Goring's helmet was one of a kind

Thursday, 02.28.2008 / 10:00 AM
Evan Weiner  - NHL.com Correspondent

This weekend, the New York Islanders will honor their championship teams from 1980-83, a group of players who set a standard that perhaps will never be topped, winning 19 consecutive playoff series between 1980 and 1984. The streak came to an end when the Islanders lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Cup Final in 1984.

The Islanders had almost everything in March 1980 except a top-flight, second-line center. General Manager Bill Torrey made what is now considered one of the greatest moves ever at the 1980 trade deadline when he shipped Bill Harris and Dave Lewis to Los Angeles for Butch Goring. The deal plugged a hole and was the springboard to hockey history.

Goring was somewhat of a character. He was never a fancy dresser and his clothes left much to be desired, so much so that while he was with the Kings on a road trip, a robber broke into his hotel room that he was sharing with a teammate and stole everything in the room but Goring's clothes.

There is a legendary tale about Goring taking only a toothbrush for a two-week road trip. He also wore a high number with the Islanders before high numbers were en vogue, but there was a reason for that. Goring wore No. 19 in Los Angeles, but that was taken by Bryan Trottier, so he changed to No. 91, the reverse of his Kings number. He was a little guy who looked like actor Jimmy Cagney, and he had one other feature that set him aside from other Islanders players.

His helmet.

Butch Goring was a 31-year-old hockey player who was wearing the same helmet that his father bought for him in 1961 in the Winnipeg as a 12-year-old. It was a Snaps helmet, which stood out because of how it looked and how many paint jobs it had and how it was covered by tape. But it was a comfortable lid, so why get something else? After all, it's all about comfort, not fashion.

"Both of them (the helmets) have taken a beating over the years," said Goring with a laugh. "They had been taped, they all had been refiberglassed at different times, restructured at different times. It is obviously a unique helmet, it has been through a lot of wars.

"I was 12-years-old when they came out in Canada. They were the big item at that point in time. Obviously things have changed over the years. They didn't offer a lot of protection, but they were very lucky for me. I was very fortunate to stay healthy in my career."

Goring had two helmets, one for home games, and one for the road. In Los Angeles, the Kings' home uniforms were gold, the road was purple. On Long Island, the Islanders wore white home uniforms and blue road jerseys. In Boston, the colors were white at home and black on the road, and for Edmonton's minor-league franchise, there was white and a different shade of blue than the Islanders color on the road. That meant the helmets had to undergo color changes.

"Well, originally the helmets were painted purple and gold (in Los Angeles), we go to the Islanders we had them different colors, in Boston different colors, even when I had a little comeback with Edmonton, we painted them different colors," he said.

"They certainly have seen the rainbow."

And the road hat has had more than just paint. It seems that Islanders equipment man Jim Pickard didn't have the right paint available and had to improvise to get the helmet ready for a road game.

"Well one of them was really beaten up and we didn't have any blue paint so we had blue tape, so Jim Pickard actually covered the whole thing in strips of blue tape. It looked pretty good, you couldn't tell the difference. The tape was light enough so it was no big deal, it did the job.

"I didn't wear it for the protection," Goring said. "It was almost why do you wear gloves, why do you wear pads? For me, it was like I didn't know any other way to play hockey other than with my helmet. I grew up in an era where helmets were mandatory as a kid and it just didn't make any sense to take it off because it wasn't anything cumbersome that I needed to get rid of."

There also may have been another factor -- superstition. Goring never claimed to have a superstition about his hats but he did say that if something works, why mess with success?

"Yeah the hockey players are like any other athletes, they get attached to certain things and they had good success and the helmet for me and I actually had a couple of items I kept for a long period of time but I think it is just a comfort zone more than anything else," he said.

Goring split his first two pro seasons between the Kings and the Springfield Kings of the American Hockey League. In his second year, Springfield won the Calder Cup. One of Goring's teammates that year was Billy Smith, the goaltender who would help lead the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup championships.

Goring was a very good hockey player in Los Angeles, where he got very little notice. But when the Kings selected Goring in 1969 as the 51st player in that year's draft, they probably saw a small player with limited potential, and the Kings scouting staff wasn't alone in their assessment. The 11 other NHL teams also passed on Goring, three, four and even five times. But Goring developed into a good faceoff man who was a good penalty killer and could score goal and set up others.

In 1978, Goring won the Lady Byng and Masterton Trophies. He played in the 1980 All-Star Game, but it was the trade to the Islanders that changed not only his fortunes but also those of his new teammates. In the 1980 Stanley Cup run, Goring had 19 points in 21 playoff games. The next season, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the top player in the 1981 Stanley Cup playoffs as the Islanders won another Cup. He would be a key contributor in the Islanders 1982 and '83 Cup victories.

Goring, who was the last active player from the 1960s to play in the NHL, may be considered a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. In 1,107 games, he had 375 goals along with 513 assists and wore just two old time Snaps helmets, one for the road, and one for home games. Goring was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. Smith, Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies and Denis Potvin are in the Hockey Hall of Fame along with Bill Torrey and coach Al Arbour. If Goring is ever selected to the Toronto shrine, he plans to bring the helmets with him, complete with the many layers of paint and tape.



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