When critics analyze Bill Torrey's moves that led to the Islanders four-Cup dynasty the acquisition of Butch Goring tops the list right up there with the Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin draft picks. 

"It's obvious what those guys did for us," Torrey once reflected, "but there was one fella who generally has been overlooked -- Bob Bourne. He was in the shadows a lot but he meant a ton to our successes."

I recently asked the Detroit Red Wings Executive Vice President Jim Devellano when he and Torrey originally discovered Bourne. Jimmy D was the Isles top scout.

Devellano: "Bob had been drafted by Kansas City in the third round. At the time, Kansas City was in bad shape financially almost from Day One. They had signed their first-round pick, Wilf Paiement to a record-setting contract at that time and that's why they couldn't sign Bourne.

"I told Bill Torrey that this kid was a real NHL prospect and we should make a deal for him.  Also -- and very important -- Sid Abel, the Kansas City manager, was a friend of mine so that made it easier for us to negotiate. So we sent Bart Crashley, a veteran, to the Scouts for Bourne, and added one more guy." 

Perhaps the deal meant little at the time because of the teams involved. The year was 1974 and neither the Kansas City Scouts nor the Islanders were among the National Hockey League's playoff threats; although that would change in a hurry for the Isles side.

"For us," added Jimmy D, "it was a major steal. Bourne was a big guy and what made him valuable was that he could help the team on any of our three lines."

None of the Met Area media made much about Bob Bourne. I know that The Maven didn't think twice about him nor did the writers for the Post, News, Times nor Newsday. But one wise hockey man asked to be heard -- Torrey.

"Wait until you see this kid Bourne skate," Torrey told Newsday's Tim Moriarty. "He's as fast -- maybe even faster -- than that 'Roadrunner' in Montreal, Yvan Cournoyer."

Islanders Plaque Series: Bob Bourne

Seeing was believing. A posse of media types converged on the Islanders training base to check out Bourne among other prospects. The most experienced reporter of them all, Moriarty, did a double-take once he saw Bob tear up the ice.

Moriarty: "Bourne lived up to his reputation by skating rings around other centers in camp. He played well in the exhibition games and won a job as pivot man for Garry Howatt and Bob Nystrom. Bourne scored his first NHL goal in his third game, a 6-3 win over Montreal."

Other hockey writers were not impressed.  The Associated Press' hockey man, Barry Wilner, called Bourne "super quick, but undisciplined."

Clark Gillies told those who didn't know that he and Bourne were best friends. In fact, for one summer they shared first base on a Houston Astros farm team. "Clarkie was the power hitter," chirped Bourne, "and I was the singles guy. He wasn't a bad player...but I was better."

As for his new team, Bourne was dubious at first. "The team wasn't competitive and they had so many doubts. Their lineup wasn't set at all. There wasn't one guy who could completely turn it around. They had only one line, if that. It took a while for my doubts to disappear."

The same could be said about management's feelings about Bob. His first full-season NHL audition (1974-75) convinced Torrey and Devellano that Bourne needed work. After spending most of the following season with Fort Worth he came back to stay in 1976-77.

From that point on, Bourne's accomplishment graph went up, up and UP.

He not only proved to be an all-purpose forward but a tough -- sometimes very tough -- performer who was as eager to drop his gloves as anyone.    

Season by season in the late 1970's Bourne's value increased yet his headlines were minimal. Bossy, Trottier and Gillies attracted the most attention along with Potvin on defense and the goaltending tandem of Bill Smith and Glenn Resch.

By the 1979-80 season -- after the addition of Butch Goring -- the Isles had become a well-balanced team, but one without a Stanley Cup. Super-motivated Bourne would change that.  

Bob's traction toward stardom began in the 1977-78 season when he reached the 30-goal plateau and then repeated the feat a year later. Like his teammates, he had a score to settle and it all was about a label hung on the team. It stung to the core.

"We were called a 'choke' team because the Leafs beat us in the '78 playoffs and then the Rangers did it a year later," Bob remembered. "We knew that the only way to get the monkey off our backs was to -- once and for all -- win the darn Cup."

Bob Bourne's End to End Rush

They finally did it in the spring of 1980 when he had a fabulous postseason. Over a spread of 21 playoff games, Bob scored 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points. Yet Bryan Trottier won the Conn Smythe award as Cup MVP.

A year later Bourne almost hit the point per game level. Over 78 contests he scored 35 goals and 41 assists for 76 points. When the Nassaumen annexed their record-breaking fourth title in 1982-83, Bourne again stepped up to the plate with 28 points in 20 playoff games.

Ever in the shadows, he had no trophies to brag about; just the silverware and adulation of his teammates. Defenseman Ken Morrow, a four-Cup ace and part of Uncle Sam's 1980 "Miracle On Ice" team, said it best when I recently asked about Bourne's value to the Boys of Uniondale.

"Bob was the most underrated NHL star during our championship years," Morrow insisted. "He could do it all and brought so much to the lineup in every aspect and area of the game. He had good size, speed and his end to end rushes were legendary.

"He was a great top line wing who could produce points at that level. Plus, he could move up and down the top three lines since he was a good, responsible checker -- and worker. He also could work the power play and kill penalties. He was the type of player who could make a good team great and a great team unbeatable."

And to think the Islanders got him for what amounted to peanuts and Cracker Jacks!

Or, to put it another way; Bow Tie Bill Torrey obtained a player who put the Islanders in a position to win an unprecedented 19 consecutive playoff series.

 Of the offensive stars, Bob Bourne was the most underrated of them all!

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