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Maven's Memories: The Stanley Cup Foot Soldiers

Stan Fischler profiles the Isles infantry that were crucial to the 1980 Stanley Cup win

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

The indisputable Islanders fact of life features a key point -- once Butch Goring arrived on Long Island, Bill Torrey's club was ready, willing and able to win the Stanley Cup.

Which they then proceeded to do; four straight times.

What often is overlooked during casual Cup commentary is that the foot soldiers already obtained by Bow Tie Bill before Goring's arrival also were intrinsic to the victory inventory.

The ice infantrymen were many and varied in background, size, style and position. Let's take a look at that group; the foot soldiers so necessary for the Cup:

* JOHN TONELLI: When the Islanders acquired this tenacious left wing in 1978 he was an under-appreciated forward determined to prove he was NHL-worthy. Time was on Tonelli's side because coach Al Arbour knew he had a winner and was willing to work with the Milton, Ontario native. Johnny evolved into one of the NHL's best corner men as well as a bull in open ice. 

More importantly, he blossomed into a clutch scorer as well as deft orchestrator of big goals. Who could forget Tonelli's radar pass to Bob Nystrom that produced the club's first Stanley Cup-winning goals. Over the 1980 playoffs, JT played in 21 games totaling seven goals and nine assists for 16 points. And the best was yet to come.

* BOB BOURNE: Talk about paying his Islanders dues, this rugged Western Canadian (Kindersley, Saskatchewan) left wing had earned plenty of sweat equity by the 1979--80 season, The maturing process was slow but Bob's speed enabled him remain a pivotal factor. Arbour knew at the turn of the decade that Bourne had become one of his most intense, behind the scene leaders.

According to author Andrew Podnieks ("Players"), Bourne never reached his true peak. "Bob's teammates and coaches all believed he could score 40 or 50 goals, if he put his mind to it," said Podnieks, "but he passed more than he shot. He also played with second-line confidence rather than first-line cockiness." Yet in the 1980 playoffs, in 21 games, Bobby had awfully good numbers -- 10-10-20.

* ANDERS KALLUR: For center ice strength, Torrey signed this compact Scandinavian in 1979, after he had been named the most valuable player in Sweden. "Anders gives us several options," said Bow Tie Bill. "He's a right wing who also can play center and left. He gives us versatility." Speedy and smart, Kallur evolved from a training camp "sleeper" into a prolific scorer, only overshadowed by such Hall of Famers as Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies.

"The feeling I got," Kallur remembered, "was that this was a team hungry to win and prove themselves. That was the feeling I had as an NHL rookie. It made me feel a part of things. Once I scored shorthanded against the great (defending Cup champion) Canadiens, I really felt like I belonged." And belong, he did, fortifying the center ice spot until the arrival of Goring. A sweet Swede if ever there was one!

* GORD LANE: Torrey understood that he needed an added package of TNT for his blue line. His defensive corps -- by now best in the league -- required someone with explosives in his veins. That marauder happened to belong to the last-place Washington Capitals. Groomed in Brandon, Manitoba, Gord Lane was that tough-as-they-come backliner.

On December 7, 1979, Bow Tie Bill dealt forward Mike Kaszycki to the Capitals for Lane. With surprising ease, Lane swiftly adapted to the Arbour Effect while putting fear in the hearts of enemy attackers. Gord paid off Torrey's confidence in him by becoming an Isles regular for five-and-a-half years including four straight Stanley Cup teams.

* DAVE LANGEVIN: When the NHL absorbed Edmonton among four World Hockey Association teams in 1979, the Oilers had to protect two players. One, of course, was Wayne Gretzky. Next Glen Sather had to choose between defenseman Langevin and forward Bengt Gustafsson. When Slats picked Gustafsson, Torrey grabbed Langevin and never, for a minute
regretted his move.

Despite a chronically painful right knee, the man called "Bam Bam" never found a foe he didn't want to hit -- and cleanly while he was at it. An instant defensive ace in Uniondale, Langevin proved to be "a defenseman's defenseman." He excelled on all four Cup-winners and is remembered by fans for also scoring one of the biggest playoff goals against the Rangers -- and at Madison Square Garden.


1. WAYNE MERRICK: Obtained from Cleveland, the tall, quiet center pivoted the Banana Line with John Tonelli and Bob Nystrom. Merrick was injured and out of the fateful Game Six against Philly, replaced by Lorne Henning, who helped set up the Cup-winner.

2. DUANE SUTTER: Like his many Sutter brothers, "Dog" was the quintessential NHL infantryman. There wasn't a "dirty" area on the ice that Sutter would ignore. While doing so, he usually found at least one opponent to drive to distraction.

3. STEFAN PERSSON: At a time when most NHL managers were chary to hire a Swedish defenseman, Torrey again revealed his keen insights. Moving to Long Island in 1977, Persson immediately became a top-four defender yet often was overlooked because of such defensive stars as Denis Potvin.

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