I've always had the knack. I've always been able to score. -- Mike Bossy
As a lad growing up in hockey-mad Montreal, Mike Bossy knew all about hometown hero, Maurice (The Rocket) Richard of the Canadiens.
Michael studied hockey history. He could tell you by heart that The Rocket scored 50 goals in the 50-game 1944-45 season. Plus, nobody had been able to beat that amazing feat, before Mike came along.
Now it was the summer of 1980 and Bossy seriously was contemplating being a latter-day Rocket.
Why not? Since his rookie season, 1977-78, the lithe Islanders right wing had been scoring goals as if he had a battery-powered red light in his pocket. Now, he figured that he could do it; score 50 in 50 a la Richard.
Writing in his autobiography, BOSS -- THE MIKE BOSSY STORY, the Islanders sniper recalled the precise moment when he confessed his prediction to a relative he could trust.
But brother-in-law, Bob, had to promise that he'd button his lip; which Bob did.
"I told Bob that scoring 50 goals was a thrill," noted Mike, "but it wasn't going to be enough. I needed a greater challenge. I'm going for 50 in 50. It hasn't been done in 36 years. I wanted it."
He already had three seasons of 51 goals or more. He had led the National Hockey League in goal-scoring. As Associated Press reporter Barry Wilner observed, "As one of the game's most devastating shooters, Mike was ready for new heights."
"He scores goals as naturally as you and I wake up in the morning," added goalie Glenn (Chico) Resch, who faced Mike as an Islander during practice and then as a foe while goaltending for Colorado.
Video: Bossy is second ever to score 50 goals in 50 games
Coach Al (Radar) Arbour seconded the motion.
Arbour: "Mike swoops on the puck, like a jai-alai player does; and it's gone. One second the puck gets to him, and the next, the red light is on. He's got the quickest hands I've ever seen on a hockey player."
After the curtain lifted on the 1980-81 season, the ice neither was kind to Bossy nor the Islanders. The defending champions opened with a frustrating 3-4-3 record with Mike lagging five behind his goal-a-game pace.
"It was embarrassing," Mike confessed. "But on the other hand, there was no panic. We had 70 games to go; and I had 40. It was time for me to get rolling."
"Soaring" was more like it as Bossy began piling up hat tricks. A three-goal effort against the Chicago Blackhawks demanded an encore so Mike obliged with a four-goal game against the Minnesota North Stars.
All of a sudden he had 19 goals in 16 games. Any suggestions that the Bossy surge had impinged on the club's second championship quest proved nonsense. By early December the Islanders unbeaten streak had reached a record-tying 15 games.
On December 3, 1980, the Nassaumen topped Colorado, 5-1, with Bossy having scored the 200th goal of his young career. He was up to 27 goals in 27 games.
Video: Mike Bossy had record nine straight 50-goal seasons
Meanwhile, mum-was-the-word between Mike and brother-in-law Bob although Bossy finally tipped off linemate Bryan Trottier about his crusade.
The three-way secret remained hermetically sealed until December 21, 1980.
On that night the Islanders trounced the Blackhawks, 9-0, in Chicago and Bossy had 37 goals in 36 games. At last Mike publically revealed that he was aiming for Richard's 50-in-50 mark.
"I know I need 13 in the next 14 games," he said. "The team's going well; my linemates are going great and that makes it easier."
But it wasn't. Bossy hit a wall and it didn't help that Nassau police reported a "death threat" although later it was assumed that it had come from a prankster; a disgruntled fan of Richard's.
Totally re-focused, Bossy enjoyed a four-goal effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins followed by a hat trick vs. Washington. The Goal Machine now totaled 48 in 47 games. Media from all over the continent had moved in on Mike.
Alas, he was two goals short and one game to go.
The melodrama peaked on a Saturday night, March 24, 1981 at the Coliseum. In Game 50, it was the Islanders against the Quebec Nordiques.
For more than two periods the Visitors and their goalie Ron Grahame had kept the game close - 4-4, halfway through the third period -- while Mike remained scoreless.
Then, it happened. At 13:56, New York went on a power play with Bossy cashing in a rebound for his 49 goal along with a 5-4 Islanders lead.
Mike: "Until I got that one I wondered if I'd ever score again."
He now had four minutes and ten seconds to match Maurice Richard's mark. Then it was down to three minutes - two minutes; still no goal.
Arbour had Trottier out with Mike and John Tonelli. Clark Gillies was waiting to jump on the ice but Tonelli was chasing the puck deep in the Nordiques' zone. Islanders forechecking kept the puck in play with Trottier corralling the rubber.
"I yelled and waved my arms," Bossy remembered. "Trots always played as if he didn't notice such things but he did notice. I busted in from the left side."
Video: Thank You Stan Fischler
Trottier: "I saw Mike and all I did was try to get it to him."
The pass wasn't 100 percent perfect but it got to its destination intact.
"The puck bounced up as it hit my stick," said Bossy. "I just let it go as it came down and I shot it as quickly as I could. Grahame wasn't screened, but he didn't have his stick on the ice. My shot whipped under his stick, between his skates and - IN!"
The time was 18:31 and the Islanders would win, 7-4.
But the Coliseum's bedlam on top of bedlam was all in tribute to Mike Bossy.
The lead paragraph in Newsday the morning after said it all.
"He did it!"