Special to newyorkislanders.com
If you've grown up in the age of frequent player movement, it's hard to conceive of a team keeping its core together through four consecutive championships (and nearly a fifth). That's what makes the "Core of the Four, the 17 players who were part of all four Islanders championship teams who were honored on Sunday, so special.
"This was hockey's fantasy Island," emcee Jiggs McDonald, the TV voice of the Islanders during the dynasty days, noted as he introduced a highlight video of those years at the ceremony prior to the current Isles' game against the Florida Panthers. Indeed it was – for four straight springs, the Stanley Cup took up residence on Long Island, a feat not likely to be repeated again.
The Coliseum crowd gave big ovations to the stars of the Core – Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier, Clark Gilles and Denis Potvin (the other Hall of Famer, Billy Smith, had a previous commitment and had to settle for a video greeting). Bob Nystrom, whose Cup-winner in 1980 started it all, also got a huge ovation.
But there were also large cheers for guys who weren't big names: players like Anders Kallur and Dave Langevin, Gord Lane and Stefan Persson. As important as the stars were, the support troops were what made these Islanders special – both within the NHL and on Long Island.
"It takes 20 guys to win the Cup," said John Tonelli, whose overtime goal in Game 5 of the first round in 1982 kept the dynasty alive and who's still a Long Islander. "It's a great and special feeling to see these guys again."
The cheering was more than just a recognition of this group's accomplishments; it was the renewal of a bond between a team and its fans that will live for years to come. No matter what future Islanders teams accomplish on the ice, they will be hard-pressed to match the love between team and community that those Islanders engendered.
That love was evident even before the on-ice ceremonies, when the "Walk of Champions" drew a huge crowd as the Islanders legends and their families walked from the Marriott Hotel to the Coliseum.
There was even a salute from the current Isles, who came out for their warmup dressed in 1980s' style jerseys, with each player wearing the number of one of his predecessors. They were led by Sunday's starting goaltender, Wade Dubielewicz, who wore Smith's No. 31.
"It was a big honor for all of us to be wearing their jerseys," said captain Bill Guerin, who wore Potvin's No. 5, complete with the captain's "C." "These guys mean so much to this organization and this area."
Winning four consecutive championships took more than on-ice talent: It also required great management and support. It was appropriate, for instance, that general manager Bill Torrey, who built the Isles' dynasty, and Al Arbour, who coached it, were introduced together. As Jiggs noted in his introduction, "Before you win a Stanley Cup; before you even win a playoff game, someone had to build the team and someone has to coach it." The fruits of Torrey's genius and Arbour's brilliance – four Stanley Cup banners – hang from the Coliseum rafters.
Perhaps most interesting was hearing the big names introduce and salute the rest of the Core of the Four. Nystrom, speaking about Lane, a rugged defenseman who filled an unappreciated role: "He made it impossible for players on the other team to stand in front of the net."
Gillies on Duane Sutter, who earned the nickname "Dog" for his tenacity in hounding opponents: "Every team in the league hated him, but we loved to have him on our side."
Gillies on Bob Bourne, who scored perhaps the most spectacular goal in Islander history against the Rangers: "He was part of one of the greatest left sides any team ever had."
And Trottier on Lorne Henning, who won Cups with the Islanders as a player and an assistant coach under Arbour: "We salute him for his insightfulness, but also for his two-way hockey, game after game."
Everyone – including trainer Ron Waske, equipment manager Jim Pickard and scout Earl Ingarfield was honored for their role in the construction of one of sports' great dynasties.
It was a perfect team – with "team" being the key word.
A quarter-century later, that's still the case. (John Kreiser is a columnist for NHL.com and covered the Islanders' playoff runs during much of the dynasty era)