How Acquired: Trade from NY Islanders on October 25, 1991
Buffalo stats (1991-1994): 236 games; 60-57-117, 213 PIMs
Career NHL stats (1986-1997): 741 games; 175-159-334, 603 PIMs
The seeds of an Ivy League education were planted long before Randy Wood ever set foot on the campus of storied Yale University in 1982. His father Norman captained Harvard’s hockey team in 1954, and went on to coach at Princeton from 1959-65.
It was at Yale where the former Massachusetts high school star would blossom. Randy Wood scored a combined 33 points in his first two seasons as a Bulldog, but would set the school’s single-season scoring record with 53 points in his junior year. That record lasted all of one season because Wood scored 55 as a senior, receiving All-American honors in the process.
A classic “late bloomer,” the undrafted Wood signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders in September 1986, and made his NHL debut later that season after playing 75 games with the AHL’s Springfield Indians. Wood quickly made a name for himself in the NHL, scoring at least 20 goals in three of his first four seasons with the Islanders.
But it was on October 25, 1991, when Wood became part of Sabres lore, coming to Buffalo in the blockbuster deal that saw Pat LaFontaine join the blue and gold.
Wood played three seasons in Buffalo, and reached the 20-goal plateau twice. His hardworking style was the perfect complement to highly-skilled players like LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny and Dale Hawerchuk on those early 90’s Sabres teams.
Claimed off waivers by Toronto in 1995, Wood finished his career with the Islanders in 1997 after a brief 30-game stop in Dallas.
These days, the 51-year-old Wood is living in Manchester, MA, and running a general contracting business in the North Shore region. He’s also the proud father of two hockey-playing sons who have carried on the family tradition of attending college.
Wood spoke to Sabres.com by phone this week, looking back on everything from his collegiate background to his thoughts on the trade that brought him to Buffalo.
As the son of a college coach, was it always your dream to play hockey at an Ivy League school?
Growing up in Massachusetts, I always attended Harvard football and hockey games. It was always instilled in me that the academic side of going through school was just as important, if not more important, than the hockey portion. I was always pushed to go to the best school I could, and have fun playing hockey along the way. The fact I evolved into a professional hockey player wasn’t luck. I was pursuing the academic side, and if hockey worked out that would be great. If not, I always had my education to fall back on.
How much did you think about a possible NHL career while at Yale?
USA Hockey was running “Summer Olympic Festivals” in the 80’s, and I was invited to play in one after my junior year. It was a way for USA Hockey to invite some of the top players in to see how they were developing. It was during that tournament where I was fortunate to play on a team that was doing well, and I played pretty well too after having a successful junior year. I got some feedback from scouts at that event that there may be an opportunity for me, but they wanted to see me back it up with a good senior year. That was probably the first time it ever occurred to me that I had a chance of playing professionally.
In your opinion, what makes the college hockey experience so unique?
I’m a huge proponent of college. Anybody that forgoes a college education at the expense of pursuing a hockey career is really shortsighted. Everybody at some point in their life -- and I don’t care if you’re playing a full career in the NHL -- is going to have to wake up at six or seven in the morning and go to work.
At some point you’re going to have to fall back on that college education, and that doesn’t necessarily mean learning how to add and subtract, and how to write a paper. A college education is about learning how to be disciplined and working with others; working as a team to get to a common goal or a common assignment. There’s a lot more to college than learning school work. There’s learning how to learn and building your aptitude.
One of the most important things about college that is often overlooked are the friendships that you make. Some of my friends from Yale are guys that I still call today for business connections and for advice, as I go through my career after hockey.
Your son Miles (19) has committed to Boston College, and Tyler (20) is a sophomore defenseman at Brown University. Did you always encourage them to pursue the college route, or was major junior ever an option for them?
Junior hockey was never an option for my two boys. Right from the very beginning I told them that life is a journey, and academics is going to be part of that journey. I wanted them to go to the best school they can go to, and use hockey to help them get into these schools. I firmly believe that no matter where you play, if you are good enough the scouts are going to find you.
Miles was drafted by New Jersey in 2013, and will be attending the Team USA World Junior evaluation camp next week in Boston. How would you describe his style of play?
Miles is a high-speed, high-pace, power-type forward. He’s not going to be a Sidney Crosby-style of player. He’s going to be much more of a stronger guy that crashes the net. That’s the strength of his game. He’s not going to be like Jack Eichel who’s more of a finesse player. As long as Miles can play to his strengths at the camp, that will help him.
What was it like to make your NHL debut with the Islanders during their dynasty years?
For me, the whole Islanders experience was incredible. When I was growing up I wore number 19 in high school hockey because of Bryan Trottier, and when I played lacrosse I wore number 22 because of Mike Bossy.
I remember my first game in the NHL after being called up from the minors, and it was at the Montreal Forum. I played left wing on a line with Trottier and Bossy; Denis Potvin and Ken Morrow on defense; and Billy Smith was in goal. I was thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe I’m standing here next to the guys I watched win four Stanley Cups and admired all through my high school career.’ I used to joke sometimes in the locker room that I should get an autograph from these guys before they send me back down.
Young players experience the business side of the NHL when they are traded, and your first NHL trade was a big one when you came to Buffalo along with Pat LaFontaine. Do you remember what went through your head when you found out about the deal?
I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting it all and that was the hardest part. Everybody that comes into the league feels like they’ll be with a team forever. I thought I was going to be an Islander for the rest of my life. That was a huge shock to me, and that’s when I realized the NHL was a business.
This was pre-cell phone, and I had left my apartment early for practice to run some errands. The team had tried calling me at home but I’d already left. I walked in the locker room all smiles and ready to practice, and guys started coming over with serious looks on their faces and saying they were sorry to see me go. I was like “What?!” There’s so much joking that goes on in the room, I just thought they were pulling my leg.
Then I saw Al Arbour walk in, and he said “Randy I need you to come into my office.” Four hours later I was on a plane to Buffalo, and I played that night. I was in the starting lineup, and I’m not even sure I made the warmup. I even got an assist and Brad May scored the goal.
As much as it was a shock for the six or seven hours leading up to the game, as soon as I landed in Buffalo and walked into the locker room, I realized the Islanders were in the past and I started to look forward to being with the Sabres.
What are some of your favorite memories of your time spent with the Sabres?
I absolutely loved the city. My wife and I were married while I was there, and both my sons were born in Buffalo. I still tell people that Buffalo was a great place to be. The people were outstanding; we were selling out all of our games; and it was really great place to live. It was a wonderful stop in my career, and I’m grateful for being able to say that I played for the Buffalo Sabres.