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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Lost Rookies: 1986-87 OPC Mark LaForest

  Mark "Trees" LaForest played in parts of six NHL seasons, but yet only had a single NHL card.  A bit of a late bloomer, not only was Mark undrafted by the NHL, he didn't make the OHL until he was 19 years old.  After playing his overage season in the OHL with the North Bay Centennials, Mark was signed as a free agent by the Detroit Red Wings in 1983.
  Mark bounced around the minors for two seasons before putting up solid numbers with the Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL in 1985-86.  He was called up to Detroit in December of 1985 and made a huge impression in his first NHL game, beating the heavily favoured Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1.  LaForest made 35 saves in the upset.  On January 28, 1986, Mark notched his first career shutout, stopping 26 shots in a 7-0 victory over the Washington Capitals.   Otherwise, there were very few highlights in Mark's rookie NHL season.  He finished 4-21-0, .845, and 4.96 GAA with one shutout.  For the goalie fight fans, there was one highlight as LaForest fought Clint Malarchuk, and the two went at it, "like a couple of hippos, all padding and blubber."
  On a bright note, Laforest was sent down to play in the 1986 AHL playoffs and backstopped the Red Wings to an AHL Calder Cup Championship.  The following season, LaForest spent the majority of the season in the AHL, winning the "Baz" Bastien Trophy as the league's top goalie.  He did spend 5 games in the NHL, going 2-1-0, .892, and 3.30.  During Detroit's surprising play-off run, LaForest was called upon to be the back-up.  During the second round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he gave a pair of tickets to a Wings play-off home game to some friends who were living across the boarder, and river, in Windsor.  The friends showed their appreciation, and loyalty, by going to the game with faces painted blue and white in support for the Leafs.   On an unrelated note, LaForest never did play another game with the Red Wings.

1987-88 OPC Mark Laforest.

  The Red Wings traded LaForest to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2nd round pick during the 1987 off-season.  LaForest went 5-9-2, .874, 3.72, with a shutout in 1987-88.  He saw his first career play-off action in the 1988 play-offs.  With the Flyers losing 4-1 in game Four against the Washington Capitals, LaForest replaced starter Ron Hextall between the pipes early in the third period.  The goalie change invigorated the Flyers as they roared with three 3rd period goals and then Murray Craven potted the game winner in overtime.  The win gave the Flyers a 3-1 series lead in the best of 7.  The Flyers tried the same recipe in Game 5 as LaForest entered the game in the 3rd period with the team again down 4 to 1.  They didn't get the same result as the previous game as the Flyers lost 5-2 and Laforest was kicked from the game for being the third man in a fight.  Hextall played the rest of the series as the Flyers went on to lose three straight games, including game 7 in overtime, and the series.  

1988-89 OPC Mark LaForest

  Mark played another season as Hextall's back-up for the Flyers, going 5-7-2, .871 and 4.12.  He lost his back-up gig when the Flyers traded for Ken Wregget of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 1989 trade deadline.  He finished the season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL.

1989-90 OPC Mark LaForest

  In a neat twist, the Flyers traded LaForest the the Maple Leafs in September of 1989, for a pair of late round draft picks.  An early season injury to Jeff Reese, opened the door for LaForest.  After winning his first game as a Maple Leaf, a 8-4 victory over the Washington Capitals, LaForest endeared himself to the Leafs fans by dropping the blocker and fighting New Jersey Devils goalie Sean Burke.  Laforest became part of a 1A-1B goalie timeshare with Allan Bester, which ended in January when LaForest injured his knee when he fell on the ice... while walking in front of his house.  This reopened the door for Jeff Reese to regain the net and Laforest was the odd man out when the play-offs began.
  Laforest set a career high with nine wins during the 1989-90 season and with the junk wax boom of 1990, he finally got a rookie card.  His one and only NHL card was from the 1990-91 Upper Deck set.  He was shutout of all the other sets.  

1990-91 OPC Mark Laforest

  Laforest was traded to the New York Rangers in the 1990 off-season along with another feisty player, Tie Domi for Greg Johnston.  Buried in the Rangers depth chart behind former Vezina winner, John Vanbiesbrouck, and future star, Mike Richter, LaForest never played a game for the New York Rangers.  He spent the entire 1990-91 season with the Binghamton Rangers of the AHL, where he won his second career "Baz" Bastien Trophy as the AHL's top goalie.  He is one of only two goalies to win the "Baz" Bastien Trophy multiple times. LaForest played two seasons playing for Binghamton in the AHL.
  Mark was left unprotected by the Rangers in the 1992 NHL Expansion Draft.  He was drafted by the Ottawa Senators as the 4th, and final, goalie of the draft.  LaForest never made the team.  He spent the majority of his two seasons as a Senator in the AHL.  He did not make his debut as an Ottawa Senator until March 4th, 1994.  Like all Senators goalies during the early 90s, he didn't fare too well, posting a 0-2-0, .823 and 5.59 in five games.  
  LaForest never had a card as a Senator.  I was not much of a hockey card collector in the mid-90s and I am not much of a fan of any of the sets.  This was when foil became popular and foil is difficult to replicate in photoshop.  Not a design I can be proud of, font issues again, but I felt I should post a Senators card of LaForest.  

1994-95 Upper Deck Mark LaForest

  LaForest was without a NHL contract following thr 1993-94 season and spent the rest of his career playing in the minors.  He retired from professional hockey in 1997.  He is still active in NHL Alumni games and has played in Alumni Outdoor Classics for the Flyers and Maple Leafs.
1986-87 OPC #278 Mark LaForest (RC)

1986-87 OPC #278 Mark LaForest (RC)

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