In hockey, some things never change. The hotel we stay at in Long Island is the same hotel I stayed at when I was with the Toronto Maple Leafs and we played the Islanders during the 1978 playoffs. It is the same hotel I stayed in when I attended training camp with the Islanders in the 1980s when I was with Springfield in the AHL and it is the same hotel we stay in now.
The walk to Nassau Coliseum from the hotel is only a couple hundred yards and it is a walk I have made many times. I don’t believe Nassau Coliseum have changed since 1977 when I was first there. It is an old building and the dressing rooms and everything else are pretty much the same. There is however a lot of charm to the ice surface and the seating area to the building. A lot of history has taken place there.
One of my favorite hockey memories took place in Nassau Coliseum and I did not even play in the game. The Leafs were playing the heavily favored Islanders in the first round of the playoffs in 1978 right before the Islanders went on their run and won four Stanley Cups. I was just coming back and practicing, but was not able to play yet because I had a hurt shoulder. It was a great series and came down to Game 7 and Roger Neilson, who was the coach, asked me to do statistics for the game. It was commonplace during that time for guys not playing to track faceoffs or shots, because we did not have the statistical wherewithal that we have now.
I remember sitting in the front row of the second level on the side opposite on the benches to track statistics. I leapt up when Lanny McDonald scored the winning goal in overtime that clinched the series for us. When I jumped, I left my pen and paper behind, because I wanted to get down to the ice so quickly. I instinctively jumped over the railing and did not even realize that it was about a 10 or 12-foot drop. I kept wondering when I was going to hit the ground because the fall was so far and then I final did. The jump just happened. I did not plan on doing it but was so excited that we won. I was just glad that I did not land on anybody. I landed on my feet and was fine and then raced to get down one more level to the ice level. I ran all the way down, went through the tunnel that we still go out today and the guys were all still on the pile celebrating. I was in street clothes but ran out and jumped onto the top of the pile. It was such a cool feeling.
The Leafs had not had that much success since they won the Stanley Cup in 1967. When we got back to Toronto, there were about 5,000 people at the Toronto airport which was really cool. Then we went to Darryl Sittler’s house and had a party. It was a great day and a great victory. We played Montreal the next round and lost four straight. They were all one-goal games and two in overtime. Montreal went on to win the Stanley Cup. We had a very good team, but sometimes you need a break here and a break there.
Washington has had some memorable games with the Islanders as well at Nassau Coliseum since I have been the coach. It seems like we either win the game in overtime or lose the game in overtime. In fact, seven of the nine games have gone to overtime, so that tells me that the Islanders play us very tough and we have been fortunate to get some overtime goals from Alex Ovechkin
and Brooks Laich
in their building. There is nothing like winning in overtime on the road. It is a better feeling for the players, but is pretty nice for the coaches as well.