Skip to Main Content
The Official Site of the Calgary Flames


Flames first-year phenom Joe Nieuwendyk took the city and league on a wild ride as he tried to chase down the rookie scoring record

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

When contacted on that mid-March day back in 1988, Mike Bossy was injured and out of the NY Islanders lineup.

"I'm not going to hide anything,'' the superstar right-winger confessed. "I'm not going to kid you. I'm checking the summaries all the time.

"I haven't got much else to do these days.

"I have no control over the situation. All I can do is watch like you. I don't want anybody in Calgary thinking I'm here on the Island throwing hexes at Joe Nieuwendyk. Because I'm not.

"I wish him the best. If he does break my record, good for him." 

Bossy' unease was understandable. At the time, he was being hunted down, with every bit as much single-minded fervour as Barry Morse trailing David Janssen in the original Fugitive TV series.

At stake, one of his two NHL records Bossy held dearest: Most goals by a rookie, 53. 

John Ferguson Sr., ol' Fergie, once admiringly, appropriately referred to Bossy as "the Phantom" for his ability to appear out of nowhere to snap home a game-changing goal.

Phantoms are notoriously difficult to track down.

As Joe Nieuwendyk would, in the final analysis, discover.

Still, the rangy freshman from Cornell's dogged pursuit of the already-legendary Islander poacher's record provided one of the most compelling storylines of the '87-88 regular season for hockey watchers league-wide.

The Whitby, Ont., whiz kid exploded into prominence, blessed with a nifty set of mitts, hockey IQ beyond his years and a tenacious willingness to stand in the unforgiving areas to deflect pucks.

Nieuwendyk counted historic No. 50, becoming at the time only the second rookie to reach that magical number, in Game 70 for the Flames, on March 12, with a full 10 dance dates remaining on his card.

"It means a lot to me,'' he conceded after a 10-4 blitzing of the Buffalo Sabres at the Saddledome.

"I felt a bit of pressure coming into tonight I really wanted it on home ice. It's a good feeling. Now I can get on with 51."

The wait for No. 51 wouldn't be long. It arrived only two games later, on March 17 in Boston.

"It would mean a lot to (set the record)," Nieuwendyk conceded following a 7-5 victory over the Bruins. "It's something (Bossy) has had for a long time and he cherishes it so. 

"A year ago today, I was still in college. I joined (the Flames) right about about now. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd be sitting here in Boston Garden with 51 goals."

Eight games still remained to net three goals and chase down his quarry.

It seemed inevitable.

But Nieuwendyk stalled on 51.

The Flames would go all Pinball Wizard through to the end of the season, ringing up 42 goals over those eight starts.

Not one, alas, came from Nieuwendyk.

He'd finished at 51, 31 of those coming via the powerplay.

Bossy would hold the record for only five more years, when Finnish prodigy Teemu Selanne of the Winnipeg Jets would rip the number into tatters, scoring a jaw-dropping 76.

"Would I have liked to have got the record?'' Nieuwendyk repeated years after his failed bid. "Of course. I had a lot of chances, as I remember, but the puck wouldn't go in."

"It just didn't happen."

Ah, well. He'd be forced to settle for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year as a consolation prize.


View More