Howie Mooney
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Thursday, June 1, 2023


There is something about eyeglasses and hockey that don’t mix. We’ve seen a number of baseball players who have work glasses while playing – Danny Jansen of the Toronto Blue Jays comes immediately to mind -- but it’s been a long time since anyone has seen a hockey player out there on the ice wearing a pair of spectacles. The most famous hockey playing eyeglass wearers were probably the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot. But that was a work of fiction….allegedly.

There are several recent or current NHLers who wore (or wear) glasses off the ice but contact lenses on it. James Neal, Milan Lucic, Shea Weber, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury are all members of that little fraternity. But think back – because you have to think back – to the last player who wore his glasses while playing. If you can’t come up with the guy, it was during the time when very few players wore helmets.

The last man to wear his glasses while playing in an NHL game was Alger “Al” Arbour. Personally, I remember seeing him play with the St. Louis Blues in the late 1960s, but his career began more than a decade earlier and his love of hockey began up in Sudbury, Ontario while he was a kid and juggling his scholastic endeavours, his time at the hockey rink and helping his father while working in the Frood nickel mines.

It was while he was playing in Sudbury that a Detroit Red Wings’ scout saw him and presented the tall, bespectacled defenseman with an opportunity to play in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires. Anyone who knows anything about geography understands that Windsor is across the river from Detroit and not that far from the old Olympia, the home of the Red Wings. 

This was the early 1950s and the Wings at that time were a National Hockey League power. Of course they had Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, but, in the 1952-53 season, their defense corps was peppered with guys like Marcel Pronovost, Red Kelly, Bob Goldham and Larry Zeidel. Pronovost was the youngest of the group at 22, but he was tough and, eventually, a Hall of Famer, as was his teammate, Kelly.

Arbour’s game was a stay-at-home, defense-first one. He was more concerned with what was going on in his end of the rink than he was in creating offense. He was an intelligent player and a guy who wasn’t shy about laying his body out to block shots. He was, in no way, a flashy or spectacular player, but the way he played was attractive to the Wings’ bossman, Jack Adams. At least at the beginning.

In the summer of 1953, the Wings offered Arbour his first professional contract. It was what the Sudbury-native had been working toward his entire young life. He was still 20-years-old and had progressed up the ladder, exactly where he wanted to be. He was indeed a happy man. “Naturally, I felt good about that,” Arbour told Stan Fischler much later. “But I never thought that I had it made in hockey. The Wings were loaded with talent. They had defensemen like Kelly and Pronovost, fellas who would eventually make it to the Hall of Fame.”

When you look at the lineup for that Detroit team, just getting into that group would have been no easy feat. From 1948-49 through 1954-55, a seven-year span, the Wings made it to five Stanley Cup Final series, winning four of them. They were the beasts of the league, a dynasty, if you will. A young player coming into that team would be expected to perform at that championship level. 

During the 1953-54 season, one in which the Wings would win the Cup, Arbour made his NHL debut. He was not always praised by his coach, Adams. The Wings’ bench chief was never happy with the fact that Arbour wore glasses. One night, Arbour’s play caught the ire of his boss and after the game, Adams came into the dressing room with a fire burning in him. He lit into his rookie blueliner. “You blind-eyed, Cinemascope, radar sonofabitch!”, Adams screamed at him.

From that point on, Arbour’s nickname was ‘Radar’.

‘Radar’ played 36 games with Detroit in that ’53-54 campaign. He managed an assist through that window of time. He didn’t play in any playoff games, but his Wings won the Stanley Cup that year edging out the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. The next season, he found himself in Edmonton with the Flyers. One of his teammates there was goaltender Glenn Hall. 

Arbour spent the next two full seasons toiling in the minors. He finally made it back to the Motor City for the 1956-57 year. He played 44 games and got his first NHL goal. The next season, he began to find his way in the top league in the world. He played in 69 games – one short of a full season at the time. By the spring of 1958, Arbour was 25 years of age. 

A couple of weeks after his 25th birthday, November 16, 1957, to be exact, both the Wings and the Chicago Black Hawks’ engaged in a ‘Pier 6’ brawl. Arbour dropped the gloves with Chicago’s Eddie Litzenberger. When it was all over and all the gloves had been picked up from the ice surface, eight players were tossed from the game. Chicago police were called out to restore order among the players. I would have loved to have seen the cops out on the ice in their street shoes trying to quell the melee.

The Wings made the playoffs by the end of that season. The Hawks did not. But Detroit’s journey in the 1958 playoffs was a short one. They were swept in the opening round by the new dynasty – the Montreal Canadiens. Jack Adams was not a happy man. He decided to blow up his roster, and among the casualties was the young man his teammates called ‘Radar’. He was sent to become teammates with that Litzenberger fellow. In fact, Big Eddie was the captain of the Hawks.

One of Arbour’s other teammates was a second year pro who turned 20 during that 1958-59 season. The young man was Bobby Hull, who, if I recall correctly went on to have a pretty good career in the game of hockey. Another new teammate was the goalie he had played with in Edmonton, Glenn Hall. Hall had come over to Chicago in the previous summer. (Spoiler alert – Hall would also become a Hall of Famer.)

Arbour’s game was continuing to develop and in his first year in the Windy City, he played in all 70 of his new team’s games. Under coach Rudy Pilous, the Hawks made the playoffs. (Detroit finished last in the league.) Arbour had his best year as a player, to that point. He was never going to be an offensive threat though. He scored two goals and added ten helpers and amassed a feisty 86 minutes in penalties. According to Fischler, in a 2018 piece on the man, Arbour even appeared on a Norris Trophy ballot getting a point from one voter.

His role remained consistent for the next couple of seasons in Chicago. And by the spring of 1961, Arbour and his mates achieved the ultimate when they rose from the ashes of a few seasons before to hoist the Stanley Cup, defeating Detroit in six games. When you look at the members of that Hawks’ team, it’s a wonder they didn’t win more Cups. They had Hull, Stan Mikita, Hall in goal, Pierre Pilote, Kenny Wharram, Eric Nesterenko, Bill Hay….

In the summer of 1962, Arbour was exposed in the intra-league draft and he was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Punch Imlach was the coach of that club and the Leafs were on an upward trajectory. Their blue line had guys like Tim Horton, Allan Stanley, Larry Hillman, Red Kelly, Carl Brewer and Bobby Baun. Up front, Frank Mahovlich was joined by George Armstrong, Dave Keon, Bob Nevin, Bob Pulford and the old man of the team, Bert Olmstead. Oh, and Arbour’s old pal, Eddie Litzenberger was on this Leaf team as well.

That group won consecutive Cups in 1962 and 1963. They had not won a league title since 1951 when Bill Barilko scored that famous goal that gave his Leafs a 4-1 series win over the Montreal Canadiens. Barilko was immortalized by Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip in the song, Fifty-Mission Cap. Arbour’s style of play and his relentless willingness to put in all his extra work earned him the respect of his teammates and his coach, Imlach.

“I appreciated Al,” Imlach said in an interview after Arbour’s playing career was done. “Who wouldn’t with his work ethic? But I had younger guys coming up who could play more – Kent Douglas, Carl Brewer and Bob Baun.” Arbour didn’t play every game with the Leafs and he was sent down to Rochester where he helped the Americans to a regular season championship and a Calder Cup. 

All the time, he was playing in the NHL, being sent down, experiencing life as a professional, he was absorbing every second and figuring out just what it takes to be a winner. Players can have exceptional talent but not really know what it might take to win. Arbour was always a student of the game and as his hockey journey continued, he was becoming not a star player, but a leader everywhere he went.

While the Maple Leafs were winning a Stanley Cup in 1967, Arbour was playing in the American League with those Rochester Amerks. As that season concluded, ‘Radar’ was 34 years old. For many players, 34 might be the end of the line. But, for Arbour, another door was about to open and another opportunity was about to present itself to him. 

That summer, the NHL added six new teams, and the newly minted St. Louis Blues needed to put a team together. That would mean they would need a mix of experienced and youthful defensemen. Scotty Bowman was the team’s coach, and the young coach loved having Arbour on his team. In fact, he appreciated ‘Radar’s mix of experience and leadership so much, that he was the team’s first captain. 

The Blues made it to the Cup Final in each of 1968, 1969 and 1970. In each of those series, they lost out in four straight games to the Montreal Canadiens. But in 1968, each of those four games was decided by a goal. In 1970, they were dumped by the Big Bad Boston Bruins and the Cup was punctuated by the infamous Bobby Orr ‘flying through the air’ goal.

Arbour was coming up on 40 but he had one more season in him. The 1970-71 season would be an interesting one for the now-veteran defenseman. At a point in the season, Bowman put ‘Radar’ into a position that would possibly be outside his comfort zone but would prepare him for his next step in the game.

Bowman chose to transition into a more managerial role and that left a spot open behind the bench. Arbour explained to Stan Fischler what happened next. “Scotty upped and went on a scouting trip. He turned the reins over to me and I coached fifty games, then came back to play 22 games. I figured that I could help more in a playing capacity.”

The Blues would lose in six games in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota North Stars. Arbour would play in all six matches of the series. Then his playing days were finished. He was 38 years old. Bowman the coach was done as well. But Bowman the general manager and owner Sid Salomon agreed that Arbour had earned the coaching job. 

But in 1971-72, the Blues finished third in the West Division and with a record that was eleven games under .500. And, after thirteen games in the 1972-73 campaign, the Blues had just two victories. Salomon relieved Arbour of his bench duties and replaced him with Jean-Guy Talbot. Arbour wasn’t unemployed long, however. He was hired by the Atlanta Flames as a scout. He would work that job until something better came along….hopefully.

After the 1972-73 season, the general manager of the New York Islanders, Bill Torrey, approached Arbour with an offer of a coaching job. The previous campaign was the team’s first in the league and the team was….not good. The team won just twelve games. Phil Goyette was the first coach of the Isles. He lasted 48 games, winning only six. Earl Ingarfield took over for the final thirty and won another six. 

Arbour knew the situation he was getting involved with and it took him a while to even agree to take the job. Torrey recognized his prospective coach’s reticence. “He wasn’t exactly excited about the prospect. I had to do a lot of convincing.” 

Arbour confessed to Stan Fischler about some confusion as to where the Islanders actually played. “At first my wife and I had our doubts about the offer. I thought Long Island was just like New York City – overcrowded and dirty. But, almost by accident, we changed our minds. We happened to be down in Florida and met some friends who told us the Island was terrific. They lived there, so we decided to take a look. We changed our minds after seeing the beaches, the golf courses and all the other nice things.”

After meeting that couple, Arbour called Torrey back and the two men arranged to meet. Torrey took Arbour all around Nassau County for an extended tour. “(He) took me all around Long Island for a whole day.” 

So, in the summer of 1973, Arbour agreed to become the head coach of the New York Islanders. And understanding how his expansion players’ talents existed, he had to establish a strict framework of how his group would play and practice and work together. On the first day of training camp, after all the individual pictures were all taken, his players saw how things were going to be under Al Arbour.

Bob Nystrom talked about that introduction to the team’s new coach. “After the picture taking, Al said we’d have a ‘light skate’ but that ‘light skate’ lasted two and a half hours. He meant business and from that moment on, the discipline level changed from mediocre to tense.”

On most teams, coaches have a player that acts as their punching bag. That role is usually played by a very good player and it shows the other players that no one can escape the scrutiny of the coach. In Montreal, Scotty Bowman had Larry Robinson to hold accountably. On the Islanders, it seemed that the man that Arbour leaned on more intensely than the others was his young phenom defenseman, Denis Potvin. 

“Al decided he’d use me as a model,” Potvin said to Fischler. “He wanted to show the other guys that he played no favourites and that picking on me was his way of getting the message across to the rest of the team…through me. In me, he found a lightning rod and I went along with it.”

It wasn’t easy on Potvin, nor was it easy on the rest of the team in Arbour’s first season behind the bench, but that didn’t mean that the defenseman and his coach didn’t get along. In his book, Power on Ice, Potvin acknowledged the fact that even though Arbour had been hard on him in his rookie year, that authority equated with teaching and the word he used, “mentor”.

“If Arbour and I had failed to hit it off in my rookie season, there never would have been a Calder Trophy – or any other NHL silverware – on my mantelpiece. Like any coach, he had make-or-break potential, and I knew from the start that he was the best possible mentor for me….Knowing Al’s (playing) background and appreciating the firm but helpful manner in which he dealt with me in my rookie year, I came to respect him more than any coach for whom I played – and that in spite of my having become a big Leo Boivin fan in my last year with the Ottawa 67s.”

“Few coaches are more revered in any sport than Al is by the Islanders.”

As I mentioned earlier, Arbour inherited a second-year expansion team, and everything that that entails. And the fact that they played in the backyard of the big kids on the block, the New York Rangers, meant that they would have to play the whipping boys for the immediate future. As much as people may have wanted to do it, there was no comparison to be made between the two clubs. 

The Rangers were ‘The Rangers’ and the Islanders were quite terrible in their first year, and, though they improved in their second year, the Philadelphia Flyers were the toast of the league, but the Rangers still held the top spot in the Big Apple by a wide margin. Things were about to change in Arbour’s second year behind the bench, the franchise’s third year in existence – 1974-75.

Remember that in their first year of existence – 1972-73 – just two seasons before this one, the team went 12-60-6. The next campaign saw them win just 19 games, but they finished 26 points ahead of that first-year club. In ’74-75, the Islanders ended the regular season with a 6-4 win over the Rangers. That win was their 33rd and they finished with 88 points, which tied them with the Rangers in the final standings. The way the cookies crumbled, the two teams would face each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs. It would be a best-of-three affair. Yes, you read that correctly….a best-of-three series!

Because the Rangers finished the season with more wins than the upstart Islanders, they would get the home-ice advantage in the series. As the regular season came to a close, many in the league took a look at the Islanders and attributed their success to one man, their coach, Al Arbour. The team’s meteoric rise in the standings over their three-season existence earned Arbour a nomination in the NHL’s Coach of the Year balloting.

When the team had made the playoffs, a reporter asked Arbour what the team’s success meant to him personally, and his role in it. “I don’t take myself seriously,” he told the scribe. “I take my hockey seriously and I take my team seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. We’re all working together trying to achieve what we all want.”

What they wanted, at first, was a playoff berth. That presented them with the opportunity, or perhaps, the obligation to prove that they were worthy of being in the postseason dance. The Islanders had taken on the traits their coach displayed when he was a player. The way an Associated Press article was written after his nomination for the award, the words “tenacious, gutty, tough-checking defensive specialist who wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but never gave an inch” were used.

Arbour insisted his ’74-75 team had grown from the team he coached in his first season on the Island. “We’re not a defense-oriented team, although we stress defense,” he told the Associated Press. “We’re a tenacious club, pretty good checkers. We were defense-oriented last year because we had no choice and if people want to think we still are, it’s okay by me.” Alas, when the selections were all tabulated, Arbour would finish behind the eventual winner, Bob Pulford of the Los Angeles Kings in the voting. But Arbour’s best days were still ahead of him.

The immediate task at hand was the series between the Rangers and Islanders. The Isles’ win on the final night of the ’74-75 season took place at Madison Square Garden. That was their first victory over the Rangers at MSG. That point was not lost on the boys from Nassau County. “What we proved tonight was that we can beat them here, there or anywhere,” Denis Potvin told reporters immediately after the game. “It was a lift, a real ego builder for us.”

When it came to the series, would that win mean anything for the Islanders? “It’ll be our pride, confidence and desire versus their experience. I’m sure we can overcome that with our aggressiveness.” Arbour agreed with Potvin. “It should provide us with a big psychological lift,” the coach said. The Rangers finished fifth in the league in goals scored, but the Isles finished third in the league in goals allowed. It would be a meeting of strength against strength.

The Rangers could be a formidable opponent. They had eight players who finished with twenty goals or more. Rod Gilbert was the team’s leading scorer with 36 goals and 61 helpers for 97 points. Jean Ratelle had 36 goals as well and finished with 91 points. Steve Vickers led the Rangers with 41 goals. Down the middle, they had Ratelle, Peter Stemkowski, who scored 24 times, and Derek Sanderson who added 25 goals. Brad Park was still a great defenseman and he and Sanderson led the team in penalty minutes.

The Rangers acknowledged that their defense had not necessarily been one of their best characteristics during the regular season. Stemkowski told media members, “We’ve got to tighten up our defense. We’re going to have to get the jump on them in our building.” A lot of the spotlight would fall on the goalies, Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch and Billy Smith for the Isles and the veterans Eddie Giacomin and Gilles Villemure for the Blueshirts.

Indeed, the first game of the ‘Expressway Series’ on April 8, 1975 began like a heavyweight title fight. There was no scoring in the first period, but Garry Howatt of the Islanders and Ted Irvine of the Blueshirts did drop the gloves around the halfway mark of the frame. In the second period, Brad Park got the Rangers on the board at 8:11 to open the scoring. Stemkowski made it a 2-0 game with just 35 seconds left in the middle frame.

But in the third period, a power play marker by 23-year-old Billy Harris, five minutes into the final twenty minutes got the visitors back into it. Jean Potvin tied the score at the 11:51 point of the period. Less than two minutes later, Clark Gilles split the Rangers’ defense of Gilles Marotte and Ron Greschner and fired the puck past Giacomin to complete the comeback for the youngsters. For the Islanders, who had only five players on their roster with any playoff experience, they now had their hated rivals on the edge of elimination.

As elated as they had to have been, they looked poised as they spoke with reporters after the game. They no doubt were taking a page from leaders like Eddie Westfall and their coach, Al Arbour. “I’m proud of my kids,” Arbour told the press. “My guys have had their ups and downs all year, but they really came through tonight.”

Denis Potvin was asked if the young group of guys might be feeling a little overconfident going into the second game of the series, given that they had now defeated the Rangers in each of their last three meetings after only having one win against them in every previous game. “We have tremendous leaders in this dressing room,” he answered. “They’ll guide us through. And we have a great steadying influence in our coach.”

Over in the other room, Rangers’ coach Emile Francis was short, maybe terse, and to the point. “There’s no excuse for blowing a 2-0 lead, especially when no pressure was involved and the game was under control.” Apparently, Giacomin would bear the brunt of the blame for the loss. Gilles Villemure would be in goal for the Rangers for the next match.

Two nights later, the teams were back at it again, this time at the Nassau County Coliseum. It was ugly quickly for the home team. There would be no sweep for the Islanders. In fact, the Rangers did their best to try to steal their opponents’ souls in this one. By the time the game was just over seven minutes old, the Rangers were leading 3-0 and the penalty boxes were starting to overflow. J.P. Parise scored a minute and a half later to bring his Isles to within two, but that would be as close as they would get.

It was 4-1 for the visitors a couple of minutes later and then, the parade to the penalty box was fully underway. By the last two minutes of the period, the person working the penalty clocks needed a couple of interns. Gloves and helmets were littering the ice by that time. After two periods of play, The Rangers led 7-2. It finished 8-3 and a then-record 50 penalties had been assessed by referee Ron Wicks. 

Naturally, there was a slight difference of opinion between the two sides about how Wicks performed on this night. The Rangers’ Derek Sanderson was somewhat enthusiastic in his praise of Mr. Wicks. “It was an excellently officiated game,” opined the mustachioed Sanderson. Al Arbour had a different though, however. “He’s a disgrace to the refereeing profession.”

There would be no rest for the weary (or the wicked). This series would resume the next night, back in Manhattan, with the season on the line for both teams. 

While the Rangers were playing in Uniondale against the Isles, the Ringling Brothers circus had taken over Madison Square Garden. Circuses back in those days had elephants. What happens when elephants eat? They eventually defecate. The atmosphere under the seats was more like a barn than a concrete arena. 

To paraphrase Leafs’ longtime radio voice, Joe Bowen, the guardians of the goals in this deciding game would be Villemure for the Rangers and Billy Smith for the boys from Uniondale. Smith had come into the second game about halfway through the second period after the Rangers had made the score 6-2 and ruined the night for Chico Resch. Smith would start this one strong.

The home side had fifteen shots on Smith in the first period and ‘Battlin’ Billy’ stopped them all. Meanwhile, with four minutes remaining in that period, Clark Gillies put a puck past Villemure and the Isles led 1-0 after two. The second period belonged to Denis Potvin as he scored a power play goal and another while killing a penalty. Villemure was then out. Giacomin was back in for the Rangers. After forty minutes, the visitors held a commanding 3-0 lead in this elimination game.

One can only imagine that Emile Francis was … how shall we say it … pissed? Whatever he told his team, they suddenly found their legs in that final frame. Before it was five minutes old, Bill Fairbairn scored to make it a 3-1 game. Fairbairn notched a power play marker at the 13:27 mark and suddenly, the Islanders were the team on the ropes. Fourteen seconds after that, Steve Vickers tied the game and, just like that, there was a new circus at Madison Square Garden.

At that point, Arbour did everything he could to calm his team down. The game and the series were not over. But the Rangers sensed that it was time to go for the jugular. With about four minutes left in regulation time, Rod Gilbert had a chance to win it for the home club, but he put the puck over the open net. Ratelle hammered a slapper that Smith kicked out late in the period as well. The Rangers had outshot the Isles 14-4 in that final twenty minutes. 

After each team had finished the season tied with 88 points apiece, and after coming into this game with each team having won a game, they were going to require extra time to decide this series. The Islanders had controlled the first forty minutes, but it was the Rangers who took the play to the visitors in the final twenty.

Going into the overtime, there was some trepidation in the visitors’ room. But it was Al Arbour who did his best to help his team remain calm. “Al said in the dressing room to just play our game,” Bob Nystrom would later tell reporters, “and that everything will work out.”

Arbour turned out to be prescient. 

Here’s how it went. From the opening faceoff, the puck came back to Isles’ defenseman Dave Lewis. He dumped it into the Ranger zone. Jude Drouin skated hard after it and he had the puck on his forehand. He put the puck into the direction of the crease and the net. J.P. Parise had moved into that area and was left unchecked when the puck hit his stick. It was into the net just that quickly. 

It took eleven seconds to end the game. 

The Rangers were eliminated and these young and spunky Islanders were about to move on. At that moment, those of us who watched the game realized that we had seen something special. Indeed, what we were witnessing, without really being fully aware of it was the birth of a team that would eventually become a dynasty. No one was saying it at the time, but, when we came to see everything this Islanders’ team would become, we knew that the victory over the Rangers would be the start of all the eventual winning.

In the immediate aftermath of the Parise goal, every other Islander player darted out on to the ice to join in on the celebration. Arbour just stood on the bench peering out at the ice surface. Looking at his face, you wouldn’t have known whether his team had won or lost. Talking to reporters after the game, his face told onlookers that he was still in the same blank mindset. “I don’t believe it,” was all he would say. “I wasn’t secure. The Rangers are a great hockey club. They proved it by coming back.”

“It’s a humble feeling to be sitting there with the puck in your net and the other team jumping for joy,” Rangers’ rearguard Brad Park said after the game. Park had been on the ice and allowed Parise to sneak in behind him on the winning goal. 

Rod Gilbert had a slightly different perspective on it. “It reminds me of when I was a bachelor and I would find the most beautiful girl and say “Meet you somewhere?”, and then at the last second, she says ‘No’. It’s like that. It’s a big ‘No’. I’m disappointed.”

Steve Vickers echoed the sentiments that the Rangers and many of their fans had held on to since the Islanders entered the league in 1972. “It’s the most embarrassing defeat I’ve ever suffered. Losing to the Islanders! It will be a long summer having people keep asking about it.”

There was frustration and rationalization from other Rangers’ players as well. “The Atlanta Flames (who didn’t make the playoffs) are better than the Islanders,” shouted Derek Sanderson. “The Islanders won’t win another playoff game!”

The Rangers had outshot their opponents 40-25 in the game but still lost. Billy Smith was great in the victory and Ed Giacomin made mention of that afterward. “He (Smith) was the key to the game.”

For the Islanders, there wasn’t much time to bask in the afterglow following the victory over the hated Rangers. Two nights after Parise scored that sudden and dramatic overtime goal to dispatch the Rangers to the golf course, they had to immediately dive into their second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Before the regular season had ended and the team had even clinched a postseason berth, right winger Billy MacMillan, who had been a substitute teacher back in Prince Edward Island not that long before these moments, sat down with Newsday’s Tim Moriarty and he talked about what these Islanders could potentially do in this ’74-75 season.

“We’ll make it alright. And once we are in the playoffs, our horizons will be unlimited. How far will we go? I’m not sure that anybody knows. That’s what makes this such a wonderful, exciting adventure.” Indeed, once they defeated the Rangers, they had to quickly change their focus from the celebration of their first ever playoff series win to another, possibly seven-game series.

How were those horizons looking now, Billy? “Our horizons are still unlimited,” he told Moriarty just before their set against the Penguins was about to start. “Look at how we blew that three-goal lead against the Rangers and then bounced back. That was a real adventure. And we’ve been doing that throughout the year – the hard way. It’s a hell of a way to play the game – facing adversity and then having to overcome it. But we always seem to reach our goal.”

Back in December and the beginning of January, the Islanders had been foundering. They had just three wins in a ten-game stretch and Bill Torrey swung two trades within a few days of each other with the Minnesota North Stars. In those deals, they acquired two of the players who participated in that overtime winner against the Rangers – Jude Drouin and J.P. Parise. Gerry Hart remembered what happened almost immediately following those trades when talking with Moriarty.

“We held a team meeting shortly after Jude and J.P. joined the club. J.P. made a little speech. He told us that every team in the league had a lot of respect for the Islanders and he said, ‘You guys don’t seem to realize how good you are.”

“In effect, J.P. was telling us what Billy had always suspected – that our horizons were unlimited. What made it meaningful was that J.P. had come from another team and it took somebody like him to point out the potential we had.”

“From that point on, you could see a change come over the guys. They remembered what J.P. said and they raised their heads and seemed to be saying, ‘Hey, if we are that good, let’s see what we can do about it.’ They all started to believe in themselves.”

“Give J.P. – and Drouin, too – a lot of credit for that. It was damn appropriate that they teamed up on that winning goal against the Rangers. They brought us to life.” 


Keep your eyes open for Part 2 in this series, The Last Bespectacled Man – A Comeback and Maybe Another?, coming soon.

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