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Maven's Memories: Rollie the Goalie Comes in for Chico

Stan Fischler profiles Islanders goalies Chico Resch and Roland Melanson

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

Over the years in show business there have been sensational acts that were impossible to follow on stage: The Beatles, Madonna and Frank Sinatra come to mind, but the list is endless.

On a young Islanders team -- not yet 10 years old -- one personality who won the hearts of Long Island fans was Glenn Resch, alias "Chico."

His nickname emerged via a popular TV show of the era, Chico and the Man. Somebody thought Resch looked a lot like Freddie Prinze's character in the sitcom. They called him "Chico" and Glenn was forgotten.

To say that Resch was a character would be the understatement of the half-century. In fact, many of Glenn's teammates considered him a one-man, walking sitcom.

"You didn't say 'Good Morning' to Chico if you had an appointment in an hour," said Mike Bossy, "because you were afraid of being late. He had more to say than any other human being in the history of the world."

Resch wasn't the best at his goaltending profession but he was darn good. Nor did he have rock star good looks. But if there was one thing Chico had in abundance, it was charisma. In one delightful package, he was articulate, insightful, witty and warm. 

"Chico loved the fans," said coach Al Arbour, "and the fans loved him back."

A good reason for that was Glenn's mutual bonding with the media. Author Tim Moriarty, who covered the Islanders for Newsday, wrote that, "Resch was about the easiest guy to talk to in the entire NHL."

Sometimes, Glenn would forget to put a period at the end of his filibusters; a fact that caused anguish from time on road trips as the following "Where's Chico?" episode depicts.

The club was completing its journey with the last stop being Toronto. After playing the Leafs, everyone headed to the airport, cleared Customs and boarded the airport bus taking them to their plane. It was late and everyone was fit to be tied.

G.M. Bill Torrey's son, Richard, then a 19-year-old college student, was on vacation and with the team on the bus when a Missing Persons alert was sounded by the coach with young Rich innocently involved in it. 

Rich Torrey: "The bus was about to leave when Al discovered that Chico was missing. It's dead quiet -- everyone exhausted, some asleep and now I can hear groans. Suddenly, Al tells me, 'Go back into the airport and find him. Here I am, a kid, didn't even know where I was but I couldn't say no.

"I hop out, start racing through the empty hallways, retracing my steps, back to Customs and then the terminal and still no Chico. Finally, at the end of one of the corridors I see him having an animated conversation with a janitor!

"So I run up to him and tell him everyone is on the bus and Al wants to leave. Chico says to me, 'Tell him I'll be right there' and then he went right back to his conversation. Meanwhile, I went back to the bus and told Al all about it. P.S. Chico showed up a minute or two later."

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Glenn's epigrams were so priceless that no less than a dozen of his one-liners were included in Glenn Liebman's book, Hockey Shorts, a collection of the best quotations from National Hockey League players.

Talking about his profession, Chico once said, "Playing hockey is the only job I know of where you get paid to take a nap the day of the game."

Not surprisingly, his teammates loved him and so did the general staff -- up to a point. And that point came at the 1981 trade deadline when The Boss, Bill Torrey, decided he required a reliable quarterback defenseman to work the power play along with Denis Potvin.

In other words it meant that Resch was expendable. Or, as one press box wag put it, "Bow Tie Bill wanted more goals and less laughs."

Which explains why -- early in March 1981 -- Chico and young forward Steve Tambellini were dealt to the Colorado Rockies for offensive-minded defenseman Mike McEwen and minor league goalie Jari Kaarela.

While some Resch fans wept, Torrey toasted his former goalie in what was a realistic farewell: "Glenn was an integral part in making this team great. He was a key player bringing credibility to the franchise." .

Apart from the fact that moving the super-popular Resch was a gutsy move by Torrey, the exchange also had a giant touch of gamble to it. 

Up until this point in the club's history, or ever since Resch had signed on with Torrey in 1973, the Islanders were secure in the knowledge that they boasted two competent puck-stoppers. 

Granted that bombastic Bill Smith was in goal for the 1980 Stanley Cup run, but it was Resch who bailed out Battlin' Billy all the way back to 1975 when Glenn was kissing goal posts after big wins. 

Without The Mouthpiece to spell Smitty, what was the club to do? Actually, the club's response was as easy as a phone call to Indianapolis, then home to the Islanders Central Hockey League club.

Always thinking ahead, Bow Tie Bill had been grooming Roland Melanson, a promising French-Canadian from Moncton, New Brunswick, as Chico's heir apparent. 

Torrey and his top scouting aide, Jim Devellano, had been eyeing Rollie The Goalie ever since Melanson played Juniors for the Windsor Spitfires and then Oshawa Generals. They plucked him in the third round of the 1979 Entry Draft and turned him pro a year later.

Dispatched to Indianapolis for the 1980-81 season, Melanson returned the favor with a 31-16-3 record and 2.57 goals against average, which was superior stuff in a high-scoring minor league like the CHL.

It won Rollie a five-game audition with the big club that campaign when Resch was sidelined with a knee injury. What amounted to a tryout was all Bow Tie Bill and Radar needed. Melanson went 4-0-1, allowing 17 goals over the quintet of contests.

"He looks capable" said Mike Bossy. Torrey seconded the motion and then went about the business of making the deal for Resch.

"Those five games were good enough for me," said Arbour. "I was impressed with Melanson's poise for such a young (20) goalie in his first NHL shot."

Unlike Resch, Rollie was a man of few words but they were prophetic. After completing his audition, he packed his bags for a return to Indianapolis and simply asserted, "I will be back."

His return was sooner than he -- or anyone for that matter -- expected. With Chico now out West with the Rockies, Melanson continued to impress in the East with three more regular season wins before the playoffs.

And just to prove that he could cut it in the post-season, Melanson beat Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers in his lone 1981 playoff appearance.

"I didn't have any hesitation using him more than once," Radar concluded, "it was just that the team was playing so well there was no need to spell Smitty again."

As it happened, Rollie The Goalie's arrival couldn't have come at a more fortuitous time -- for both Melanson and the team. Mike McEwen turned into a playoff hero while Melanson proved to be the best backup for which Smitty could have wished.

Or, as historian Andrew Podnieks commented about Melanson's arrival as an Islander, in Podnieks' who's who of hockey, Players:

"Timing is everything in comedy and hockey; -- except Rollie wasn't very funny!"

Just good.

So good, in fact, that he starred while following that inimitable one-man-act, The Great Chico!

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