Dad: Want to come to an art auction with me tonight?
Me: Umm. I don't know.
Dad: Pat Lafontaine will be there, signing autogr...
Me: I'll go!
1991 puts me in middle school. Safe to say I wouldn't have wanted much to do with an art auction back then—especially if the event was being held at a random car dealership in the middle of my summer vacation, as was the case here.
It's not like my dad and stepmom were art collectors, either. But I don't know. It's certainly possible that they were looking for a new painting for the walls. Or maybe dad knew that I'd recently gotten into the sport of hockey and that Pat LaFontaine was the biggest hockey name on Long Island, and the whole "wanting to go to an art auction" thing was just a case of dad doing something cool for his boy.
In any case, I'd already gotten busy flipping through my hockey cards and decided to take out the most recent LaFontaine printing from Upper Deck:
|1990-91 Upper Deck #246, Pat LaFontaine|
Nifty-looking card. And that, I told myself, is what I'd ask Mr. LaFontaine to sign.
Soon we'd arrive at the dealership. A decent crowd had gathered, but it wasn't exactly a throng of hobnobbing artsy folk. (I don't think the auction was a widely advertised thing.) All the cars had been cleared out of the main showroom and rows of folding chairs had been arranged in front of an auctioneer's podium. Dad and I found two seats and waited for the games to begin.
Well, they began. There were lots of generic oil paintings. One after the other. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention, but there must have been a few bidding wars, which I can only assume I enjoyed at least a little bit. (Dad bid on a couple of different items, but wasn't the high bidder on either occasion.)
They didn't have the air conditioning turned on, so it was certainly stuffy in there. I do remember that. And although the auction probably didn't last more than and hour or two, it sure seemed like forever to me.
Finally, the last painting came off the block, and we got on the line for autographs.
When we approached the table and I handed Mr. LaFontaine the Upper Deck card, he looked at me with a little smirk, as if he wanted to sarcastically ask,
"So, you like art auctions, do you?"
Or maybe he appreciated the fact that a kid would sit through an entire auction just to get an autograph from a hockey player.
Regardless, he was very cordial, said hello with that smile still on his face, and happily signed the card even though I think he was mostly signing photographs that the dealership (or the Islanders) had provided. Here's the card, with autograph:
Dad and I gave our thanks and commended him on a great season, and then we scooted from the line to allow the next fan to receive an autograph.
As it turned out, just a couple of months later Mr. LaFontaine would be moving up to Buffalo in that big trade involving Pierre Turgeon. (The full trade was LaFontaine, Randy Wood, Randy Hillier, and a 4th-round draft pick for Turgeon, Benoit Hogue, Uwe Krupp, and Dave McLlwain.)
It worked out pretty well for both teams. Turgeon had some monster years on the Island, and LaFontaine made absolute magic with Alexander Mogilny in Buffalo. Have a look at these numbers from the 1992-93 season, for example:
Turgeon: 83 GP, 58 G, 74 A, 132 PTS, 24 PP Goals, Lady Byng trophy, 5th in NHL scoring
LaFontaine: 84 GP, 53 G, 95 A, 148 PTS, 20 PP Goals, 2nd in NHL scoring
Still, Patty was really missed by the fans on the Island.
I'm glad I had the chance to briefly meet him before the trade. Even happier to still have this card, in addition to the memories. Was the card the best piece of art in the auction that night? The 1991 version of me would probably say yes.
You readers and fellow collectors must have a good childhood autograph story or two. Feel free to share in the comment section.
And thanks for reading!