Fontaine growing into role with Wild
DENVER — Justin Fontaine has learned a ton during his rookie season.
Off the ice, the former Minnesota Duluth Bulldog has learned that sometimes it’s the young guy squeezed from the lineup rather than the veteran.
“It’s my first year, and we’ve got a lot of depth up front, so it’s just a matter of knowing your place and staying positive so when you do get back in, you’re ready,” said Fontaine, who played his first road game in the 2014 playoffs Saturday night in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on a line with Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter.
Fontaine ranked fourth on the team with 13 goals despite being scratched 14 times during the regular season.
Yet every single time Fontaine re-enters the lineup, coach Mike Yeo has been impressed how “seamlessly” he has been able to do it.
Fontaine loves the playoff stage. He won a national championship with UMD in 2011.
“It’s been just as big,” said Fontaine, 26. “It’s not the championship game, but the pace and intensity is high — way higher than regular season. The playoffs is a fast game. There’s no slowing the game down. Everyone’s going, everyone’s into it. Emotions are running a lot higher. You know what’s on the line.”
By playing his third playoff game Saturday, Fontaine hit the 69-game threshold, meaning he can become a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent if unsigned by July 1.
That likely assures his return to the Wild.
“I love Minnesota,” Fontaine said. “They taught me a lot this whole ride the last three years. Coming in this year and learning so much and playing a variety of situations, I’m happy to still be here, that’s for sure.”