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  Fountain a Happy Hurricane
by Tricia McMillan, AHL Correspondent

OK, we all know the situation with the Carolina Hurricanes. Poor marketing, no fan support, and a 90-mile drive just to get to the arena every day. It's not a pleasant circumstance for anyone, let alone a player, and the Hurricanes have their work cut out for them to acquire free agents with NHL experience. Heck, with the limited roster spots created by a shared affiliation in the AHL, Carolina has a tough time signing minor league free agents.

Mike Fountain
Mike Fountain
by Tricia McMillan

Except for one, that is. Believe it or not, former Canucks goaltender Mike Fountain thinks being a Hurricane is just peachy. "I wasn't worried about [the situation in Carolina], I just wanted to play anywhere!" he says.

After five professional seasons spent primarily at AHL Syracuse, Fountain became a free agent when Vancouver signed Arturs Irbe and felt they were set for the year. Fountain, for his part, had balked at returning to Syracuse last season and was more than happy to go team shopping.

"I was very fortunate I had a lot of [team's] interest, I had five or six teams to choose from," Fountain explains. "Carolina presented the best opportunity for me to be in the NHL, that's all I really cared about. And it's a good organization."

Uh, Mike? You're playing 30 miles from Hartford. Might want to keep quiet about that.

In fact, Fountain wound up right back in the AHL with the Beast of New Haven, a temporary franchise in the midst of wailing Whaler fans. His first trip to the NHL this season wasn't even under remotely amenable circumstances, as Fountain had the honors of backing up Trevor Kidd while Sean Burke was, well, in jail. (Fountain has since and is currently backing up Kidd because of injuries to Kirk McLean.)

But Fountain, who recently turned 26, has had another stellar season in the nets for New Haven so far, 13-14-3 with a 3.02 GAA and .895 save percentage while holding the fort behind a very young defense still learning the professional game. And he's loving it.

"If I gotta be anywhere, might as well be here in New Haven," he says. "Good people and good teammates down here, so if I can't be in the NHL, I'd rather be no other place than here."

Fountain has been something of a late bloomer; he didn't even lace up skates for the first time until he was eight years old, "late by Canadian standards," he notes. And while he eventually joined the crowd and because a follower of Patrick Roy, Fountain started out as a fan of the Maple Leafs' Mike Palmateer. "A very acrobatic goalie, I liked his style."

The North York, Ontario native worked his way through the OHL junior system by way of Oshawa and Sault Ste. Marie, winning OHL All-Star honors in 91-92 and earning a place on the 1992 Canadian World Junior squad. "It's a good experience overall, seeing a different part of the world and playing a different type of hockey," thinks Fountain. "Just the experience of actually going out of the country was enjoyable."

His performance in the OHL was good enough to get him drafted by the Canucks in the third round in 1992 overall, and he stayed in Vancouver's system for five years. Nearly all of his professional career to date has been in the AHL, with two years with the Hamilton Canucks and almost three full years in Syracuse with the Crunch. Fountain holds nearly every goaltending mark for the Crunch; heck, until this season, he was pretty much the team.

"You've got to play a lot when you're young, and the AHL presents a pretty good situation that way," says Fountain. "It's very important to get good, intense hockey. At this level, you get some pretty good coaches, guys like [Portland's] Bryan Trottier and [New Haven's] Kevin McCarthy, guys who have played the game and can help out a lot of young guys."

When Fountain finally got the call from Vancouver, he made the opportunity count. On November 14, 1996, he became one of the few goaltenders in NHL history to record a shutout in his NHL debut, stopping 40 shots and closing out the New Jersey Devils 3-0. "Playing in my first game against New Jersey, getting a shutout - it was an incredible feeling and a good way to start off my career," he says in a classic case of understatement.

Fountain went on to appear in the NHL six times last season, posting a 2-2-0 record and a solid GAA. While he hasn't actually gotten into a game with Carolina yet, he's ready for the call when it comes.

"Good things'll happen to people who work hard," he explains. "That's all hockey is."

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