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Billy Smith speaks to Islanders before being honored

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Billy Smith still remembers his introduction to Long Island.

"My wife and I were in Connecticut; we were going to play in New Haven. When I got to the rink, my equipment wasn't there. They told me I had to be up here for practice the next morning. I left early, but I had no idea about Long Island," he said Saturday, prior to being honored as part of the Islanders' celebration of their final season at Nassau Coliseum. "I ended up driving all the way to the end of the Island, turned around and drove all the way back and got to the rink. And I still made practice."

That was in 1972, when Smith played 37 games for an expansion team that set NHL records for most losses and fewest points. Eight years later, Smith was in goal at the Coliseum on May 24, 1980, when Bobby Nystrom's overtime goal gave the Islanders their first of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Before being honored by the New York Islanders as the team continues to celebrate its final year at Nassau Coliseum, Billy Smith spoke to the current team, who has made the playoffs once since 2007. (Photo: Getty Images)

"We had a good group of guys," he said. "We had 16 guys that probably played seven years together, eight years together. You do get to know each other really well."

The New York Islanders are the last team in any of the major North American sports to win four consecutive chances. They got to the Stanley Cup Final in 1984 but lost to the Edmonton Oilers, ending a record streak of 19 consecutive playoff series victories.

Smith wouldn't concede that the Islanders' record will never be broken, but he did agree that it's unlikely.

"Don't ever say never," he said with a laugh. "I think it will be tough. Do you think you can hold 16 guys together on one team for four years? Not with the money today. A fourth line guy now, being on a Stanley Cup [winner] two years in a row, isn't he going to be much more valuable somewhere else?"

Smith's morning included some time talking to the current Islanders team, which is off to its best start since 1987-88, his next-to-last season in the NHL, and hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

"You listen to his teammates talk about him and then you watch the way he played the game and listen to how he played the game. To me, that's exactly what you want to do as a player," Jack Capuano said. "He respected his opponents but he feared no one.

"He was a focused individual. He came to the rink every day with the mentality that he was going to get better, but at the same time, he was going to have fun. He was going to enjoy the time he had playing this great game."

Rookie forward Ryan Strome said having Smith speak to the current Islanders added some motivation for a franchise that has made the playoffs once since 2007.

"It's great to have that presence in our dressing room," Strome said. "Obviously we know what those guys have done in the past; they're someone we can look up to. We're surrounded by history in this building. To see it firsthand is something special. A lot of guys appreciate what he did. [He said] some really motivating stuff. It makes guys want to get to that level and play in those types of games. It's great to have that around."

The Islanders are leaving the Coliseum after this season and will play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Smith said he'll be sorry to see his old team leave Nassau County and the only building it has ever called home.

"Long Island is a great place," he said. "You can't ask for a better place. We grew up here. I came here when I was 21 years old and stayed until after 40. My whole career was here.

"This is a great rink. It's always been a great rink. Unfortunately, this old building doesn't have the technology it needs to keep running the way it should."

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