Once upon a time, long, long ago -- try late 1940s-1950s -- the Montreal Canadiens had a fine forward named Floyd Curry. Curry had a couple of nicknames -- such as "Busher" -- but the one I liked best was "The Honest Blocker."
Floyd, who played on four Stanley Cup-winning teams, earned that handle because he was as honest a hockey player as they come; plus he could block shots and opponents with the best of them.
The Islander who most reminds me of Curry is Patrick Flatley. Like Curry, Flats is known as a player's player -- gritty, fearless and savvy. His nickname said it all -- "Chairman of the Boards."
What handle could be more fitting for this eternal digger? Patrick had a knack for collecting pucks where no-one else could. He made you think he had a vacuum cleaner at the end of his stick rather than a blade.
"We didn't call him 'Chairman of the Board' for nothing," said captain Denis Potvin. "When it came to getting the rubber out of the corners or along the wall, nobody was better than Patrick."
That being the case how does one explain that a 1982 first-round pick -- 21st overall -- received minimal attention during his Islanders (1984-1996) career?
For one thing, the likeable left wing signed on with the big club immediately after the Islanders dynastic fourth-straight Stanley Cup victory.
For another there's no way Flats could gain center stage with the likes of Hall of Famers Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies hogging the limelight.
"I didn't mind not being on center stage," Flatley told me. "I was just so happy playing hockey and, better still, playing for the Islanders. I thought of every day being on the ice was a Christmas gift."
General Manager Bill Torrey considered his club gifted after watching Patrick dominate for Team Canada in the 1984 Olympics. Bow Tie Bill had no qualms about thrusting Flats right into the 1983-84 starting lineup.
"I knew he was ready," Torrey allowed. "Like Patty LaFontaine, Flats knew what he was doing in The Show and knew it well. He proved that by scoring on his first NHL shot."
While still a rookie Flatley showed that he "got it" during the classic 1984 best-of-five series against the Rangers. One of Patrick's pure body-check turned the playoff in the Isles favor. Here's how:
The Blueshirts answer to Denis Potvin was Barry Beck, a highly-rated hulking defenseman with an offensive side to complement his thudding body-checks. Neutralizing Beck would give the Isles an advantage in this close tourney.
With the Rangers leading the series two games to one, the Manhattanites had a chance to eliminate their rivals on the night of April 8, 1984. Late in the third period the score was tied 1-1 when the Isles made a big push.
Defending deep in his own end, Beck moved out along his right boards when Flatley, like a submarine commander viewing his prey, moved in for the kill. In this case the "torpedo" was a clean shoulder check that disabled Beck.
Flatley: "I saw this as an opportunistic time to take advantage of a big man. Beck was extended and I just hit him."
At first, Beck seemed unhurt and even tried to re-enter play. Meanwhile, Brent Sutter gained control of the puck and rifled it past goalie Glen Hanlon for a 2-1 Islanders lead. Now painfully on his knees, Beck looked helpless.
"I thank God that he never played in the series again," said Flatley. "That way, he couldn't get me back. I think it would have been bad for me if he ever came back. Nonetheless, I hit him a clean check."
Patrick's hit not only spurred the Isles to a 4-1 victory but it tied the series at two wins apiece and led to the Nassaumen taking the tournament-winner in the next match.
Flats also was a chief protagonist in the legendary "Easter Epic" on April 18, 1987. This was Game Seven of the Patrick Division Semi-Finals against the Washington Capitals; that lasted four overtime periods into Easter Sunday.
With Washington leading 1-0 and threatening to fatten the lead, Flatley beat goalie Bob Mason to tie the score, enabling his teammates to regroup.
Flatley: "I remember before I scored the goal their big defenseman Scott Stevens almost killed me with a body-check. Scott later told me it was the biggest hit he ever made. It sure felt like it to me."
"I got back to the bench on all fours," Flatley added. "Thinking back to it, that was a clean hit after a bad move by me. The lesson I learned was, 'Don't go to the middle of the ice when Scott Stevens is on the ice.'"
The Islanders tied the score late in the third period leading to the first sudden-death period; then a second, a third and, remarkably a fourth overtime. By that time everyone was exhausted -- players, fans and on-ice officials.
"For me," Flats remembered, "the marathon was like going back to childhood; playing on a frozen pond into the eighth hour. Skating that long was like a euphoric state of innocence. In the end, I look back on it as a lot of fun."
Speaking of Flatley "fun," Patrick and his goaltending buddy of that era -- Glenn Healy -- became stars of a mini tv sitcom, "The Heals and Flats Show." It was an ad lib comedy bit conjured up by SportsChannel producer Kevin Meininger.
"One night Kevin was watching me and Glenn playing chess in the back of our plane," Flatley recalled. "We were kidding around as usual which entertained Meininger no end. He said fans would love to hear us interact so we decided to give it a shot."
Originally filmed in Healy's basement, "Heals and Flats" turned out to be a hit over two seasons. One source of merriment was the battle over which star was funnier.
Flatley: "Glenn was not funnier than me."
Then, a pause and an afterthought: "One of the funniest things -- which really wasn't meant to be funny -- was that a lot of viewers thought we were talking about shoes; y'know, heels and flats."
On a more serious note, Patrick always treasured the day he was named Islanders captain, after Brent Sutter was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1991-92 season.
"It was easy captaining that Islanders team," he concluded. "because I was leading a bunch of good-willed, strong characters."
I'm sure that Busher Curry -- the Honest Blocker -- would have been proud of Patrick Flatley, his Islanders double!