Over the past four weeks, the New York Islanders have been paying tribute to their storied past inviting back legends from the dynasty years to drop the puck at center ice. Bobby Nystrom, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin all walked out onto the Coliseum ice when they were honored by the team.
This morning, Clark Gillies skated on it.
“To go out on the ice like that and skate – as limited as I was – was fun,” Gillies said. “It was fun to be on the ice again and look around. My hands stink from the gloves I had, which is the way it used to be.”
Gillies, who lives on the North Shore of Long Island, relished the chance to skate on the Coliseum ice one last time, but also to take the familiar drive down the Northern State Parkway to the Meadowbrook and walk down the same steps he graced from 1974-1986.
“To be back in this atmosphere again, it feels like a regular game day,” Gillies said. “I feel like I should go home, have a piece of chicken, have a pre-game nap and come back ready for tonight. I’m really looking forward to that, being on the ice and hearing the crowd.”
Gillies hadn’t skated since Christmas of 2011, but after having his knees replaced, wanted to go out for a spin. He was inspired by Daniel Alfredsson taking warm-ups with the Ottawa Senators prior to their game against the Islanders on Dec. 4. Head Coach Jack Capuano joked that Gillies was disappointed when he told him he would be a healthy scratch.
The Hall-of-Famer already had the respect and admiration of the Islanders players and coaches, but to have him skate alongside them and make tape-to-tape passes brought Gillies off the old highlight reels and closed the nearly 40-year age gap.
“He’s a legend with the Isles,” Anders Lee said. “To have him out there was fun. Just to talk with him and skate around with him. He obviously knows a lot about the game. He’s been a winner. You just kind of pick his brain a little bit.”
In his press conference immediately after the skate, Gillies shared some glowing words for the current Islanders squad. He called John Tavares a worldly, elite player, praised Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Kyle Okposo and as a team he said they have the ability to hang with any team in the league.
The charismatic former captain held court with the media for over half-an-hour, reminiscing about his time with the Islanders and getting some laughs out of his audience.
He told stories about how the Islanders equipment room was looted in the aftermath of the 1980 Stanley Cup win. He recalled the time Pat Price cracked an egg on Al Arbour’s head and playing charity softball games five nights a week during the offseasons.
Gillies has lived on Long Island since being drafted in 1974. He raised his family here and has been a fixture in the community, both on the ice, through his post-hockey career and in his charitable work with the Clark Gillies Foundation.
He’s lived here for the better part of 40 years and on Saturday morning, in the confines of the Coliseum, he was home.