BONNYVILLE – After more than 15 years of travelling the world to play the sport he loves, Justin Fontaine is once again back in his hometown of Bonnyville helping to train the next generation of elite hockey players.
On Jan. 21, the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs organization will be raising the number 14 banner to the rafters of the RJ Lalonde Arena to recognize Fontaine’s success and accomplishments on the ice prior to the Pontiacs game against the Spruce Grove Saints. The evening’s ceremony will begin at 6:45 p.m.
Among those in the audience will be some of Fontaine’s greatest supporters, his mom and dad, his wife and their two-year old daughter.
“It's a huge honour, especially growing up here, playing my whole childhood here and always wanting to play for the Pontiacs and getting that opportunity,” Fontaine told Lakeland This Week.
Joining the ranks of other past Pontiac players who have also made waves in the hockey world, Fontaine said, “That is huge. I guess it hasn't really sunk in yet. It's definitely pretty cool and I'm excited for the night.”
In 2004, his dream became a reality when Fontaine was made an affiliate player for the AJHL team. The following years, from 2005 to 2007, Fontaine would leave an impact on the local Jr. A team, collecting 157 points in 114 regular season games and another 15 points in 14 playoff games.
The Bonnyville native’s skills on the ice earned him the AJHL Rookie of the Year in his 2005/06 season, followed by the AJHL All-Star Team North Award in 2006/07.
All of these accomplishments were achieved while wearing the number 14 on his jersey.
Fontaine’s keen abilities and versatility on the ice were clear to anyone who watched him. Those skills got him a scholarship with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs where he would later win a National Championship in his senior year.
Looking back, the Pontiacs’ associate general manager Neil Langridge said, “Fonz was one of the most talented players I have ever seen in a Pontiacs jersey. Growing up with him, you knew he was destined for a great hockey career, and he helped put the Pontiacs and Bonnyville on the map in the hockey world. This was a long time coming.”
After college, Fontiane went on to sign as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League (NHL). He logged over 210 career NHL games before taking his game to Europe.
Many young hockey players grow up with the dream of playing in the NHL, but it only becomes a reality for a few. Fontaine attributes much of his success to his parents' dedication, making his journey to the NHL a possibility.
“I was fortunate, my dad coached me growing up, so he was always pushing me in the right directions at an early age and held me accountable and just instilled a good work ethic... that definitely helped me to get where I am.”
Fontaine placed a lot of focus on understanding the game of hockey as a whole and cultivating adaptability.
“Having good hockey IQ is how I got to be in the NHL. Just being able to see and read the ice,” he said. “I knew that the top six roles would be filled. So, I had to become a role player. It wasn't my first choice but in order to make it I had to buy into whatever role I was put into and do the best of my ability to be effective in that role.”
After playing two years in eastern Europe and then Germany for half a season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Fontaine made the decision to hang up his professional skates. But that does not mean he can’t still be found on the ice.
The right wing now works with the Jr. A Pontiacs during the week as a skills coach for the team.
“It's fun and feels good to share knowledge and my passion for the game,” said Fontaine. “I think about how I can help them to reach the next levels and try to instill that in the skates that I run.”
As a skills coach, he said he focuses on things that made him effective as a player. “The biggest thing is you have to take pride in putting on your skates every time you go out there and be dedicated to the game because it does take a lot.”
The last Pontiacs jersey to be retired was Jon Kalinski’s in 2017.
“I was very fortunate to get to play with three of the four other jerseys that have been retired up there,” noted Fontaine. “I'm honoured to have my jersey raised in the town I grew up in my whole life and to now be back and helping kids out as much as I can and sharing my experiences and things I've learned along the way.”