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Maven's Memories: Isles-Rangers Clashes in 1984-85

The Isles and Rangers reach another boiling point during the 1984-85 season

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

By the 1984-85 season, the Islanders-Rangers rivalry had grown to be a dozen years young; or old enough to have reached a mature boiling point.

Neither the Islanders nor the Rangers required an artistically superior season to maintain the intensity of their rivalry; by now the best in the NHL.

A total of four Stanley Cups -- not to mention 19 straight playoff series victories -- provided the Nassaumen and their fans with a clear-cut victory when it came to winning the annual Bragging Rights Derby.

"The Rangers always were angry at us" said Glenn (Chico) Resch, an Islander from the start of the rivalry in 1972 through 1981, "because we beat them in so many ways. And we were angry at them because they were the Rangers."

Clear cut evidence appeared during the 1984-85 season; hardly a five-star campaign for either team. But that was as irrelevant as a sleepy ant when it came to collisions between the ice armies of Manhattan and Nassau.

The Islanders, who would finish a somewhat disappointing third in the Patrick Division that season, had good reason to require a safety valve for their frustrations. What better target than the Rangers?

Meanwhile, angst bubbled internally on the Seventh Avenue side. Failing to live up to glorious pre-season expectations, the Herb Brooks-coached Rangers prepped for the Nassaumen by fighting among themselves.

A January 1985 New York Times piece by Craig Wolff claimed two sources heard Brooks call his crack defenseman Barry Beck a coward. 

A stiff internal verbal battle ensued until general manager Craig Patrick fired Brooks and put himself behind the bench. Roused by the unrest, the Rangers became a fighting mad team; more so when they met the Islanders.

One of the smallest Blueshirt forwards, George McPhee, proved the biggest Islander tormentor. In an early 1984-85 season encounter, McPhee decisioned the Isles larger Dave Langevin. But the best -- or "beasts" -- were yet to come.

On February 7, 1985 McPhee and the Islanders redoubtable Bob Nystrom escalated their differences up to a one-on-one physical confrontation that some observers later would label "The (Hockey) Battle of the Century."

Fists flew through the Coliseum air like pistons on a speeding locomotive. The flurry ended with Ny head-butting McPhee. That was out of character for Bobby and, frankly, it looked bad for Nystrom's image. but not for long.

Give McPhee credit for his candor -- George confessed, "I head-butted him first!"

If anything could top that bout, there was one just ten days later when the teams came, saw and once again tried to conquer each other. 

What made this particular Garden main-event so fascinating is that the chief protagonists were none other than the two starting goaltenders.

The Rangers puck-stopper, John Vanbiesbrouck, was in no mood to sign a Treaty of Manhattan with Kelly Hrudey. Meanwhile the Islanders guardian of the goal didn't have any special warmth for Beezer. Quite the opposite.

At first, while a Pier Six brawl erupted at mid-ice, the respective pad-men seemed to be non-belligerents; mere onlookers wondering what the fuss was all about. Then, it all came to Kelly.

Suddenly, Hrudey charged Beezer, tossing a right cross under John's cage. Then, Kelly ripped off John's mask and eventually the duet finished their well-padded war tackling each other on the ice.

Eventually, peace was restored when linesman Ron Finn helped referee Andy Van Hellemond peel Hrudey and Vanbiesbrouck apart.

That was just as well because -- I kid you not -- days earlier, Kelly and Johnny, and their wives, had made plans to have dinner together after the game.

Turns out that the goalies were represented by the same lawyer, Lloyd Friedland, who had made reservations for the three guys -- and their three wives -- to dine at a posh Manhattan eatery after the match.

By the time cooler heads had prevailed Vanbiesbrouck and Hrudey had declared a truce -- and also cancelled their dinner plans. 

"All I know," concluded Kelly, "is if we had kept the plans and did go to dinner together, how uncomfortable it would have been after what had happened in the game.

"In the end we all agreed, 'Tonight's not the best night!"

Over the separate meals, the goalies later would declare, peace in our time. 

That is, until the next Islanders-Rangers game!

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