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Guelph mourns loss of 'Leapin' Louie from The Ward

Lou Fontinato was one of the most feared fighters in the National Hockey League, but "a farmer at heart"

Lou Fontinato wasn’t the most talented hockey player to come out of Guelph, but he was definitely the toughest.

Mr. Fontinato played almost 600 games in the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, piling up 1,289 penalty minutes along the way.

Mr. Fontinato died Sunday at Riverside Glen. He was 84.

“He was Leapin’ Louie from The Ward,” said his lifelong friend Richard Gazzola.

“He played hockey in the winter then came home and worked on construction to keep his muscles in shape.”

Mr. Fontinato grew up on Ferguson Street, the only boy with five sisters. He went to Sacred Heart School where he first played organized hockey and attended Sacred Heart Church his entire life.

“He was tough, even back then,” said Gazzola.

Mr. Fontinato left school in Grade 8 and began working in a machine shop. But hockey was his passion, playing at the school, then junior B and finally making the Guelph Biltmores junior A team after he broke the captain’s jaw during tryouts.

Signed by the New York Rangers of the NHL, he made the club for the first time in the second half of the 1954-55 season.

“When he wanted the puck he got it. It didn’t matter how he got it,” Gazzola said.

He would spend the next six seasons with the Rangers, leading them in penalty minutes all six seasons, before being traded to Montreal, where he played for two seasons.

Mr. Fontinato’s career ended following a neck injury sustained when he slammed head first into the boards.

His career NHL totals were 557 games played, 26 goals, 80 assists and 1,289 penalty minutes.

His most memorable fight came on Feb. 1, 1959, when a tussle with Gordie Howe landed him in hospital with a badly broken nose and cheek bone.

“He was a farmer at heart,” said Gazzola, who remembers Mr. Fontinato as a child driving a horse-drawn cart around town selling groceries.

After his hockey career ended, Mr. Fontinato took up farming, first on Victoria Road North, then for years on a cattle farm just outside Eden Mills, where he lived and worked until a couple of years ago.

“He still had a cauliflower patch out back and sold it. I think it reminded him of when he was a kid selling groceries,” said Gazzola.

Mr. Fontinato would host pot luck suppers for friends, getting mad when a post-supper vote didn't chose his dish as the best, and playing bocce ball in the alley he had built at the farm.

“He was a shrewd businessman and he had a temper. But he was a good friend and a good person,” Gazzola.

Mr. Fontinato is survived by his children Paula and Roger.

Visitation takes place Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Gilbert MacIntyre and Son’s Hart Chapel location at 1099 Gordon St. Funeral service takes place Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the same location.