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Maven's Memories: The Lighter Side of the Islanders

Stan Fischler recounts some funny behind-the-scenes stories from the 1970s.

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / NewYorkIslanders.com

Between wins and losses the 1970s Islanders had some fun.

Sometimes the humor came via teammates and, occasionally -- when the whimsical spirit moved him -- from coach Al Arbour, not to mention general manager Bill Torrey.

No matter how you shake them, the following tales from inside and outside the Nassau locker room could fit into a volume called "Strange But True Islanders Stories." The following are a few samples.


1. AL'S CAR THINKS IT'S A PLANE:

If I tell you that Al Arbour's automobile once "took off" at a Long Island airport you'd think I was kidding. I'm not. And if you don't believe me, check it out with Bob Nystrom who originally told this story.

Ny and other Islanders had returned from a playoff game in Buffalo. Their charter plane landed at a tiny Suffolk County airport where coach Arbour unloaded his heavy video equipment which was too heavy to carry to his car. Al's vehicle had been in a small lot very close to the runway.

"Al left the equipment near the plane," Nystrom recalled, "and went to get his car to drive it over to the runway. After getting into his car, Radar drove it up to the gate. Apparently his gate card didn't work, so Coach got out and flipped the gate open with his hands."

Nothing wrong with that. The gate easily moved up which then would enable Al to drive the auto on to the tarmac where his equipment was waiting. Except, the absent-minded Radar had forgotten to slip his car into Neutral. Uh-oh!

Nystrom: "Without Radar, his car started moving forward as if it had a driver behind the wheel -- which it did not. The car rolled right past Al through the gate and on to the airfield. Al chased his car but it remained in the lead and smashed into the tail of an old aircraft, breaking the plane's rudder.

"It was hilarious (if you were watching it and not named Arbour) except that Al stumbled and, things weren't bad enough, then separated his shoulder."

From that point on -- assuming that their coach was in a good mood -- players would occasionally ask Al, "Hit any planes today, Radar?"


2. JOHNNY POTVIN AND THE MYSTERIOUS BLOW-GUN:

Denis Potvin's older brother, Jean, was a darn good defenseman and one of the funniest players on the squad; except in this particular episode, his coach was not amused.

While back-skating as the opposition descended on him with a three-on-one break, Jean unceremoniously fell down without being hit or anything. That enabled the foe to score with its three-on-nothing assault.

"Fortunately," remembered Ed Westfall, "we went on to win the game so it took the heat off Potsy. But nobody forgot about it, including Al, who brought it up at practice the next day."

Arbour called a halt to the scrimmage and beckoned Johnny with a question: 'For crying out loud, Potsy, what the heck happened to you? Did you 'trip' on the blue line last night?"

Quick thinker that he was, Jean shot back: "You won't believe this but there was a little guy up there in the stands with a blow gun -- and he got me dead on. What else could it be but a little fellow with a blow gun?"

Nobody knew it at the time but Johnny Potvin's "blow gun" ad lib became a legendary running gag with the team.

Westfall: "Every time a player would fall down on his own in the same situation as Johnny did, we always called it 'The little guy with the blow gun',"


3. BOSSY LOSES HIS LINEMATE... AT THE HOTEL:

In his rookie season, 1977-78, Mike Bossy didn't even know whether he would survive training camp. He figured that if he failed, he'd either be sent down to the minors or, worse, go to Muskegon in the old International League.

But coach Al Arbour liked what he saw and told Bossy that he would have Bryan Trottier as his linemate. By the end of camp, Trots had taken young Boss under his wing and Mike followed his new buddy wherever Bryan took him.

Now it was the night before the team's opening game in Buffalo and Bossy would be rooming with Trottier at the team's hotel. The problem was that Mike actually managed to lose Bryan in the hotel elevator. 

In his autobiography, "Boss," Mike explained how this happened -- as well as the punch line as well.

"After we checked into the hotel, Trots grabbed our room key and about a dozen of us piled into one elevator. Dumb rookie that I was, I didn't bother to ask Trots our room number. On the crowded elevator ride, Trots was nearest the door. 

"He kept popping out to let others exit, then popping back in. Only one time he didn't get back in; something I didn't notice until a few floors later. So I went back down to the lobby, asked what room I had and got my own key.

"When I opened the door there was no sign of Trots; until I opened the closet. There he was, hiding. He scared the hell out of me!"



4. AL PUTS ALL HIS EGGS IN ALL BASKETS:

As coach, Al Arbour had a deep basket of motivational tools. Some were traditional and others pretty far out; especially when a dozen-and-a-half eggs were involved. Here's what happened:

The day after his Islanders had played one of their extremely rare, soft, listless games, Radar called the troops into the dressing room -- and were they ever surprised.

"When we returned to our lockers," said Clark Gillies, "we found an egg in each of our stalls."

The coach sternly looked at his players and blurted: "I put those eggs there because I want you all to wear them in your pants the next game. I bet that after the game is over three-quarters of the eggs won't even be broken. Do you get the message? You want to win but you don't want to pay the price."

Clark later told me that he was tempted to put an egg on the coach's head but defenseman Pat Price beat him to it.

Gillies: "Price took his egg; walked over to Al and smashed it over Al's head while the rest of the guys looked on in amazement." 

Eventually, Price would pay the price for his impudence.. The Isles left him unclaimed in the Expansion Draft whereupon he was claimed by Edmonton. (Humpty-Dumpty would have been amused.)


5. STEP LIVELY, STAN, SMITTY IS COMING DOWN THE TRACK:

Like most media types, I knew that it was sacrilege to even talk to Hall of Fame goalie Bill Smith on the day of a game. The rambunctious goalie was the most focused hockey player I ever met and it was wise to stay out of his way until the game had ended.

On the evening minutes before a big playoff game, I had filled up my coffee container in the downstairs press room around the corner from the Isles locker room.

Noticing that it was close to game time, I prepared to return to the Coliseum's tv studio. But I had forgotten that, in a few seconds, the players would be walking right past the press room door. 

Just as the Islanders had turned the dressing room corner and headed toward the ice, I simultaneously walked out of the press room.

In those days, the press room door led directly to the rubber matting on which Smitty was galumphing -- like a locomotive rounding a bend in the tracks -- directly at me. 

His head was down which meant that he had no idea that someone was standing directly in his tracks. 

Meanwhile, in one split second, I was trying to decide if I could escape by getting back into the press room or by stepping nimbly aside while holding a very hot container in my hand.

Smitty was a step away when I lurched off the matting; hopefully out or danger of being scalded or -- if I leaned the wrong way -- of scalding the starting goaltender. My move was not a splendid as some of Smith's saves.

His left arm just brushed my coffee cup, which then did an caffein version of Old Faithful, shooting up in the Coliseum air but -- thank Heaven -- safely away from Smitty.

Considering that I was only slightly scalded, what was left of the coffee tasted delicious after I had escaped to the sanctity of my studio.

A while later, after a practice, I asked goalie Bill if he remembered my coffee encounter with him.

No way; he was too focused; didn't even know anything had happened!

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