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Tonelli and Goring 'Honored' and 'Humbled' by Number Retirement

John Tonelli and Butch Goring to have numbers retired by the Islanders in February

by Cory Wright WrightsWay /

When Butch Goring comes to work every day, he sees the retired banners of some of his teammates, whether they're hanging in the rafters of Nassau Coliseum, or at the team's practice facility. 

Goring knows what it represents - the best of the best to wear the Islanders crest - and whether or not he let it on, it was something he had hoped would be a part of one day. The same could be said about John Tonelli, though the man who set up the Isles' first Cup-clinching goal doesn't see the banners hanging as often in his daily life. 

They'd both given so much to the organization over the years and both alumni were overwhelmed, honored and humbled to find out that the team will bestow the highest honor it can give - retiring their numbers and hanging their jerseys in the rafters. 

"You see their name up there and start to hope that someday you might be able to swing with those guys," Goring said. "For that moment to finally come for myself and John, it's completely overwhelming. It's been hard for me to grasp what's happened here because it's something that I've been hoping for."

"I'm just so excited and full of such grateful emotion," Tonelli said. "I'm excited and humbled to have this happen to me." 

Video: Tonelli & Goring Conference Call

Tonelli will get his number 27 retired on Feb. 21, while Goring will see his number up in the toy department on Feb. 29. Both Islanders are more than deserving of being immortalized in the team's home. Tonelli is eighth all-time in Islanders scoring with 544 points (206G, 338A) while Goring is affectionally known as the final piece of the puzzle, credited with helping the Islanders get over the championship hump. Both were key pieces of the Isles dynasty that included four straight Stanley Cups and an NHL record 19-straight playoff series wins. 

While no current Islander wears Goring's 91, Tonelli's 27 is currently outfitted on Islanders captain Anders Lee. Tonelli said it wasn't even a question of whether he'd let Lee continue to wear 27 - and that he was proud to be able to share the number with Lee. 

"When [President and General Manager] Lou [Lamoriello] and I were talking, he brought up Anders and I kind of interrupted Lou and said 'Lou, say no more, this kid is a great kid and I would welcome and cherish and be so proud if he continued to wear 27,'" Tonelli said. "I consider it to be our number, it's not just mine. I borrowed it, I wore it and Anders is wearing it now and I couldn't have a better person wearing it now than Anders." 

Lee was touched by the gesture from one of the Isles' all-time greats. 

"First of all, I was extremely grateful for him giving me the blessing. It's a huge honor for me to wear his number," Lee said. "It's meant a lot to me and I know it's meant a lot to him. I'm very thankful to share it with him, but he's the real two-seven. I'll just try to carry on what he did before it and everything like that and wear it with pride."

Video: Anders Lee on John Tonelli and Butch Goring

Goring's connection to the Islanders goes beyond his playing days, as he also coached both the Islanders and their minor league affiliates and is currently the team's color commentator on MSG and an alumni ambassador. He said the Islanders and Long Island keep drawing him back and has played a huge role in his life - despite the fact that he was initially disappointed when he was traded to the team in 1980. He joked that he thought he was in trouble when he saw Lamoriello calling him the other day to share the news. 

"I'm so excited, and as I tweeted out, February won't come fast enough for me," Goring said. "The 29th is going to be circled on my calendar and I'll have a tough time not thinking about that particular day. I am so grateful for Scott [Malkin], Jon [Ledecky] and Lou to be able to pull this off for John and myself. So hats off. It's one of the best days I've been able to live."

Tweet from @91Butch: Today has become one of the best days of my have my number retired is beyond expression and belief.The response from fans and friends as well as family is overwhelming.February can not come fast enough.Thanks to everyone for the kind words

TICKETS: FEB. 21 | FEB. 29

The honor is long overdue for two franchise icons, but come February, they'll have their day. And every day after that, their names will swing in the rafters where they belong. 

"It's about time," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "Both of those guys were a big part of the championship runs and they remain big parts of the alumni and the organization and the community. Well done by the organization and well deserved by the two gentlemen. It'll be an honor to see them get their jerseys raised."

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