Andy Greene, the 37-year-old defenseman, is the lone current Islander roster player to be alive during the club’s run of four consecutive Cups (1980-’83). Born in October ’82, he was still in a crib when the likes of Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy and Co. waltzed the Cup around Nassau Coliseum for the final time in ’83, the hockey world unaware that the game’s last great dynasty had come to end.
Nearly four decades later, many of the memories of that era have faded, but there are constant reminders for the current Islanders, who absorbed a 5-2 loss to the Bruins Saturday night at the Garden in Game 1 of the East Division Final, to act as inspiration.
“I think that’s huge, having that history” said Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield, noting that many of the alums from that era still live and work around Long Island. “Just having those guys around, seeing them at games. I mean their banners are in our practice rink. Their banners are in our game rink. So we’re constantly reminded of it.”
Decades later, the four-Cup run remains unmatched and today looks more impressive through the prism of time.
The Oilers, who ended the Islanders’ drive for five by knocking out the champs in the ’84 Final, won four of the next five titles, sandwiching a pair of back-to-back Cup wins around the Habs title win in ’86. But no NHL team has won more than two in a row ever since the ’83 title, which had the Islanders sweeping the Oilers in the Final.
The Islanders have yet to reach a Final since their loss to Edmonton in ’84, a night that ended with a blizzard of orange and blue balloons cascading down from the Northlands Coliseum, an exhausted and crestfallen Potvin kneeling at center ice. The Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers became the first ex-WHA franchise to win the Cup.
Mathew Barzal, the club’s devilishly clever center, was born in 1997, amid the franchise’s darkest days. The Islanders went from 1995-2001, seven straight seasons, without qualifying for the playoffs. From 2006 to 2014, the year before Barzal was drafted, they missed the postseason seven of nine times.
Yet the grand history of the franchise has not been lost on Barzal.
“I see bits and pieces of it on the NHL Network when I’m watching,” he said. “Or sometimes in-game video [at Nassau Coliseum] when they’re showing contrasts to old clips.”
One of those clips, noted Barzal, showed Butch Goring being presented the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP) after the Islanders won the Cup for a second time in ’81.
“You see them with their beards, looking all old and ugly and beat up,” he said. “You almost get chills when you see that stuff, seeing how hard they worked and how exciting it was for them.”
The Islanders were an unstoppable force in that era. Bill Torrey, the GM, and Al Arbour, the coach, both went on to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Their three leading stars all averaged more than a point per game over the four-year run: Trottier (75 games/107 points); Bossy (72 games/111 points) and Potvin (78 games/85 points).
Bossy, Trottier and Potvin all have been enshrined in the HHOF, as have left winger Clark Gillies and the franchise goalie, Battlin’ Billy Smith.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy grew up in Ottawa and was only 15 when the Islanders won their first Cup. His brother Steve, a goalie when they played ball hockey outside the family home, was a huge Islanders fan, partly because of the team’s great success. But also because of Chico Resch, their affable goalie, who backed up Smith for the first two Cup wins.
“He liked Chico Resch’s mask,” recalled Cassidy. “So he painted the replica himself — and it looked pretty good, I thought. The Islanders were good. Steve was a teenager, so probably saw the most hockey on television at that age … he just took to the Islanders. He liked Denis Potvin a lot, Bossy, Trottier and Chico in nets.”
For all their star talent, the Islanders might never have put it together if not for Torrey’s trade with the LA Kings in March 1980, acquiring Goring for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis. Goring provided vital support at center, especially on special teams.
Goring, who later in his career coached the Bruins for a short time, chipped in with 27 goals and 62 points in those four Cups seasons, almost in lockstep with opportunistic winger John Tonelli (25 goals/63 points). Along with Bob Bourne, they provided that secondary scoring always crucial for a Cup contender.
Barry Trotz, now wrapping up his third year behind the Islanders bench, grew up in the same part of small town Manitoba (Dauphin) as Goring. He recalled Saturday morning that local players who made it to the pros, tracking there via junior teams in western Canada, provided him with inspiration to try to do the same.
“When you come from a small town in northern Canada, and you get Butch Goring and Ron Low — I went to their hockey school — I mean, those are the things you dream about,” said Trotz, who led the Islanders to the Eastern Conference finals last summer in the playoff bubble. ’'In a small town, your heroes were the junior players. In my area there was Butchie, who’d just finished playing in Dauphin, and Ron …they were my first heroes. And guys like Don Laraway and Blaine Stoughton were all part of that group.”
Laraway, a Dauphin Kings alum, was a winger whom the Bruins selected with the No. 18 pick in the ’74 draft. He passed up the opportunity to come here and played in the WHA for five seasons before retiring at age 26. Trottier, selected No. 18 in the WHA, opted instead to go the Islanders, who picked him off at No. 22 in the NHL draft.
Trotz, a 5-foot-9 defenseman, played three years of junior hockey in the WHL but was never drafted. At age 24 in 1986, he launched his coaching career as bench boss of the Dauphin Kings.
Trotz and Goring now see a lot of each other. Goring is a longtime member of the club’s broadcast team.
“Funny story,” said Trotz, “I was never good enough to play [in the NHL], and I said to Butchie when I got here, ‘You know, I used to go to your hockey school in Dauphin back then, but I wasn’t good enough to play.’ And he said, ‘Well, you should have come more often.’ We had a little laugh about that.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.