The Islanders first captain in franchise history is set to return to the Nassau Coliseum ice on Saturday night when the Isles faceoff against the Boston Bruins. Prior to the game, Westfall will be placed into the Islanders Hall of Fame.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Westfall said. “It’s something that completely took me aback. There have been so many players that have played for the Islanders and worked very hard to try and make the Islanders what they were and hopefully will be again. I’m one of them, but to be honored is very, very special.”
Westfall joined the Islanders after nine seasons with the Boston Bruins. The two-time Stanley Cup Champion (1970, 1972) was selected ninth overall by the Islanders franchise in the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft, allowing the Islanders to add veteran players to their start-up franchise.
Tentative over his new assignment, Westfall met with General Manager Bill Torrey and the Islanders first owner, Roy Boe. In that first meeting, he came to realize that he had a wonderful opportunity to help mold a team that came from nothing into something that could become great.
From the day he accepted his biggest challenge as a professional athlete, Westfall never looked back.
“The Boston Bruins were the worst team in the league when I joined them in 1961 and they built that team to be the best team in hockey,” Westfall said. “Then I joined the New York Islanders and we were the worst team in the league. As an Islander, we broke all the negative records I set as a Bruin, but over the years I saw the Islanders franchise develop into the best team in hockey.”
Westfall continued, “It’s very rewarding to know that you were a part of two franchises going from the worst to the best. It all happened so fast. It was 18 years of my life, but when I look back at it, it was very quick the way things happened and unfolded.”
The Islanders legendary Head Coach, Al Arbour, said that his captain’s positive attitude and leadership were his best qualities as a player.
“He was a great influence because of his experience and ability to work with the young players,” Arbour said. “He motivated the team through example and his ability to focus during times of adversity.”
Just three years removed from the NHL Expansion Draft, Westfall’s hopes for the Islanders franchise were becoming more and more realistic by the day as the Islanders would make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.
Making it past the first round was unthinkable, but defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semi finals was even more of a shock. Rebounding from a three game deficit, the 1975 Islanders took the series all the way to Game 7 where Westfall scored the game-winning goal with just over five minutes left in regulation, sending the Islanders to the Semi Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Though they were defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of that series, Westfall saw that year as one of his proudest accomplishments as a player.
“The 1975 year, we were only three-years-old as a hockey team and to go to the semi finals the way we did it, it was exceptional,” Westfall said. “No one could believe what we were doing, even the guys playing. We just kept trying hard and it kept turning around for us. It was just one of those very rare exciting moments that you’ll get on a sports team.”
Battling through that adversity as the first captain in Islanders history made the experience even more special for Westfall.
“I always looked at being the captain as very special,” Westfall said. “I had played on teams that had wonderful captains, with the Boston Bruins, so I took that very seriously. As much as I told the guys the C on my jersey didn’t stand for captain as it did for cash, because I was lending guys money all the time, being Captain meant a lot to me.”
After an 18-year playing career, Westfall retired May 8, 1979.
“I was their captain when many of the guys came into the league as rookies and slowly developed into this tremendous nucleus of wonderful players and people,” Westfall said. “It was only a matter of time before they won a Cup. I felt at that time, that my playing career was over. I couldn’t contribute at the level I thought I should contribute. I departed a very happy person and at the same time, hoped they were going to win the Cup and they did.”
Though he never won a Cup with the Islanders, he’s never regretted retiring. Watching his teammates succeed and go on to win four consecutive Stanley Cups in the years that followed was just as satisfying.
A bronze plaque honoring Westfall’s career as an Islander will hang in the team’s locker room hallway along with the rest of the players in the Islanders Hall of Fame.
The insignia reads: “Westfall was the first captain in New York Islanders history and scored the franchise’s first goal on 10/7/72 against the Atlanta Flames. He was awarded the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy in 1977 for perseverance and dedication. Westfall became the color analyst for the Islanders telecasts in 1979, helping call each of the organization’s four Stanley Cup Championships in the 1980’s. Unlike many players who had nicknames, Westfall was always referred by his teammates as ‘18’.”