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Remembering Bill Torrey

Denis Potvin, Bob Nystrom, Ken Morrow and Jiggs McDonald share their memories of Bill Torrey

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

There are a lot of builders in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but there's only one architect. 

That title belongs to Bill Torrey, the first general manager of the New York Islanders, the man who turned a ragtag expansion team into a hockey dynasty in a little over a decade and delivered four straight Stanley Cups to Long Island. 

Bow Tie Bill's historic contributions left a lasting legacy on Long Island and on Wednesday, the Islanders legend passed away. He was 83. 

Heartfelt condolences poured in from across the NHL landscape. Former Islanders Denis Potvin, Bob Nystrom, Ken Morrow and Hall of Fame Broadcaster Jiggs McDonald were three men who knew Torrey well and took time to celebrate the life of "The Architect." 

Video: Bill Torrey - one of the most respected men in hockey

As a General Manager, Torrey was never as visible as Al Arbour behind the bench or the players on the ice, but he was just as important a figure in the development of the organization. He was the first man in the door, becoming the team's first general manager on Feb. 15, 1972, and it was his vision and his decisions that led the Islanders to four cups and 19 straight playoff series wins. 

"It can never be overstated," McDonald said of Torrey's importance to the Islanders. "He had his fingerprints all over everything." 

Torrey was the executive who recruited Arbour as coach, drafted Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. He picked Billy Smith - a future Hall of Famer - in the 1972 expansion draft. He finished the Islanders puzzle when he traded for Butch Goring. He is by far the winningest executive in the team's history, spending 21 years with the franchise, and fittingly has a banner - with his trademark bowtie - in the rafters. 

"He was a very special person," McDonald said. "I know the hockey person is overused, but if there were to be a description or a picture to go in the Webster's Dictionary showing what a hockey person looked like, it would be William A. Torrey."

The players he had on the dynasty teams said he touched their lives for the better. 

"He was the guy who gave me a chance to play in the NHL and for that I owe him a debt of gratitude," Nystrom said. "He saw something in me and was willing to give me an opportunity. He did that for a lot of players. Had a real good way of reading character and what was really inside a person. He's going to go down as one of the greatest GMs that every worked in the NHL."

Video: Butch Goring on the passing of Bill Torrey

"He might have had a bigger impact on my hockey life than anybody that could have," said Morrow, the Islanders Director of Pro Scouting. "He's the reason I became an Islander and the reason I'm still working for the organization 30 years later. He had a profound impact not only on my hockey life, but my life in general."

Potvin said that Torrey was always one of the first people to reach out to him during a big event, whether it was after he was selected first overall in 1973, or won the Calder Trophy a year later. He said Torrey helped welcome him to Long Island and later helped bring Potvin to Florida as a broadcaster. 

"Bill was the first man there for all of us in many, many ways," Potvin said. "His players meant more to him than anything else. He dedicated his life to hockey. He was a giant for the NHL, not just the Islanders… Every day he was a hockey man. Every day of his life he was a hockey man and one of the best, maybe the best."

Those relationships lasted even through the occasional awkwardness of a GM-player relationship. Nystrom laughed at how Torrey held tough contract negotiations the summer after he scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal. Potvin remembered the day his brother Jean was traded in 1978, but understood the GM was doing his job - and appreciated when Jean was brought back into the fold. 

"Bill had a real good sense in how he dealt with each and every player," Nystrom said. "More than anything else, it was his ability to read character."

Morrow said the GM was full of character too, a smart, genuine, classy and humble man. Morrow said Torrey treated his players as people and with respect. 

"He found the right balance," Morrow said. "He always asked about family. The first question he would ask is how's your wife, how's your kids, how's things going at home and then you could talk about what was going on with hockey. It was what the Islanders were about. It was a family on the ice and a family off the ice." 

There was a lingering sadness as Potvin, Nystrom and McDonald recalled their memories of Torrey on an emotional day. They'd all stayed in touch with him throughout the years. Potvin and McDonald became broadcasters with the Panthers - Torrey joined the team in 1993 after leaving the Isles - and Nystrom spent time in Florida in the winter. 

McDonald MC'd Bill Torrey night in Florida when the Panthers raised a banner for him and the two hockey men were close friends. 

"He always called me Kenneth, I was never Jiggs, even right up till the last time we talked," McDonald said. "We just had a special relationship. He was always forthright, never any BS with Bill."

Tweet from @NYIslanders: Bill Torrey was a true legend of the game. The #Isles won four straight Stanley Cup Championships from 1980-83. Torrey was the GM for all four championships & put together 19 straight playoff series victories, which still stands as the longest such streak in professional sports. pic.twitter.com/Omikof2K18

Torrey's relationship with Arbour stood out as a driving factor behind the Islanders dynasty. They trusted and used each other's knowledge to make decisions and share the credit. If Arbour wanted to see a personnel change, Torrey did his best to accommodate it. If Torrey wanted to see a new line combination, Arbour did the same. 

"They had a partnership there," Nystrom said. "It was a partnership. They got along so well and Bill was just one hell of a great guy. 

Their friendship was evident two years ago when Torrey gave a moving speech at Arbour's memorial service. He choked up at the end saying how much he missed his close friend and confidant a year after his passing. On this day, the hockey world is mourning Torrey. 

"He certainly led a charmed life and a meaningful life with all that he did," Morrow said. "I looked forward to when I would see him to catch up and thank him for all that he did for me."

And that respect, that admiration and those relationships, those are all things he built - in addition to a dynasty. 

Video: NHL Tonight reacts to the passing of William Torrey

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