New York Hockey Journal - August 2016 - (Page B3)
Farewell, Leapin' Louie
n Dropping the gloves was his speciality, but
Fontinato also endeared himself to Rangers
fans with his enthusiasm and solid defense
By Stan Fischler
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
ou Fontinato, who died at 84 early this summer, did not need a nickname to become
the most popular Ranger during the late
1950s and early 1960s.
But his dual nicknames, "Leapin' Louie"
and "Louie the Leaper," didn't hurt when it came to the
boisterous defenseman's pulsating popularity.
By sheer coincidence, Fontinato
and I came to the Blueshirts at the
same time. I got a job in the Rangers publicity department for the
1954-55 campaign, and Louie made
the club's varsity that same season
The public relations man - my
boss, Herb Goren - had heard that
in junior hockey and the minors,
Fontinato would leap off the ice
when being whistled for one of his
"We're gonna make Leapin' Louie one of the most
talked about athletes in New York when I get through
with him," Goren promised.
And by 1955-56 - Fonty's first full NHL campaign
- Herbie delivered on his vow. Actually, when it came
to fan favor, the leaping was secondary to Louie's twofisted game.
Fighting wasn't second, it was first nature with him,
and when Fontinato dropped his gloves, the Madison
Square Garden (then on Eighth Avenue between 49th
and 50th streets) crowd went nuts.
"Lou had a special appeal," says Hal Gelman, a Rockland County insurance man and one of Fontinato's
closest friends, "and it was because of his enthusiasm
as much as his two-fisted approach to the game. Plus,
he was a good defenseman."
Teamed with Hall of Famer Harry Howell, Fontinato
was one of the key Rangers responsible for turning the
team into a playoff contender.
Prior to the Leaper becoming a full-time blueliner,
the New Yorkers dismally had missed the playoffs in
1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1955.
But Louie providing "protection" for skilled scorers
such as Andy Bathgate, Dean Prentice, Andy Hebenton
and Camille Henry not only made the club a playoff
threat but helping the Rangers give the dynastic Montreal Canadiens a run for the top.
In his book "Players," author Andrew Podnieks
summed up Fontinato's career succinctly and accurately: "He set records for penalties and fought bravely. He
was a fan favorite and a solid defenseman."
Most of the Leaper's fights resulted in triumphs.
One of the bloodiest occurred at the Garden during the
1956-57 season when he went at it with Canadiens captain Maurice ("Rocket") Richard.
As it happened, Richard had a large white patch over
his well-stitched forehead from a deep cut suffered the
night before. One of Fontinato's punches connected with
the patch, unstitched the stitches and sent blood gush-
Below, former New York
Ranger players Lou Fontinato
(left) and George Sullivan
watch as Andy Bathpage and
Harry Howell are honored by
the team prior to a 2009 game.
'protection' for skilled
scorers such as Andy
Bathgate, Dean Prentice,
Andy Hebenton and
Camille Henry not only
made the club a playoff
threat but helping the
Rangers give the dynastic
Montreal Canadiens a
run for the top.
ing like a ruptured oil well. A headline in the New York
Herald-Tribune dubbed the game a "Roman circus."
Louie remained the NHL's heavyweight champion
until March 1959 when he mistakenly intervened in a
high-sticking bout between his teammate Eddie Shack
and Gordie ("Mister Hockey)" Howe, the Red Wings'
immortal who never lost a fight.
After staring through a few of Fonty's punches,
Howe belabored the Ranger with such terrific force
that when the two finally were separated, Louie's nose
was turned at a 90-degree angle and he required emergency surgery.
Nevertheless, the Leaper remained super popular
with the fans, but not with his super-frugal general
manager, Muzz Patrick. In 1961 the pair met to discuss
a new contract for Fontinato and Louie immediately de-
B3 NEw YORK HOCKEY JOURNAL August 2016
manded a raise. Just as quickly, Patrick nixed the idea,
whereupon the Leaper uttered the deathless two words:
And so Patrick obliged, sending Fontinato to Montreal in exchange for Hall of Famer Doug Harvey.
Sure enough, Leapin' Louie became a hit in Habtown, playing solid defense until the night or March 9,
1963. Gathering the puck in the Canadiens right corner, Fontinato noticed Rangers left wing Vic Hadfield
charging toward him.
Louie had the right idea, submarine-ing so Hadfield
would sail over him and into the boards, but the timing was wrong and Lou wound up with a broken neck,
never to play hockey again.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of New York Hockey Journal - August 2016
NEHJ August 2016
Our Starting Lineup
Around the Region
Bruins Beat: Ryan Donato
NHL New England
NHL New England Digital Directory
BONUS: Comm Ave Charity Classic gallery
NEHJ Skate Guide: Brand Loyalty
NEHJ Skate Guide: Sharpening 101
NEHJ Skate Guide: Buyer's Guide
Prep/High School Guide
NEHJ TV EPISODES
The Goalie Guru
The Hockey Mom
Summer Camp Directory
Hangin' Out With …
New York Hockey Journal - August 2016
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