Ask any member of Canada’s National Para Hockey Team about Mike Fountain and the odds are high almost all would rave about enjoying the company of the assistant/goaltending coach on and off the ice.
“He is so fun to be around,” says Tyler McGregor. “Mike is a personable guy, and he feels just like one of the boys. He is also a knowledgeable coach and we have a ton of respect for what he has accomplished in his career.”
Fountain’s road to the Team Canada bench began when he was inspired to become a goaltender, just like his grandfather Carl Goltz. Grandfather would tell grandson stories of his career when the two of them would sit down to watch Mike Palmateer star in net for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“He would share old pictures of him wearing the round pads and no helmet in the old days and then I would hear from aunts and uncles about how great he was,” recalls the Gravenhurst, Ont., product. “Goaltending was a cool connection between us.”
Flash forward to 2019 and the 47-year-old has a treasure trove of his own great experiences in a professional career that spanned 17 seasons and took him around the world.
Highlights of the North American phase of his career include being named top goaltender in the Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa Generals, earning all-star status in the American Hockey League with the Hamilton Canucks and posting a shutout in his National Hockey League debut with the Vancouver Canucks.
It was two opportunities with Hockey Canada in the early 1990s that got him “buzzed” on the concept of playing in Europe. The first was at the 1992 IIHF World Junior Championship. While he did not appear in net, he enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere in Füssen and Kaufbeuren, Germany, while watching teammates like Eric Lindros and Scott Niedermayer dominate on the ice.
The 1992 Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, was an even more cherished experience as he delivered a performance of true grit between the pipes for a Canadian team that won the championship.
“The day before the tournament I got a puck under my catching hand and broke my finger – a hairline fracture,” reminisces Fountain. In every game – I played all five games in the tournament – the [training staff] had to freeze my finger before each period so I couldn’t feel it and so I [could] close my glove.
“That tournament was the Canadian way as we had a group of guys from all over that came together for a week of hockey, and we bonded and gelled instantly. I carry it with me to this day.”
Morris Lukowich, then a 36-year-old former NHLer playing in Europe, was in awe of how Fountain, then just 20, composed himself in goal.
“I’ve always said that Mike Fountain and [coach] Andy Murray are the two big reasons we won the Spengler Cup,” says Lukowich, who played most of his 582 NHL tilts with the Winnipeg Jets from 1979-85.
Fountain launched the European phase of his career by joining Russian Superleague (RSL) squad Lada Togliatti. In his debut campaign in 2001-02, he garnered a 1.36 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and set the all-time single-season RSL shutout record 14 blankings in just 44 appearances.
Equally as memorable as the on-ice exploits was the experiences of travelling in that league. Fountain has entertained plenty of people with his tale of a particular nine-hour flight from Moscow to Khabarovsk.
“We arrive in Moscow and we’re not taking a jet but instead an old 1960s bomber-looking type of plane with propellers. You get into the plane and the bottom of the plane is open. We had to walk in and store our equipment on the seats. They kept on adjusting the equipment in our seats so I said to my buddy, ‘What’s going on here?’ He said, ‘They’re adjusting our equipment so they can get our weight right for the flight.’
“So, I’m a little nervous now. Our nine-hour flight ended up taking 23 hours because we had to touch down three times to de-ice in who knows where Siberia and we had to do the same coming back,” said Fountain with a laugh.
Between his two stints with Togliatti (his last season was 2008-09), Fountain played for the Iserlohn Roosters in Germany, HC Lugano in Switzerland, and Mechel Chelyabinsk and Traktor Chelyabinsk in Russia.
Fountain says the sum of his playing experiences enables him to achieve a trusting rapport with the players he guides at all levels of the game.
“I have been exposed to a lot of different techniques and philosophies for players and a coach and this helps me be a relatable coach. Guys will listen to me because of these unique experiences.”
Ken Babey, the head coach of Canada’s para team, says he appreciates that Fountain joined his coaching staff in the fall of 2018 because of the enthusiasm, sense of humour and insight he supplies every day. Over the past year his role has evolved beyond just helping the team’s netminders.
“He is helping us figure out how to generate more offence and score more goals. He works at analyzing the opposition goalies and provides us with intel on how to beat those guys. He also provides our boys with ideas or shots and plays to beat particular goaltenders.”
The reunion with Hockey Canada has been a great experience for Fountain because it affords him the opportunity to work with a great group of people and he once again gets to help his country push for the top spot on the podium.