Gravenhurst Banner: By Brent Cooper
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of three parts on the story of Mike Fountain, who got his start in hockey in Gravenhurst an eventually found his way into the NHL and beyond.
GRAVENHURST – It was Christmas 1992 and Mike Fountain was in Switzerland, waiting for his name to be called.
The Vancouver Canucks, the team that had drafted him 45th overall in the National Hockey League entry draft, had loaned him to Team Canada that fall. He was in Davos during the holidays to compete in the annual Spengler Cup, one of hockey’s oldest and most prestigious tournaments in the world.
He was listening to his introduction when his ears perked up.
“Starting in goal, from North York, Mike Fountain,” boomed the announcer’s voice.
That, according to Fountain, would not do.
“I consider myself a Gravenhurst kid … I got the guys to change it to Gravenhurst. My ties to Muskoka and this community run that deep.”
To those who know the man they call Founts, this was not surprising. Yes he was born in North York on Jan 26, 1972, but to him, Gravenhurst has, and always will be home.
“We became good buddies right off the bat,” said Derek Schofield, a Gravenhurst native who has known Fountain for more than 35 years. “He is very humble, down to earth, who always remembers his roots and is very proud to be from Gravenhurst.”
Fountain’s story is an improbable one, of a youngster who never played competitive hockey until he was past the age of eight, and had no idea of how good he was as a goalie even though others told him differently.
He was born to Al and Carol Fountain, one of three children, including brother Christopher and Cheryl.
Dad Al was originally from Torrance and mom Carol from Bala. Dad was a police officer in North York for 30 years when Fountain was born. When Fountain was eight, his parents decided city life wasn’t for them any longer.
“He started seeing some stuff in the city he didn’t like and he decided he wanted his family to grow up more in a community-based small-town atmosphere.”
The Fountains decided to move closer to their roots and took up residence on Peter Street in Gravenhurst, where the future goaltender got involved in sports.
But not hockey. At least not right away.
“I played travel T-ball in North York, and I played road hockey. That’s like a lost art these days, road hockey. I was the smallest kid on the court in Toronto so they put me in net. We used to cut up old pillows from a couch strapped to my legs with blue string and a baseball glove. I liked to say I honed my skills that way.”
When he got to Gravenhurst, all of his new chums played ice hockey and persuaded their newest friend to come play with them.
It was not that easy of a decision for Fountain to make, but one that he did eventually.
“I had never skated in my life,” he said. “I went out and tried to make the A team. Didn’t make the A team, so I played on the B team. I was a defenceman.”
It was a game against a team from Mactier that sealed Fountain’s fate to be stuck between the pipes.
“We lost that one game to them 13-1. The next game the coach asked if anyone wanted to play goal. So I thought I would try it at that age. I went in and we beat them 2-1.”
He never left the cage again. About three weeks later, he progressed so well and so fast, he was brought up to the A team as a netminder.
He would continue to play minor hockey in Gravenhurst, and with summer hockey rep teams all in an effort to improve his goaltending skills.
When he was 15 he tried out for six junior B teams but was unsuccessful in his attempts.
Fountain decided he would try to make the region’s only junior team, the Huntsville Blair McCanns, a junior C powerhouse in the Georgian Bay league for the 1988-89. The team had won the league championship two years prior and had just come off a campaign where they had reached the league finals but lost to Stayner.
He made the team and his junior career flourished, with some help from former NHLer Wayne Rutledge, who lived in the Huntsville area. Goaltending partner Norm Webb, who was in his third year with the team, also showed the rookie the ropes of playing junior hockey.
Fountain remembers how much the two mentors helped him through those early days.
“ I was 15-years-old when Wayne helped me out. I used to look at his picture in the old (Gravenhurst) arena and see him in that Los Angeles Kings outfit and think man that would be nice to play in the NHL. Norm really took me under his wing a little bit. Here I was just 15, playing on a team with 20- and 21-year-olds, a very strong team. Great memories.”
The 1988-89 season is when Fountain would realize how good he actually was, going 18-3-2 in 23 games for the McCanns. He would be named to the all-star game and was selected as the team’s rookie of the year as he helped the McCanns reach the league finals for the third straight year, losing again to their rivals from Stayner.
Not only did friends and family notice Fountain’s improvement in goal, others in the hockey world also took note.
He said after the season was over, officials from the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League contacted him and told them there was a slight chance they could select him in the later rounds of the upcoming 1989 entry draft if he was still available.
“I didn’t know who they (Greyhounds) were, I had never seen an OHL game, on TV or live. So I went down to the draft in Toronto. It was the year Eric Lindros was drafted by the Soo and he refused to report. I sat there until 5 p.m. that night until I got drafted. My dad asked me at one point if I wanted to get some lunch and I said no … I so desperately wanted to be drafted,” he said.
He was, in the 15th round by the Soo, not a ringing endorsement, as many players taken that late do not always advance to the big club.
PART TWO: Fountain enjoys the highs of being known as one of the top junior goalies in the world … then facing the lows of the politics of playing pro in the NHL.