At the NHL Amateur Draft in the summer of 1977, New York Islanders
General Manager Bill Torrey was torn between choosing one of two wingers he felt could have an immediate impact.
There was the Ontario Hockey League’s Dwight Foster (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), who was touted as a ferocious body checker, and this young lad from the Quebec Major Junior League, Mike Bossy, a gifted goal-scorer. At the time, Islanders coach Al Arbour informed Torrey that, if required, he could teach a scorer to check and, thus, recommended Bossy.
Bossy was passed over by 12 other teams before Torrey selected the Quebec native with the 15th selection in the first round. Foster would go next to the Boston Bruins. The pick certainly played a major role in catapulting the Islanders to eventual stardom on Long Island.
”The Islanders had enough checkers and I thought, the year I got there, that the team had an extremely well-disciplined, defensive-minded hockey team,’’ Bossy told NHL.com. “I always tell the story about the first training camp. I was with the team and, knowing how defensive a system Al (Arbour) ran, I kept questioning him my first few days at practice. I’d ask; ‘Where should I be and should I be doing this instead of that?’
”Finally, one day, he pulled me aside and said; ‘Listen, we drafted you to score goals and that’s what we want you to do. If I have anything to say about your defensive play, I’ll come and tell you.’ I think I spoke to Al just twice more on the subject the rest of the year. I was a quick learner and wanted to be successful and realized that if I was going to achieve my goals, I had to focus and just play my game.’’
Bossy, who is playing a central role in The Core of the Four 25th anniversary celebration of the Islanders’ four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 through 1983 this weekend, went on to become one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history. He scored 573 goals in 752 games and is currently 18th on the all-time goal-scoring list. His .762 goals-per-game average is first all-time. Foster, incidentally, finished with 111 goals in 541 games.
There’s no denying the fact Bossy enjoyed the spotlight while going about his business in dramatic fashion. He accurately predicted he would score 50 goals in his rookie season and made good on that promise, netting 53 goals in his Calder Trophy-winning season in 1977-78.
”That was more a negotiating ploy than it was a prediction,’’ Bossy said. “I said that while sitting at a table with Bill Torrey, so I wasn't so nervous about that one, but did become very excited once I realized I was getting closer to attaining 50.’’
In 1980-81, Bossy scored 50 goals in the first 50 games of the season, becoming the first player to do so since the Canadiens’ Maurice Richard, who set the mark 36 years earlier. Bossy, who scored No. 50 against Quebec goalie Ron Grahame with 1:40 left in the third period of his 50th game, succeeded in reaching this mark despite publicly putting pressure on himself.
”It was probably less stressful back then because the media attention isn’t what it is today,’’ Bossy said. “But, right from the start, I did put a lot of pressure on myself so it was a pretty rough time. I’m glad I was able to do it.’’
Bossy, who holds the Islanders' all-time record for goals scored in the postseason with 85 in 129 games, also garnered the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1982, when the Islanders swept the Vancouver Canucks to win the Cup. His greatest accomplishment, however, might be his nine straight seasons of 50 or more goals. It’s a feat that might never be duplicated.
”Until the day they put me six feet under, I’ll be checking to see who’s on the road to doing it,’’ Bossy, now 51, said. “I know how much effort went into doing it, so I’ll be checking to see if anyone ever gets close. I know there is no one near it right now, so I think I'm still good until I’m at least 57 or 58 years old. I guess I’ll have to revisit it then.’’
Today, Bossy, the Islanders’ executive director of corporate relations, still feels as though those great Islanders teams of the early 1980s don’t receive the proper recognition.
”I don’t think we’ve gotten credit, speaking more from a professional sports level than from just a New York level,’’ Bossy said. “I don’t think we were awarded enough respect or recognition for what we did, but hockey isn’t a national sport in the United States, so a lot of people don’t know about the sport and what it took to win four straight Stanley Cups and that’s understandable. As long as our group and the fans on Long Island recognize our accomplishments, I’m fine with that. There’s no doubt doing stuff like this (promoting the Islanders Stanley Cup run) gets it out into the open. I know that the NHL and everyone who follows the NHL understand what we did and I think they respect and appreciate the effort it required.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.