciatti: I thought he managed his depth in the crease well for a young goalie. I also thought that he had the athleticism that I would typically see from the high end goalies at the college level.  It is too early to tell if he will have an NHL career, but I would say he’s not thrown up any red flags to date.

As far as improvement, I do recall some goals that seemed to be mental lapses, although they weren’t too common.  He did struggle early on with post integrations in my opinion, and I did find it strange that he switched from Vaughn to CCM during the season and I wonder if he struggled with that change initially.

Frankly there was nothing within his game that stood out as needing major adjustments in my somewhat limited viewing.


Canes and Coffee: What is the outlook for the goalie position at Michigan entering the 2017-18 season?

David Nasternak: The outlook for Michigan goalies in 2017-18 should be rather high.  In addition to LaFontaine, Michigan also returns Hayden Lavigne, who played in 12 games in 16-17.  2016-17 was an odd year because Michigan played 3 goalies almost evenly.  With Zach Nagelvoort graduating in April the crease will be less crowded in 2017-18. The hope is that LaFontaine and Lavigne can pick up right where they left off in 2016-17 when both were playing well. Credit goes to Steve Shields being a very good goalie coach.  I would guess that as long as he sticks around, Michigan’s goalies will be top end and improve year-by-year.  I think that is definitely a positive for JLF’s development.

Anthony Ciatti: Goalie was the only position of any real strength last year, so having two of the three back (Zach Naglevoort graduated and was not signed by Edmonton, which I found odd) will be a strong starting point.  Hayden Lavigne, a 20-year old freshman last season and LaFontaine will return.  Lavigne was also very good last season so I can’t say who would be the starter.

Michigan also sees a change with the retirement of Red Berensen and the hiring for longtime assistant Mel Pearson who had been head coach at Michigan Tech. The change has the potential to provide a spark. It is also worth noting that at MTU Mel had both Jamie Phillips and Phoenix Copley (Steve Shields also coached them part of the time) both of whom are now AHL goalies.

Michigan’s defense will also be improved with the unit mostly returning and the addition of top 2018 prospect Quinn Hughes and an improvement to the defensive system.


For past coverage on Jack LaFontaine including a check in on him during the 2016-17, please visit his Canes and Coffee player page HERE.


Canes and Coffee would like to extend a huge thank you to Michigan Goaltending Coach Steve Shields and David Nasternak and Anthony Ciatti from MGoBlog for generously sharing their insight on Hurricanes prospect Jack LaFontaine!


Go Canes!


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