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Maven's Memories: Isles at the White House

Stan Fischler recounts the Islanders visit with President Reagan in 1983

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

  "Our Stanley Cup Visit To The White House Was A Thrill" -- Mike Bossy.

It was only fitting that when President Ronald Reagan toasted the 1983 Stanley Cup-winning Islanders at the White House Rose Garden, five pivotal parts in this remarkable sporting machine were present.

Right wing Mike Bossy was accompanied by his center, Bryan Troitter, left wing John Tonelli, goalie Bill Smith, captain-defenseman Denis Potvin along with the high command -- Coach Al Arbour and General Manager Bill Torrey.

President Reagan could empathize with the Islanders. The president was an athlete, too, but also played champions on the silver screen.

Reagan is remembered for portraying Notre Dame football hero George Gipp in the legendary flick, "Knute Rockne -- All-American," Naturally, the Chief Executive wanted to know how the heroic Islanders captured their fourth Stanley Cup.

"Character has been key for us," Arbour would explain. "This particular team showed me more character than any I've had. They overcame many challenges this past year. They did it with hard work, sacrifice, concentration and dedication."

Radar gave a knowing nod to his boss, Bowtie Bill Torrey who was the Champs' behind-the-scenes architect. Through each Cup-winning year, it was the general manager's job to decide whether or not to shake up his lineup or stay with his dependable core.

Torrey: "We looked for a combination of a player willing to learn with an ability to make the adjustments to our team. We defined his role, made him aware of what we expected and what would enhance his value to us."

The formula resulted in establishment of the quickest dynasty in American sports. The Islanders executed their magical run in a mere 11 seasons. In pro basketball, the Boston Celtics needed 16 seasons before they won a fourth straight title. 

Baseball's Yankees didn't win a fourth consecutive World Series until their 39th campaign. Hockey's counterpart -- the Montreal Canadiens -- required 49 seasons before winning their fourth Cup in a row in 1959.

The Bronx Bombers boasted a 1920s Murderers Row that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig. Torrey's quintet was more than a reasonable facsimile on ice. Here's how:

* BILL SMITH: Winner of the 1983 Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, Smitty re-defined clutch. "Billy played his best in the big moments," said teammate Ken Morrow. "There isn't a goalie who's had a better run than Smith." Or, as Trottier put it, "When it came to money goaltending, Bill was the best of the very best."

* DENIS POTVIN: Arguably the best-all-around defenseman in NHL history, Potvin launched the dynasty crusade with his overtime goal against Philadelphia in Game One of the 1980 Cup Final. His locomotive ran express all the way after that. "No Cup team ever had a better captain," said Glenn (Chico) Resch, Potvin's teammate on the 1980 champs. "Denis pressed the right buttons and did the right things."

* MIKE BOSSY: No single Islander star played better while taking unconscionable abuse than this Hall of Fame sniper. Mike proved this in the 1982 sweep of Vancouver. Time and again, the Canucks hard-nosed Tiger Williams abused Mike with impunity but Bossy shook off the attacks and scored one of the most spectacular -- in mid-air -- goals in playoff annals. And was only one of many Bossy beauties sprinkled throughout the four-Cup jubilee.

Video: Mike Bossy had record nine straight 50-goal seasons

* BRYAN TROTTIER: The leading playoff point producer in the 1980 and 1982 playoffs, Trots reached his peak in the 1983 final. Going up against Wayne Gretzky, Bryan not only blanketed The Great One but kept Gretzky off the score sheet throughout the four-game Final. While he was at it, Bryan did what he did best; play a strong two-way game.

* JOHN TONELLI: Surely one of the most underrated of the club's superlative performers, Tonelli was the man who skimmed the perfect Cup-winning pass to Bob Nystrom against the Flyers in 1980. Johnny T followed that with an uninterrupted run of terrific 200-foot hockey, alternating magnificently with left wing Clark Gillies on the big Bossy-Trottier unit.

* AL ARBOUR: "As far as I'm concerned," said Chico Resch, "Radar is the best coach to ever be behind a bench." Some critics called Al a "Player's coach," while others said he neatly blended discipline with humor and smarts. "Al had the 'knack' of doing the right things at the right time," said Bossy. "For example, when he sensed that Trots and I were getting stale, he split us up and the team still won."

* BILL TORREY: In an executive sense, Bowtie displayed the same blend of toughness, savvy, amusement and insights as his coach. From goal on out, Torrey developed Hall of Famers. Many, such as Bossy, Trottier, Potvin and Gillies came by way of the Draft. While masterminding the fourth Cup team, Bill constructed the best defense in the league.

Video: Bill Torrey - one of the most respected men in hockey

After Potvin, there was Morrow, Stefan Persson, Tommy Jonsson, Dave Langevin and Gord Lane. Unfazed by slumps, Bill stuck with his aces but, when necessary, deftly added fresh faces such as Mke McEwen, Bill Carroll Gteg Gilbert, Wayne Merrick and Rollie Melanson, each a key contributor. 

Already looking ahead to next season (1983-84) and the franchise's Drive For Five, Torrey's farewell address to his troops in June 1983 was simple and to the point:

"You men have a chance to be remembered for as long as people play the game of hockey."


1. ATTRITION: Having survived 16 straight winning playoff series, the Islanders suffered from the inevitable wear and tear that accompanies winners. Four years of reaching the Final round was equivalent to four extra seasons of play. Staying mint condition would not be as easy as breathing.

2. AGE: The nucleus -- Potvin, Gillies, Smith, Bossy, Trottier, among others, -- were gaining in years and mileage.The tires were getting worn; the stamina being tested. But in each case, the stars' skill sets remained intact. Whether they could battle through another playoff without emptying their tanks was the question to be answered in 1983-84.

3. COMPLACENCY: Arbour never would allow his players to get cocky; that was a given. But a team such an impressive collection of winners could be forgiven for occasionally thinking that, by stepping on the ice, they would win. Radar would have to be vigilant about that threat.

4. OPPONENTS: Foes were formidable; more so than ever. Although the Oilers were swept, they made it feel more like a seven-game series than just four. Under coach Herb Brooks, they Rangers had become a major threat. Not to mention the fact that every other NHL team would play its hardest against the Champs!

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