Wednesday

Jeff Tambellini


Jeff Tambellini played in 242 NHL games but he never really had a breakout moment.

Jeff is the son of long time NHLer Steve Tambellini and grandson of Addie Tambellini of the famed Trail Smoke Eaters who won the world hockey championships for Canada in 1961. Jeff grew up in BC where Steve worked in management with the Vancouver Canucks. After starring with the Chilliwack Chiefs Jeff committed to attend the University of Michigan, studying kinesiology though, likely influenced by his dad, he had a longer term plan of studying sports management.

"From day one I had the option of choosing what I thought would be best for me to develop as a player and a person and the college route was best," he says. "You get your education and you are setting yourself up for a pretty good future.

" I would like to step right into the business and that is the plan, for sure. It is a great lifestyle. You can be in the game and be around the sport you love. So if I can find a way into a job like that it would be great."

We will have to wait and see if he ever steps into some sort of management role. A lengthy pro career ensued first.

Jeff was a first round pick (27th overall in 2003) of Los Angeles but he would only play 4 games with the Kings. He was traded to the New York Islanders with Denis Grebeshkov for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel in 2006.

Tambellini impressed with his speed, shot and determination, but ultimately he was too undersized to stick in the NHL. In 5 seasons on Long Island, he only played one full season (scoring 7 goals and 15 points in 65 games). The rest of the time he starred with the Isles' farm team in Bridgeport where he was one of the AHL's best players. But at the NHL level he could never quite break through.

The Vancouver Canucks signed Tambellini for the 2010-11 season. The hometown boy proved to be an early season surprise. He teamed early with the Sedin twins to surprise opposing defenses with speed and offense. He also served as a shootout specialist. But as the season continued Tambellini found himself playing a 4th line role and then was a healthy scratch for much of the playoffs. While his ice time dwindled he still had his best season of his NHL career, scoring 9 goals and proving to be a solid two way NHL player.

”The minute I heard the Canucks made me an offer, it was a no-brainer and I didn’t even listen to anything else that came in,” said Tambellini.

Despite his progress, that would prove to be Tambellini's final season in the NHL. He sought security and stability, so he signed a lucrative 3 year contract with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland, the same team his father Steve played for late in his career.

Friday

Dennis Vaske


Dennis Vaske was a solid, stay at home defenseman. He played only 235 NHL games (plus 22 in the playoffs) as his career was cut short with some serious concussion issues.

The Rockford, Illinois native was a graduate of the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he majored in Communications. The 6'2" 210lb defenseman's future was in hockey, however. The New York Islanders drafted him in the 2nd round (38th overall).

Vaske didn't leave school and turn pro until 1990. After a couple of seasons shuttling between the NHL and the minor leagues, he became a reliable regular defender with the Islanders by 1993.

Vaske was a solid hitter, though he lacked the quickness to explode into an opponent for the spectacular hit. Instead he was strong guy who excelled in close, one-on-one battles in the corners and in front of the net. Not a fighter or much of an offensive player, Vaske was a solid positional defender who could give his coach and teammates a solid 16-20 minutes a game.

Vaske's career highlight probably came in the 1993 season when he surprised many by cementing his arrival with a great 1993 post-season. The Islanders surprised everyone, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals and knocking off the two time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins en route.

Vaske unsuspectingly played a big role in the signature moment of that series against the Pengs. In overtime of game seven it was Vaske who broke up a Pittsburgh rush and headmanned the puck to spring Ray Ferraro and David Volek on a 2 on 1. The rest, as they say, is history, with Volek becoming part of Stanley Cup lore.



The following season was his first full season and he did well, with 13 points and very respectable +21. Vaske's future appeared to be bright.

That's when his concussion history started to plague him. It started with a hit from behind by LA's Eric Lacroix costing him much of the 1995-96 season. The following year a second concussion allowed him to play in only 17 games total. A third concussion limited him to just 19 games in 1997-98.

Vaske retired after that season, though he did, against the advice of doctors, attempt a comeback in 1998-99. He played only 3 games with the Bruins, though did show progress with their minor league affiliate in Providence.

Satisfied that he was leaving the game on his own terms, Dennis Vaske hung up his skates for good at the end of that season. In 235 NHL games he scored 5 goals and 46 points.

Sunday

Goran Hogosta



On November 1st, 1977, rookie Goran Hogosta replaced the injured Billy Smith in the New York Islanders net. Hogosta made 4 saves in the final 9 minutes to preserve the Isles' 9-0 win over Atlanta.

In doing so Hogosta became the second goaltender in history (joining Chicago's Michel Dumas) to share a shutout in his NHL debut. He also became the first European born and trained goaltender in NHL history.

Hogosta was a Swedish all star netminder who was making a name for himself on the international scene in the mid-1970s. In fact, by 1977 he was named as the IIHF's top goaltender at the World Championships after the stand-up goalie stood up the mighty Soviets not once but twice (3-1 and 5-1) en route to winning a silver medal! He also represented Sweden at the 1976 Canada Cup.

The Islanders signed him shortly after the 1977 Worlds, but aside from the 9 minute relief appearance he played exclusively in the minor leagues.

Hogosta resurfaced in the NHL in 1979-80 when he played 21 games with the Quebec Nordiques. With a 5-12-3 record and a 4.15 GAA it was not exactly a banner campaign there, either.

Hogosta returned to Sweden after that season and continued playing until 1986.

Bryan Lefley

Bryan Lefley had an interesting life cut short due to an automobile accident

The native of Grosse Isle, Manitoba and former New York Islander, Kansas City Scout and Colorado Rockie was driving his Mercedes Oct.29 1997 in Italy when it crashed into an oncoming truck.

He was just 49 years old.

Lefley was in Italy serving as the Italian national hockey team's head coach. Hockey in Italy? Its true, although many of their players are transplanted Canadians with Italian citizenship. Lefley guided the Italian hockey program in two different tenures, as well as coaching Italian League championship teams. In all Lefley coached the Italian national team in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and at 6 World Championships.

The younger brother of Chuck Lefley (a former 40 goal scorer with the St. Louis Blues), Bryan was not as gifted a hockey player. He played in 228 games in the NHL, playing both as a defenseman and left winger. His role was primarily a defensive one, although he did manage to chip in 7 goals and 36 points.

He extended his playing career by heading overseas and playing in both Germany and Switzerland. He would later coach in both of those countries, but was best known as a coach in Italy.

Wednesday

Billy Carroll

Some all time greats like Marcel Dionne, Brad Park, Peter Stastny and Gilbert Perreault enjoyed Hall of Fame careers but never won the Stanley Cup.

Then there's fellows like Billy Carroll. The role player/extra cracked the New York Islanders line up in 1981 and won the Stanley Cup in each of his first 3 seasons. He then moved onto Edmonton where he helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup in 1985.

"I was just thankful to be in the league, let alone on another team that had such a talented bunch of guys."

Billy Carroll is probably the most forgettable guy from either dynasty, but he was a very serviceable player. He excelled in his limited role of checker and penalty killer. He contributed without scoring much (just 30 goals in 322 career NHL games) but was a coaches delight.

What does Carroll remember most about his days with the Islanders?

"The best players were always the best players in critical situations. And to their credit, the stars didn't make defensive players like me feel any different, other than on payday that is. But the organization was very good about creating roles people could succeed in. It was made very clear to me what would be my job."

How did that contrast with Edmonton?

"In New York most of the team was married and the big gunners in Edm were single, so the dynamics of the teams were different, but both clubs knew the sacrifices it took to win."

Bill Carroll now owns skylight and window manufacturing plant in Pickering, Ontario.

Gord Dineen

This is Gordie Dineen. He was named after none other than Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. Gord's father Bill Dineen was a former teammate of Gordie Howe back with Detroit in the 1950s. Bill Dineen raised 5 boys who played pro hockey, including NHLers Peter and Kevin. Peter had a cup of coffee in the NHL, while Kevin was a very solid NHL player for many years.

Gord Dineen was somewhere in between.

Gord was the 42nd overall player drafted in the 1981 Entry Draft. The New York Islanders were in the midst of their great Stanley Cup dynasty years, and were looking to reload with young players like Dineen. Unfortunately for Gord, he cracked the team in the 1983-84 season - one season after the Islanders last Stanley Cup.

Gord made favorable impressions that first year, often playing alongside the great Denis Potvin. He struggled to stay in the line up as a top four defenseman for the next couple of years, but finally found his niche by about 1986.

Gord had to work real hard to improve his skating - both forward and backward - to stick in the NHL. He always lacked acceleration, but improved his turns so that was not a liability. As he gained experience and confidence, he became a serviceable depth defenseman though he was never noted for any one strength in particular. He held his own defensively, but lacked consistency in the physical game. Offensively he was a solid first pass blue liner who even made smart pinches when playing well. He seemed to see the ice well, but never put up significant numbers in his NHL career. In fact, in 528 NHL career games he had just 16 goals and 106 points.

Dineen's claim to fame in New York? He assisted on Pat LaFontaine's famous goal at 8:47 of the fourth overtime as N.Y. Islanders beat Washington 3-2 in Game 7 of Patrick Division semifinals on April 18, 1987. Dineen's shot was deflected by Kevin Hatcher out to LaFontaine, who beat Bob Mason from inside the right point. The Islanders traded Dineen to Minnesota in March, 1988, but his stay with the North Stars was short. By December he was traded to Pittsburgh by Minnesota with Scott Bjugstad for Ville Siren and Steve Gotaas.

Dineen may have been really happy to join the Penguins. After all, Mario Lemieux was emerging as the game's best player and was about to lead them to back to back Stanley Cups. But Dineen would not be a part of either championship. After the 1989-90 season he was demoted to the minor leagues for all but a handful of games. Just as in New York, Gord Dineen just missed out on getting his name on the Stanley Cup, just like his dad did 40 years earlier.

Dineen played through these tough times with admiration. He would be rewarded in 1992 when he signed with the expansion Ottawa Senators. Now those Sens teams were amongst the worst of all time, but Gord treasured his return to the NHL nonetheless. He even served as team captain for a while.

Without a contract in the summer of 1994, Dineen re-signed with the organization where it all started - the New York Islanders. The idea was he would be a veteran presence with their farm team in Denver (soon to move to Utah) and eventually lead to coaching possibilities. Dineen jumped at the security, though he kept playing until 2000. He even got into 9 more games with the Islanders in 1994-95, ending his NHL career with the same team as he started it with.

Gord Dineen continued to coach at various levels after hanging up the blades.

Monday

Mike Bossy



The New York Islanders dynasty in the early 1980's ranks among the greatest teams of all time. Mike Bossy, often playing on one of the most feared lines in hockey history along with Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies, was a key component of the success enjoyed on Long Island.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems hard to believe the Islanders were able to snatch up "Boss" with the 15th overall pick in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft. How could 14 other teams over look a guy who average 77 goals a year in a brilliant 4 year junior career?! At the time the QMJHL was notorious for developing the small snipers who didn't know how to play defensively or physically, and despite their knack for scoring goals NHL teams feared taking a chance on a boom or bust situation.

The Islanders were happily surprised to snatch up Bossy at number 15, and he would quickly prove that he would be no bust. Bossy is considered by many to be the best pure sniper in the history of hockey - even better than a Brett Hull or Ilya Kovalchuk for modern fans. And Bossy worked very hard at becoming a well rounded player. He openly admitted to not playing any defense in his junior days, but he became a very reliable back checker with the Isles.

He carried his goal scoring ways right into the NHL, scoring a then-rookie record of an unheard of 53 goals and earning the Calder trophy as top rookie. Bossy, always a very confident person, even had predicted to team general manager Bill Torrey that he would score 50 goals in his first NHL season - something never before seen in the NHL.

He would go on to score 50 goals in every single season he played in, except his final campaign which was plagued with back problems. He also scored 50 goals in as many games during the 1981 season. It was only the second time a player had accomplished that milestone that Hall of Famer Maurice "Rocket" Richard made so famous in 1945.
Mike Bossy's brilliant career included: 573 goal along with 553 assists for 1,126 points; In playoff action, Bossy tallied 85 goals and 160 points in 129 games; At least 60 goals on five occasions, and seven 100 plus points seasons; Four Stanley Cup rings; he scored the series winning goal in both the 1982 and 1983 Stanley Cup finals making him the only player in NHL history to record Cup winning goals in consecutive seasons; the 1982 recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the playoffs' Most Valuable Player; awarded the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play three times; A first team All-Star five times and a second team All-Star three times; And his 573 goals also put him high on the NHL's all-time list.

Bossy was also a member of Team Canada in the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cup Tournaments. It was his overtime goal in the 1984 sudden death semi-final that eliminated the Soviets and sent Team Canada to the final and eventually to their second Canada Cup championship.

Bossy was and remains outspoken about violence in hockey. As one of the most gifted and talented players ever to grace the game, he was often the target of thugs. However Bossy took great pride in never stooping to retaliation. The three time Lady Byng Trophy winner who accumulated only 210 PIM in his career, Bossy was often criticized for not fighting back. Critics passed him off as not tough enough. Bossy's sweet revenge would however often come in the following 2 minutes after the cowardly attacks. Bossy - perhaps the greatest power play weapon in the game's history - would score on the man advantage, and that would only upset the other team even more. Of Bossy's 573 career goals, 181 were scored on the power play.

A chronic bad back forced Bossy to retire prematurely. Oddly enough, the back injuries that still haunt him to this day were caused by the constant abuse he had to take on the ice. In his final season he tallied 38 goals, the only season in which he did not record at least 50 goals. Bossy termed the "failure" to score 50 goals as his biggest disappointment. In actuality he probably shouldn't have played that year either, as his back was just that bad. Bossy's love of the game outweighed doctors advice. But by doing so Bossy forever silenced his critics. He played through immense pain and showed the hockey world just how tough he really was.

It is an absolute shame Mike Bossy had to call it quits so soon. He is perhaps the greatest goal scorer the game has ever seen. But he also took great pride in working on his all around game, and became a very dependable defensive player and underrated playmaker.

Bryan Trottier

Former Islander teammate Garry Howatt nicknamed Bryan Trottier and his super-sniper cohort Mike Bossy "bread and butter." This wasn't totally because the dynamic duo was the dynastic Isles' bread and butter during they hey days (with all due respect to many others, particularly Denis Potvin and Billy Smith), but because the two were almost inseparable both on and off the ice. The two went together like bread and butter.

Bryan, of course, was the center of attention during the New York Islanders dynasty of four straight Stanley Cup wins in the early 1980s. Literally. He centered Bossy along with a host of left wingers, most notably one of the most fearsome figures in hockey history in Clark Gillies, to become one of the most potent scoring combinations in league history. Trottier and Bossy had an uncanny partnership, as the unselfish Trottier perfectly set up Bossy, arguably the NHL's best sniper ever.

"Its instinct," said Bossy while trying to find the words to describe their on-ice relationship. "There aren't any little signals. The thing between us is the communication we have. We're not afraid to tell each other that we should have done this, or we should have done that. As much as Bryan helps me, I've helped him."

"I think history will remember Trots as a great hockey player," said Bossy, "and me as a great goal scorer, not a great hockey player. I can't say who's better because we were so different. Any team that needed a strong and determined center who could score and check and win face-offs would naturally choose him over me. Any team that needed somebody to score goals would choose me over him."

That pretty much sums up Trottier as a hockey player pretty nicely. Although he once led the league in scoring, had 6 100 point seasons and 2 more over 95, and once scored 524 career goals, and 1425 career points, he isn't remembered for his great offensive numbers.

That tells us just how great the rest of his game was. To dwarf those incredible offensive statistics is no easy feat, but when people remember Trottier they talk about him being perhaps the most complete player in the history of the game. As incredible as his offensive wizardry was, his dogged defensive play and gritty physical play was equally as impressive - and perhaps more so. .

Bryan was born just outside of a small town in Saskatchewan named Val Marie - just north of the Montana border. Like most of the kids in the area, Bryan grew up honing his skating and puck skills on the frozen ponds during the long Saskatchewan winters. But Bryan took the game more seriously than the others kids - he would stay out on the ice and practice when everyone else gave up due to the frigid temperatures. Sometimes the only friend Bryan would have out on the ice was his pet border collie. Bryan noticed that the dog liked to put the puck in its mouth, so Bryan took that opportunity to practice his shot - with the collie acting as a make-shift goaltender.

By 1972 Bryan was old enough to begin advancing his career. He travelled 75 miles down the road to Swift Current where he joined the WHL Broncos. He started out slowly, but quickly became one of the hottest prospects in the league. Playing with the likes of Terry Ruskowski, Tiger Williams and Brian Sutter.

In the 1974 NHL Entry Draft, Trottier was selected 22nd overall by the Islanders. He was returned to junior (by this time the Swift Current Broncos had moved to Lethbridge) for some more apprenticeship - a move that paid off very well. Trottier led the entire WHL with 98 assists, which coupled with his 46 goals and 144 points earned him 2nd place on the overall scoring list and he won the WHL Most Valuable Player Award.

Trots broke into the National Hockey League in 1975 with the Islanders, winning the Calder trophy as the leagues best rookie.

"Its his poise that really stands out," said teammate Billy Harris during Trots rookie year. "He's always calm, regardless of the situation. And he's got tremendous hockey sense. He is, if there is such a thing, a natural born center."

"Trots" had 32 goals and 63 assists, which set a then-rookie-record 95 points. But that was just the beginning for Bryan.

Three short years after arriving in the NHL in such grand fashion, Trots captured the Art Ross trophy as leading scorer and the Hart trophy as MVP. Many people expected the Islanders to finally become the team that would upset the Montreal Canadiens and become hockey's new best team, but that would have to wait a year as the cross town rival NY Rangers upset the Islanders in the playoffs.

However the following year the Islanders would finally reach the top, winning their first Stanley Cup in their history. And they wouldn't let go of their championship, holding it for the next 4 years before the Oilers dynasty managed to wrestle it away from them. That first year it was Trottier who was named as the MVP in the playoffs, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy.

While Bryan got used to lifting the Stanley Cup over his head, it was the first one that is always the most special.

"When I was holding the Cup," he said "I could feel all the names. My senses peaked. I could hear everyone. The crowd was incredible, one continuous roar.".

The 4 time All star Trottier's best years came during the height of the New York Islanders dynasty. For the 4 years that the Isles reigned as the NHL champions, Trottier was arguably the best player. Famed hockey writer Stan Fischler made it his personal campaign to let everyone know that he felt Trottier was better than the young whiz kid in Edmonton named Gretzky. In fact Fischler once said "Trottier has ripened into the most effective total forward since Gordie Howe."

Teammate Eddie Westfall agreed with that assessment. "He's rugged like Howe. Gordie liked to play a physical game and so does Bryan."

Another old timer Trottier was often compared to was Boston Bruins 1940s and 50s standout center Milt Schmidt of the Boston Bruins. A modern comparison would be Steve Yzerman.

The fact that Trottier scored over 500 career goals and 1400 points in 1200 games is amazing, as it often seemed that Trottier was more interested in such intangibles as body checking and defensive attention.

Isles coach Al Arbour had a much easier job when Trottier was in the lineup, and agreed that in the early 1980s that Trottier was the league's best center. "Gretzky is an offensive genius for sure," said the slightly biased Islanders bench boss. "But at this stage Trots gives you more things. Defensively, he's outstanding. And he's physically tough. He comes up with his 100 points a year, automatically, along with everything else!"

Arbour once also said he'd never trade Trottier for Gretzky.

Hulking defenseman Larry Robinson was another fan of Trottier's. "What you don't realize is that Trottier weighs over 200 pounds. You can't budge the guy of knock the puck off of his stick. And he hands out a lot of punishment at close quarters."

Trottier remained with the Islanders through 1990 season, making him the last piece of the championship puzzle to leave Long Island. By then he was clearly nearing the end of his career - his offensive stats had dried up and he was relying on his leadership and defensive abilities.

After all those years with the Islanders, Trots would join the Pittsburgh Penguins late in his career. With his leadership and experience, he helped Mario Lemieux and company win two consecutive Cups, bringing his total to 6 championship rings.

Trottier retired after the 1992 championship, and returned to Long Island to work in a front office position. But after one year off of skates, Bryan returned to the game, again with the Penguins. He played in just 41 games to round out his career.

In 18 NHL seasons Bryan played in 1279 games - scoring 524 goals, 901 assists and 1425 points. He also participated in 221 Stanley Cup playoffs games - scoring 71 goals, 113 assists and 184 points. Bryan played in 8 NHL All Star Games and in two Canada Cups - once for Canada and once for the USA (he held dual citizenship due to his status as a North American Indian)

Trottier was overshadowed by glitzier stars like Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne. He was even overshadowed on his own teammates like by Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith, and later Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

But make no mistake, Trottier is a legend of hockey. Trottier could do it all. He was gifted scorer who could also neutralize the other teams big guns. An excellent face off man, he was also a relentless body checker, slamming into opponents at any given chance. If there was a hockey dictionary and you looked up the term "complete player," it would have a picture of Bryan Trottier beside the definition.

Battlin' Billy Smith

Perhaps the best clutch goaltender of all time, Battlin' Billy Smith was a major reason for 4 consecutive Stanley Cup championships on Long Island with the N.Y. Islanders.

His most celebrated Stanley Cup championships might have come in 1983. His 2-0 performance in game 1 of the 1983 finals against Edmonton is considered one of the greatest classics of all time. He would go on to shut out Wayne Gretzky during the entire series and was named playoff MVP.

The Los Angeles Kings selected the young goaltender with their third round draft pick in 1970. He starred in the American Hockey League in 1970-71, his first pro season. His strong play and 2.56 goals against average helped the Springfield Kings win the 1971 Calder Cup championship. He was named the team's most valuable player.

The following season he topped the AHL with four regular season shutouts. That same season, Smith was called up to the NHL, appearing in five regular season games with Los Angeles.

At the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft, the New York Islanders claimed him from the Kings system. He supplied reliable goaltending as the Islanders' struggled in 1973 and 1974. During the next five seasons he was a part of one of the league's top netminding tandems along with Glenn "Chico" Resch. Or perhaps we should say competition more than tandem, as the two battled it out for the starting job on a weekly basis, seemingly forever.

In 1978, Smith was rewarded with an appearance in that year's NHL All-Star game. He went on to be named the game's Most Valuable Player. Surprisingly, it was his only appearance in an NHL all star game.

On November 28, 1979 he became the first NHL goaltender to be credited with scoring a goal. With his goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Colorado Rockies' defenseman Rob Ramage accidentally sent a pass, originally intended for a teammate, the length of the ice into his own net. It was Smith who was the last Islander to touch the puck and was identified as the official goal scorer.

In 1979-80, Smith became the undisputed first string goalie for the Islanders and went on to be a pillar of strength during the Islanders' domination of the Stanley Cup. In 1981-82 he enjoyed his greatest individual season. That year the cagey puck stopper registered 32 wins, was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender and was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In 1982-83, Smith shared the William Jennings Trophy with Roland Melanson after recording the lowest goals against average in the NHL. Later that season "Battlin' Billy" (he was as notorious for physically defending his crease from opposing players as he was for protecting his goal from opposing pucks) was the key to the Islanders' defeat of the Edmonton Oilers to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. He had been brilliant in the post-season and was presented the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' Most Valuable Player.

Although the Islanders soon went into a rebuilding period, Smith continued to perform at a high level until his retirement after the 1988-89 campaign. He finished with a career goals against average of 3.17 and 22 shutouts, very respectable numbers for someone who played the entire decade of the high scoring 1980s.

More importantly than numbers, Smith is considered to be one of the NHL's greatest playoff goaltenders of all time. Smith twice posted 15 post season wins and recorded a stingy 2.73 goals against average and five shutouts in 132 NHL playoff games. For 5 straight playoffs he led the entire NHL in appearances and wins, and three of those years he led in shutouts and GAA.

Billy didn't always see eye to eye with his coach Al Arbour. Arbour liked to split his goaltending among Smith with first Resch and later Melanson. Smith, like any goalie, wanted to play more during the regular season, and his post season play certainly proves he deserved it. But in almost every season Smith played with the Isles he hovered around the 40 games played mark.

Perhaps if he had been given a chance to play more in the regular season he would have won more individual honors and bolstered his all time numbers so that he would be hailed even more so as one of the all time greats. But his playoff performances alone have cemented his place among the immortals.

The Islanders recognized his tremendous contributions to their franchise by retiring his number "31" on February 20, 1993.

In retirement Billy has gotten into the coaching and goaltending consultant business. From 1989 through 1993 he was behind the Islanders bench, but left to join the Florida Panthers for 8 years in 1993. For the 2001-02 season he has returned to the New York Islanders where he once again works with their goalies, specifically Rick DiPietro.

Denis Potvin

Denis Potvin was the anchor of the New York Islanders franchise and dynasty.

His unbelievable strength, his fearless hitting and offensive awareness won him the Calder trophy, three Norris trophies, seven all star nods, and four consecutive Stanley Cups. One of the last great hip-checkers, he was a hard-hitting defensive stalwart. His intelligence and patience quarterbacked the power play and the offense. He was a natural leader, captaining the Isles during their great dynasty.

"There were a couple of key elements to my game. I worked on passing the puck. That was as important to me as developing my shot and probably became my most valuable asset. I had a good wrist shot, and I was taught that shooting and passing were the same. But the most fun I had was hitting. I enjoyed the contact, and hockey provided me with a lot of opportunities," he said.

He came across as extremely self confident, some would say arrogant which hurts him in talks of all time greats. In the 1976 Canada Cup he was outspoken about Bobby Orr getting all the attention when he felt he was playing just as well. And when he prematurely retired in 1988 he said he had "nothing left to prove" after 15 seasons.

"The confidence that I displayed was a security blanket. There were a lot of nights when I was scared to death that I wouldn't be able to do what I was supposed to."

Critics also questioned Potvin's dedication to the game.

"I hated practicing, and I didn't like waiting between games. I was most happy when the puck was dropped and the game started. I only felt comfortable and confident that I'd make the right decisions when I was on the ice."

When he was a junior hockey star, he was already being labeled as the game's next Bobby Orr. The comparisons were justifiable, as Potvin bettered many of Orr's OHL records.


"I didn't like being compared with Orr," he admitted, "because we were different personalities with different playing styles, skating for different teams. The only thing we had in common was that we both played defense. What these statements about me and Orr do is make my job that much harder, but I accept that as part of the business."

Potvin justified the comparisons though. He broke all of Bobby Orr's goal and point records, although has since been passed by the likes of Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque. He finished with 310 goals, 742 assists and 1052 points. He was the first defenseman to record 1,000 career points.

Potvin retired early in the minds of many. He still had a number of good years ahead of him, but he wanted to go out on top.

"Before I retired, I wondered, 'What can motivate me? Is there another record, another Stanley Cup?' It looked as if the 1988 New York Islanders were not going to get a lot better quickly and compete with the Oilers for the Cup, and I was 35 years old. I thought of playing somewhere else, but that didn't feel right. I looked for something new and different instead."

That something different proved to be broadcasting. He now works on the Florida Panthers broadcast team.

Potvin epitomized the NY Islanders. He, like his team, could play any way you wanted. Rough, physical defensive hockey; fast paced, finesse skills match; or a combination of both. This makes Denis Potvin one of the greatest and most complete players to ever grace a sheet of ice

Saturday

Germain Gagnon

On October 12th, 1972, Germain Gagnon scored with 69 seconds left in the game to give the New York Islanders their first victory ever in team history. Final score: 3-2 Islanders over Los Angeles.

It would prove to be one of only twelve wins in a 78 game schedule for the inaugural Isles team. It was a long season for the players and the fans. Despite the team's nightmarish season, for Germain Gagnon, already a long time minor leaguer, his first full season in the NHL was a dream come true.

Gagnon, a lanky left winger out of Chicoutimi, Quebec, had spent most of the previous seven seasons in the minors. He toiled in places like Omaha, Houston, and Memphis as well as Quebec, Vancouver, and Nova Scotia. He enjoyed a breakout season with Nova Scotia in 1971-72, earning him his first four game call up to the NHL.

The Habs traded Gagnon to the expansion Islanders. Gagnon had no chance of playing in Montreal, but he became a key player in New York, finishing third in team scoring with 12 goals and 41 points. Only Ed Westfall and Billy Harris had more points. He also registered the first hat trick in Islanders history.

Gagnon returned for most of the following season, playing in 62 games before a late season trade to Chicago. His offense had dried up.

Gagnon's time in New York was dutiful though insignificant. But he did play a role in Denis Potvin's future.

When Potvin, the most heralded defenseman to break into the league since Bobby Orr, arrived in New York, they asked what number he wanted to wear.

“I told him that I wore the number seven in junior hockey with the Ottawa 67’s,” Potvin explained. “Of course I had no idea who was who on the Islanders at the time and it turned out that there was a fellow named Germain Gagnon who was wearing the number seven.”

Potvin went on to say, “Of course, this is in September of ’73 and at that point I had to pick another number. I said ‘Well, let me see what I can think of.’ The next morning I got in to the dressing room and the number seven jersey was hanging up in my stall, but there was a note on it. Germain Gagnon was willing to let me wear number seven if I paid him $500. In 1973? So I said, ‘Forget it.’ ”

Gagnon found his game in Chicago, turning in his best NHL season in 1974-75. He set career highs with 16 goals and 51 points with the Hawks.

Only 5 games into the 1975-76 season Gagnon found himself traded to the lowly Kansas City Scouts. Gagnon floundered, only scoring 1 goal in 31 games to end his career on a whimper.

Gagnon ended up playing in a very respectable total of 259 NHL games. In that time he scored 40 goals and 101 assists for 141 points. He added 2 goals and 5 points in 19 playoff games, all of which came in his two springs in Chicago.

Mark Hamway

Mark Hamway, an undersized winger out of Detroit, Michigan, was one of several youngsters that the New York Islanders tried infusing into the line up in the days following their Stanley Cup dynasty. Like many of the other prospects, Hamway never made much of an impact.

The Isles drafted Hamway way back in 1980, but allowed him to pursue his academic pursuits. Hamway starred at Michigan State while earning a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management. He served as team captain and his community service efforts earned him a major university award.

Hamway, a speedy forward, had hoped to play in 1984 Olympics with Team USA, but he was one of the final cuts. He turned pro and apprenticed in the minor leagues for a couple of season, finally earning a regular spot with the Isles. In 49 games he contributed 5 goals and 17 points.

Outside of 4 more games in 2 different seasons (picking up one more assist), that was the extent of Hamway's NHL career. He continued to play in the AHL until 1987.

Critics suggest Hamway was too small and slight for the NHL. While he had good speed, he never utilized it well enough by driving defensemen deep off the blue line to open up the offensive zone for his teammates. Too often once he gained the blue line his feet stopped moving.

Hamway returned home to Detroit after retiring and became a youth hockey coach. He also became involved with the Detroit Red Wings alumni association, even though he was never part of the organization.

Roger Kortko

For a couple of seasons in the mid-1980s Roger Kortko landed a bit part as a role player with the New York Islanders. A quick skater, the Hafford, Saskatchewan native was primarily used as penalty killer.

Defensive hockey was not really Kortko's cup of tea, however. In junior hockey he was an offensive dynamo, once scoring 61 goals, 99 assists and 161 points in 72 games with the Saskatoon Blades in 1982-83. The Islanders had hoped Kortko could pop a few goals at the NHL level, but coming off of their Stanley Cup dynasty years he found it hard to land an offensive role. Instead, he was shoehorned into the utility player role, which was funny because the defensive zone was actually his weakest zone at that time.

Kortko first broke in with the Islanders in the 1984-85 season, but he was hobbled by an ankle injury that required surgery. He returned in 1985-86, appearing in 52 games. A strained knee injury ended his season early, causing him to miss the playoffs.

That was the end of Kortko's NHL career. He spent 1986-87 season with the Islanders farm team. He signed with the Hartford Whalers organization for the next two seasons, but never was promoted from the AHL. In 1989 Kortko headed overseas to play three seasons in Germany to round out his career.

In 79 career NHL games Roger Kortko scored 7 goals and 24 points. His lack of size and lack of offensive role really hindered him. But he always took his lumps in stride:

'It's the Islander tradition to work as hard as you can. That's what I'm doing.''

Kortko returned to Saskatchewan in retirement and was working in the manufactured homes field. Previously he had spent his hockey off-seasons taking classes with the idea of becoming a teacher after hockey. Apparently he never followed that up, but did coach minor hockey in Saskatoon.

Sunday

Brad Isbister

Best known as a New York Islander where he challenged the 20 goal mark for parts of 4 seasons in the early 2000s, Brad Isbister was a frustrating enigma because he was often compared to another Islander behemoth - Todd Bertuzzi.

Isbister had wonderful size and strength, and protected the puck well. He liked to get in on the forecheck and hit hard but, unlike Bertuzzi, did not take a lot of penalties.

But he had very little offensive creativity. He was a throwback up-and-down your wing type of forward. But he had below average hands when pressured. He was most likely to throw the puck on the net rather than see his passing options. His shot release was quite slow, further limiting his effectiveness.

While the 6'3" 225lb giant lacked agility on his feet, he was a solid skater who had good straightaway speed and surprising first step quickness. When he was confident and on top of his game, he could excite the crowd by driving in off the wing right to the net for a scoring chance.

Isbister lacked the offensive creativity and defensive agility to be a top two lines power forward that the most optimistic of projections hoped for, especially coming off of a strong gold medal showing at the 1997 World Junior Championships. Still, his size and strength combined with good acceleration made him an intriguing project for several NHL teams.

Brad Isbister left the NHL after 541 games. He scored 106 career goals, 116 assists for 222 points. He added 1 goal and 3 points in 18 Stanley Cup playoff games.

Thursday

Scott Lachance

If you get a defenseman who played over 800 NHL games with the 4th overall draft pick, you should be happy right?

Well, sort of. After watching Eric Lindros, Pat Falloon and Scott Niedermayer go 1-2-3, the New York Islanders selected Scott Lachance 4th overall. In doing so they passed over Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, and Brian Rolston.

Lachance went on to play 819 career games, the bulk of that with the Islanders. So while we can not say he was a draft bust, we can say he never really emerged as an elite defender. Expectations were high after strong showings in back to back world junior tournaments and at the 1992 Olympics. But in the NHL the Charlottesville, Virginia native was a depth defender, albeit it an underrated one.

Lachance's finesse game relied on his smarts. He made safe clearing passes and, as he matured as a NHLer, strong first passes even when under pressure. He hardly ever attempted much more than a shot from the point. He lacked the skating quickness to ever standout in the NHL, though he had strong balance on his skates which helped in battles with forwards.

Physically Lachance's game was very understated. He did not appear to be big, but he was solidly built and effective in his takeouts. He was effective but never devastating, although he seemed prone to lapses where an attacker would blow right by him. Still, he was a regular penalty killer and a good shot blocker.

Lachance also played with Montreal, Vancouver and Columbus. In 819 career games he scored 31 goals and 112 assists for 143 points.

Lachance, who married the daughter of famed Boston Univeristy hockey coach Jack Parker, later became a NHL scout.

Brad Dalgarno

Vancouver BC's Brad Dalgarno was on the wrong end of one of the most lopsided fights in NHL history.



On February 21, 1989 Dalgarno got into a disagreement with notorious brawler Joey Kocur as the New York Islanders faced the Detroit Red Wings. Kocur instigated the fight in retaliation as earlier Dalgarno fought and easily beat up Red Wing Shawn Burr. However Dalgarno was badly overmatched against Kocur, a true NHL heavyweight. With one rock-hard punch, Kocur crushed the bone around Dalgarno's left eye. Dalgarno was sent to hospital and missed the rest of the season and the entire 1989-90 season due to the injury.

Dalgarno was a big boy at 6'3" 210lbs, but he was never an overly physical player. Although he wasn't an exceptional skater, the Islanders really believed he could become something special if he was more physical. The Isles believed that so much they drafted Dalgarno with the 6th overall pick in the 1985 Entry Draft. Dalgarno was very inconsistent in his willingness to apply his physical gifts. But in order to succeed at the NHL level he needed to be the grinding winger the Islanders desperately wanted him to be.

A good puckhandler, Dalgarno played 321 NHL games all with the Islanders. He battled through many injuries in his career, limiting his effectiveness. Dalgarno's career numbers include 49 goals, 71 assists and 120 points. He added 6 more points in 27 playoff games.

Monday

Alan Kerr

Alan Kerr was actually a pretty nice little player when he kept his game simple. He was a hustler and a plumber, and - despite his smallish size - a pretty good one at that. He was rewarded with some ice time that he was able to translate into two 20 goal seasons and a 15 goal season

At times Kerr was guilty of fancying himself as more than just a laborer. Popping a few goals, particularly while playing on a poor team like the Isles of the late 80s, can tend to make a crusher think he's a rusher. But that just ends up with him being an usher. But for the most part Kerr managed to keep his game in focus

Kerr was a good skater in terms of speed and acceleration, but for a crash and bang player, his balance was poor. Often the contact he would initiate was for not as he couldn't remain vertical

Because of his speed and some good vision, Kerr was a pretty decent playmaker once he earned a loose puck. He was always more of an opportunistic scorer than a creative player though.

Alan Kerr - no relation to Tim or Reg - was born in a small remote town in northern British Columbia called Hazelton. He played his junior hockey with the Seattle Breakers. Seattle and Hazelton are on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of city size, but Kerr played with the same grit and determination in the Western Hockey League as he did on the frozen ponds way up north. His work was rewarded when the New York Islanders drafted Kerr 84th overall in the 1982 Entry Draft.

Kerr spent the remainder of the Islander's dynasty years still in junior hockey, and followed that up with two seasons of apprenticeship in the minor leagues with the AHL Springfield Indians.

By 1986-87 the Isles promoted Kerr to the big club. He played limited ice time in his rookie season. He scored just 7 times and assisted on 10 others while adding a nice touch of zest and physicality on the 4th line. By the next season he earned more ice time and scored a career high 24 goals and 58 points! He spent two more years with the Isles (scoring 20 and 15 goals) but never was quite able to prove his strong 1987-88 seasons wasn't an abnormality.

Injuries limited Kerr's 1990-91 season. He spent most of the year recovering in the minor leagues. He resurfaced in the NHL in 1991-92 with the Detroit Red Wings, but was used sparingly on the 4th line. In 58 games he scored 3 times and had 11 points. He did add 2 big goals in the playoffs however.

The Winnipeg Jets acquired Kerr the following year. It was a nice fit as the Jets were famous for lacking any amount of grit. But injuries limited Kerr to only half a season (most of which was spent in the minors).
At the end of the year Kerr decided to hang up the skates. He retired with 391 games played, 72 goals, 94 assists and 166 points plus 826 well earned penalty minutes. He added 5 goals and 9 points in 38 playoff games.

While Kerr isn't exactly remembered for this, he inadvertently started Wayne Gretzky's back problems. According to The Great One's autobiography, Kerr hit Wayne Gretzky from behind on March 17, 1990. The Great One was doubly crumpled as he was hit into big Ken Baumgartner, his own teammate who was coming the opposite way. It was the beginning of some serious back problems for Wayne.

Thursday

Todd Okerlund

Todd Okerlund starred at the University of Minnesota, played in the 1988 Olympic Games and appeared in the National Hockey League. Despite Todd's achievements, he will never be able to live down the thing that he is most famous for.

He is Mean Gene's son!

Mean Gene you ask? You know, Mean Gene Okerlund, the long time wrestling announcer. He's the short bald guy who interviews Hulk Hogan every week.

Hockey and professional wrestling actually have an interesting history together. Hockey Hall of Famer Lionel Conacher wrestled both as an amateur and professional. Former Montreal Canadien Ted Irvine's son went on to wrestle. He's better known as Chris Jericho. Red Wings tough guy Darren McCarty once got involved in a staged pushing match with "Hardcore" Holly. Bret "the Hitman" Hart and the late Owen Hart grew up in Calgary and were big hockey fans. Bret even teamed up with Theo Fleury among others to bring the WHL junior league to Calgary. The team of course was called the Hitmen! And Brett Hull has been seen hanging out with Goldberg.

While Todd Okerlund grew up in a wrestling family, it was hockey that captured his sporting heart. Born and raised in Burnsfield, Minnesota, Okerlund went on to star at the University of Minnesota. Though not the greatest skater or scorer, Okerlund was a physical presnce and a good playmaker from the right wing.

Okerlund, who was drafted by the New York Islanders 168th overall in 1982 straight out of high school, blew out his knee after just 4 games in his senior year at the University. Not only did that put Okerlund's hockey development back a year, but it also affected his already average skating.

Okerlund joined the United States National team for the 1987-88 season. He realized it was highly unlikely he'd make the Islanders that year and rather than riding the busses in the minor leagues, Todd thought if he had a good season with the Nats, he could very well be part of the US Olympic Team at the winter games in Calgary Albert. Okerlund did play well enough to make that team, and even scored 1 goal in 3 Olympic games.

Following the Olympics, Okerlund was recalled by the Islanders. Todd played in 4 games with the Isles, and also saw 13 games with the Isles AHL farm team.

Okerlund retired from hockey following that season. He had been suffering from a chronic back problem which required major surgery. In all likelihood Okerlund could have come back from that surgery to play minor league hockey, but missing that year and his last year of college hockey would have set him back so far that he would likely never make the NHL. He wasn't expected to be anything more than a 4th line role player at the NHL level, or even the minor league levels some scouts say. So Okerlund decided to walk away from the game healthy, content to know that because of hockey he had earned a college education, played in the Olympics and appeared in the National Hockey League.

Mariusz Czerkawski

Mariusz Czerkawski, a rare player from Poland, was an at first intoxicating player with an impressive skill set. He became a bit of an individualistic enigma and took a long time to emerge as a star player, but proved he was worthy of his NHL pay checks.

Czerkawski was an amazing open ice player, able to fool even veteran defensemen with one on one moves or hide his phenomenal wrist shot by using the defenseman as a screen. Much of his career he could be accused of being too selfish with the puck, often skating all over the zone rather than looking for an open man or firing the puck on net as a winger drove to the net.

Like most players of that ilk Czerkawski could be quieted on any given night by simply engaging with him physically. In the offensive zone he protected the puck with his body quite well, but he definitely did not enjoy the physical game. He would not go into the corners to battle for loose pucks and defensively he tried to pick off passes rather than knock anyone off of the puck.

The Polish Prince was born in Radomsko, Poland and played all his youth hockey in his native land. Scouring all ends of the ice hockey playing earth, he Boston Bruins drafted him out of a Polish club called Tychy. The B's looked brilliant soon thereafter, as Czerkawski immediately moved to the Sweden to play with the legendary Djurgardens team in the Swedish Elite League and proved he belonged.

In 1995 Czerkawski came to North America, but in two seasons with the Bruins he could never get untracked. He moved to Edmonton where he developed into a 26 goal scorer. After two years in Alberta he joined the New York Islanders for 5 seasons, his longest NHL stay. He performed admirably, twice topping the 30 goal mark.

At the end of his career he made brief and unsuccessful stops in Montreal, Toronto and again Boston, as well as several overseas teams.

In 745 NHL games Mariusz Czerkawski scored 215 goals and 435 points.

Wednesday

Mick Vukota

Mick Vukota was a tough guy. He survived playing in the NHL due to his willingness to drop the gloves and do the dirty work along the boards and in the corners. By doing so Mick participated in 11 NHL seasons and 574 games..

There was little else that Vukota's game offered any of the teams he played for. He could do very little with the puck on the fly and his offensive contributions were limited to banging for loose pucks in the crease. He was also a poor skater in terms of agility which limited his all-around physical game. He could crunch you with a good bodycheck but only if he could catch you. At times he was a defensive liability as he tended to wander out of position.

With that being said, he was a valuable member of the teams he was on, and every single one of his teammates will attest to that. Like many tough guys, Mick was a great team player. Every team needs a guy like him in the dressing room or on the bench. His contributions on the ice might never have been appreciated, but his off ice offerings were a big part of a team concept as well. Mick's other great contribution to the team was his leadership. An exceptional team man, Vukota played an important role with the New York Islanders for several seasons as a popular and charismatic leader in a young Islanders dressing room. He knew how to encourage his teammates as well as keep them loose.

Of course, his role of enforce was obvious. He was pretty good at using the enforcer role for his team's advantage. He knew how to pick his spots well. He wouldn't fight just for the sake of fighting, instead using fighting as a tactic (like it should be) to change the game's tempo. In that regard he was an upper-echelon fighter.

Vukota perhaps will never be remembered as one of hockey's famous (or is that infamous) goons like Tiger Williams or Hammer Schultz, but he always showed up and never let the other team take advantage of one of his players.

Mick was never drafted by an NHL team. After a penalty filled junior career with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, the Islanders signed Vukota in the summer of 1987 with the idea that he could fill a minor league tough guy role. Judging by his WHL leading 337 penalty minutes in his last year of junior, it was pretty obvious that Mick would be willing to do the job. The Isles never really expected much else from Mick, but were pleasantly surprised by his play in 52 games with the team's AHL affiliate. Mick was called up by the end of season, and played in 17 games plus 2 more in the playoffs.

Mick made the Isles lineup on a full time basis the following year, although he played in just 48 games due to injuries. But by 1989-90 Mick played a career high 76 games and added career highs with 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points and +10 rating. Three of those goals actually came in one game!. Mick's only NHL hat trick was a natural one as he scored 3 consecutive goals against Washington on October 20, 1989). His 290 PIM that season was just three minutes shy of his career high of 293 set two years later.

Mick played 10 years on Long Island. He was a regular player for 5 consecutive seasons, but injuries limited his role in his later years there. In his final season, 1996-97, he was actually demoted to the minor leagues where he finished the season.

The following year he returned to the NHL after the Tampa Bay Lightning claimed him in the waiver draft, though he finished the year in Montreal as he was part of a big trade involving Stephane Richer going to the Bolts.

Vukota played only 22 games in Montreal before disappearing to the minor leagues to finish out his career.
Mick played in 574 games, scoring just 17 times and assisting on 29 others. His most telling stat is his 2071 well earned penalty minutes. He'll be remembered as a very good fighter, and a great team man.

Friday

Brett Lindros

Perhaps the most frightening injuries in professional sports and especially in hockey is a serious head injury. Brett Lindros, like  his brother of Eric, unfortunately has become the poster boy and spokesman of head injury awareness.

Brett was forced to retire from the New York Islanders in May of 1996 due to a series of serious concussions. Lindros, a rugged 6-foot-3, 220-pound winger, suffered three serious concussions since he turned professional with the Islanders for the 1994-95 season. He also suffered a number of concussions prior to 1994 when he played junior hockey. Although he is not sure how many, doctors estimate he had as many as 5.

Lindros was selected ninth overall in the first round of the 1994 NHL entry draft and signed to an eye-popping five-year, $7.5 million contract. The native of London, Ontario, played in 51 games over two seasons, scoring two goals and five assists and accumulating 147 penalty minutes.

Brett was a high draft pick because of his rugged, bone-crunching style of play. Like his brother, Brett could dominate a game physically. Although he didn't have Eric's offensive and skating abilities, some believe Brett could have been more physically dominant than Eric. Brett, who played right wing, would have had more opportunities to hit people along the boards than Eric, who plays center ice. Also Eric more often than not has the puck while Brett's job would have been to forecheck and to bang bodies.

Unfortunately when you play an overly aggressive style like both of Brett and Eric, you are more likely to get injured yourself. Many hockey players suffer from bad knees or a bad shoulder. But Brett Lindros had to quit a promising NHL career at the age of 20 because he risked serious brain damage if he continued to play.

With each subsequent concussion, it took Brett longer to get back to normal. He said symptoms, including blurred vision, amnesia, impaired balance, nausea, lack of coordination and persistent headaches, became more serious. He said there were occasions this year when he wasn't able to recall playing a shift after returning to the bench.

Lindros' first NHL concussion happend in his rookie season when he was sidelined for 8 games after getting into a fight with Francois Leroux. The next season he suffered two of the concussions the final 8 days of his playing career. The first was on Nov. 16 at Los Angeles, after which he sat out two games, and the next on Nov. 24 at Buffalo, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Lindros was examined by four doctors, who all told him that he was becoming progressively susceptible to concussions and that the effect of such injuries is cumulative. Faced with this medical evidence, Lindros said he had little choice but to retire.

"It's every kid's dream to play in the NHL," he said. "My dreams have basically been shattered. I really don't like to think about it, actually. I hate to think about it and talk about it. It's difficult. But I guess on the broader scale of life, I realize that others have bigger problems."

Lindros turned to broadcasting following his playing days. But you know he itches to get back on the ice. It would have been interesting to see the battles of two physically dominating brothers going head to head against each other for many NHL seasons.

Claude Lapointe

Claude Lapointe was an easy player to like.

Though he was undersized (just 5'9" and 175lbs), he played with all-out abandon, throwing his weight around and mucking and grinding against players much bigger than himself. The scrappy and versatile forward was an excellent penalty killer, relentlessly hounding puck carriers. He was as dogged on the backcheck as he was on the forecheck.

Though he had strong anticipation skills and good speed, Lapointe never really developed into much of an offensive threat. He topped out at 15 goals and regularly provided 30 points a year.

Over the course of 879 NHL games, most notably with Quebec and New York Islanders, Lapointe slowed down with accumulating injuries over the years. Yet Lapointe never changed his game that made him a fan favorite.

He scored 127 goals and 178 assists for 305 points in his career. All in all, not bad for a 12th round, 234th overall, draft pick in the 1988 entry draft.

In retirement Lapointe moved back to Quebec to get his life back on track. He exited the NHL after entering into the league's substance abuse program.  He had begun using cocaine sporadically as an 18 year old but eventually it caught up to him, costing him a marriage, a trade from Long Island and perhaps the premature end to his NHL career. Now that he is clean he talks to audiences about the dangers of depression and drugs. You can listen to him discuss his life here.

Monday

Wayne McBean

Wayne McBean is forever linked in hockey's memory more for who he dated than anything he accomplished in the NHL.

McBean of course dated Alyssa Milano - Tony Danza's TV daughter on Who's The Boss at the time. She of course would go on to several other notable gigs. McBean, not so much.

McBean was selected by the Kings fourth overall in the 1987 draft. He was a fantastic skater. The Hockey News raved about the Memorial Cup MVP in their annual draft preview.

"I think McBean is the best player in the draft. Better than everyone, including Pierre Turgeon and Brendan Shanahan," says one scout.

"He controls the game when he's out there. He would be one of the best players on any major junior team in Canada."

THN champions McBean as the best defenseman available, ahead of future long time NHLers Glen Wesley, Stephane Quintal, Luke Richardson, Yves Racine and Eric Desjardins, as well as junior standouts Chris Joseph and Bryan Fogarty.

So what went wrong? Why did McBean never truly emerge as a NHL player?

I suspect the Kings rushed him to the big leagues. Even the best junior defensemen need more time to develop their games to be NHL ready. The Kings, cursed with a thin blue line and weak goaltending, used him in 27 games that first season and he struggled defensively and offensively, picking up just one assist.

A year (and 33 more games) later McBean was traded with fellow prospect (and junior teammmate) Mark Fitzpatrick (Doug Crossman would also be part of the deal later) for goaltender Kelly Hrudey. Gretzky's Kings were in 'win now' mode and sacrificed the future for the goaltender they lacked.

Perhaps the Kings were comfortable releasing McBean as they saw him struggle greatly with the NHL level of play. He could have really benefited from another season in Medicine Hat and a season of apprenticing in the AHL or with the Canadian national team at the time. But the Kings rushed him in. Compounding the situation of high expectations was Gretzky's spotlight. The Milano paparazzi may have only compounded the situation. That's a lot for anyone to handle, never mind a teenager.

McBean never got untracked on Long Island either. Over the next 5 seasons he only played in 120 games in the NHL. He was up and down to the minors, and really battled injuries. A serious knee injury topped that list.

McBean joined the Winnipeg Jets in 1993-94, only to suffer a career ending wrist injury.

Saturday

Tom Kurvers


Tom Kurvers was an intelligent offensive defenseman. He was not a puck rusher so much as was an outstanding passer and a smart though not overpowering shooter from the point. He had good mobility, anticipation and vision. He was a solid choice to quarterback a power play. Though he had good size, Kurvers was not a physical player.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he scored 175 points in four seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth between 1980 and 1984 where he majored in communications. He was an excellent student. He was named to the National Honor Society in his last year of high school, and earned a MBA degree part time while playing in the NHL.

Kurvers was also heady on the ice. In his senior year he was named as the Hobey Baker Award winner as the top collegiate player. Kurvers turned pro with the Montreal Canadiens in 1984-85. Playing regularly with Chris Chelios, Kurvers scored 45 points. Kurvers numbers slipped a bit in year two, and he was traded at the beginning of the 1986-87 season to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2nd round draft pick. He struggled to find his game in Buffalo, scoring just 23 points.

The summer of 1987 saw Kurvers join the New Jersey where he found his game. His offense was a major spark in the Devils  improbable playoff run that finished one game short of the Stanley Cup final. That year Kurvers was the second-highest scoring blueliner in the post-season with 15 points in nineteen games. The next year he recorded a personal high 66 points but, by 1989-90, Bruce Driver emerged as the Devils top defenseman, making Kurvers expendable.

Early in the 1989-90 season, Kurvers was shipped to Toronto for a first-round pick that became Scott Niedermayer. The trade was much maligned, as Toronto was at or near the bottom of the league most of the season and nearly cost the Leafs a chance at Eric Lindros. Regardless, Niedermayer turned out to be arguably as good a pick if not better.

Kurvers meanwhile began a vagabond career. He was dispatched to Vancouver in 1990-91 and later played with the New York Islanders and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He left the NHL and played the 1995-96 season in Tokyo

With 421 points in 659 career games, Kurvers proved to be an effective player. He was never an elite offensive defenseman, and only average defensively, hence the frequent address changes.

In retirement Kurvers experimented with radio broadcasting before becoming a scout.

Thursday

Pat Price

Pat Price was "Mr. Everything" as a junior star, but things changed drastically when he became a pro and the easy money flowed.

Pat played in four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades in the juniors. He was big (6´2"), brash, fast and strong. In his first junior season, he was named the rookie-of-the-year, even though he was just 14 years old. His final season, he won the team scoring title, even though he was a defenseman. He carried the Blades to the Memorial Cup playoffs, was voted as best defenseman in the league and was nominated Athlete-of-the-Year in Saskatoon. He was according to some scouts, the best junior hockey player in the world.

The WHA drafted Price as an underaged junior in 1974. He signed a lucrative contract with the Vancouver Blazers of the WHA worth $1.3 million over five years, which at that time was the biggest rookie contract in professional hockey. That summer (1974), he captained a team of Western Canada junior All-Stars against Team Canada (WHA), and those who saw him said that he was often the best defenseman on either side. He was then chosen to play with team Canada against the Soviets, to represent his country, even though he had never played played one minute of professional hockey.

Pat bought himself a Ferrari and was driving so recklessly that GM Joe Crozier got a call from the local police that Price was risking his life and limb as well as others. Pat was ticketed more than once for speeding over 100 miles per hour. Pat eventually crashed the car but didn't sustain any injuries.

He then sprained his ankle while doing "tricks" with his platform shoes. It happened while he was playing for Team Canada. When the WHA season started he was in pretty bad shape. Crozier wasn't happy about the situation:

"The kid wouldn't get in shape. He didn't give a damn. He'd fool around, fool around, all the time. He had his money and I guess he figured nothing else mattered, look, the kid was a nice enough kid, but he had no character - his heart was the size of a pea."

Pat didn't get along with Crozier at all. Once, after a loss, Pat was talking to some kids outside the dressing room, laughing and smiling. Crozier didn't like that at all, yelling, "Price, if I see you smiling again after we've lost a game, I'll wipe that smile of your face so fast you won't know what hit you."

Another time Crozier ridiculed Pat in front of his teammates, shouting "You can't play defense, you can't play offense, you're no good, just what the hell can you do?"

Price was on the verge of quitting hockey. Even his father admitted that his son maybe had it too easy in life. He always excelled in anything he tried, he never had a real challenge, so when there was a challenge he just couldn't accept one. Pat however pulled himself together and continued with hockey. The Blazers, on the other hand, had had enough. He was released from his contract, although it was as much as a cost-cutting move as anything.

Price jumped over to the NHL and the NY Islanders who drafted him 11th overall in the 1975 NHL draft. He signed a five year contract, at a greatly reduced from his previous contract at $500,000. Pat attended the Islanders training camp but didn't make the team and was send down to Forth Worth (CHL).

The year down in minors did him good and Pat returned for the next season in much better shape and with a much better self confidence. He had also matured a lot and became a steady defenseman for many years to come.

He continued his NHL career playing for Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Quebec, NY Rangers and Minnesota. His best season point wise came in 1981-82 for Pittsburgh where he got 38 points (6 goals, 32 assists). He also picked up a whopping 322 penalty minutes.

His last season in the NHL came during the 1987-88 season when he as a 33-year old played 14 games for the Minnesota North Stars. Pat played a total of 726 regular season games, picking up 43 goals and 261 points. He also had 12 points in 74 playoff games.

The fast money almost cost him his hockey career but he eventually matured and became a regular blueliner in the NHL for 13 seasons. Still, given his junior hype, he remains an all time draft bust.

Alex McKendry

Alex McKendry was a gigantic winger out of the OHA Sudbury Wolves organization. The Islanders like his combination of size, aggressiveness and scoring prowess to select him 14th overall in the 1976 Entry draft.

However, like many bigger players, it took McKendry some time to find his game at the professional level. It wasn't until his 4th season in the minor leagues that he found his groove. He scored an impressive 40 goals and 77 points with the CHL Indianapolis Checkers and was named to the CHL first all star team in 1979-80.

McKendry, who appeared in 10 NHL regular season games over 4 years without recording a point, was recalled to the Islanders for their playoff drive once the Checkers were eliminated from their post season. McKendry of course would not play unless there was an injury, so he worked hard in practice just in case he was called upon.

That opportunity actually presented itself. Substituting for none other than Mike Bossy, the games best pure goal scorer. McKendry stepped in as if from out of nowhere, and scored a pair of goals to help spark a come-from-behind win and eliminate Los Angeles in the first round! The Islanders of course went on to capture Lord Stanley's Cup in 1980.

Despite his strong season in the minors and his solid play in the NHL playoffs, the Islanders decided to move the failed first round draft pick. With his trade value never so high, the Isles moved the Midland Ontario native to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 3rd round draft pick just prior to the 1980-81 season.

McKendry got a better chance to play in Calgary, but was unable to make much of the golden opportunity. McKendry scored 3 goals and 9 assists in 36 games, but ended the season struggling in the CHL once again.

McKendry played two more seasons in the CHL, never quite able to recapture his all star season of 1980. He retired from pro hockey after the 1982-83 season.

At last hearing McKendry was working in the oil sands near Fort McMurray, BC. 

Friday

Scott Scissons

The 1990 NHL Entry Draft goes down as one of the strongest in history. There was not a lot to choose from in the top five picks. Power forward Owen Nolan went first to Quebec, followed by super-skilled center Petr Nedved second to Vancouver. Humongous Keith Primeau, the surprising upstart darling amongst scouts at the top end of the draft, went third overall to Detroit. Mike Ricci, who had been hailed as the clear top choice a year earlier, ended up going 4th to Philly. Pittsburgh ended up with a steal at #5 - Jaromir Jagr. Remember though, at that time it was still unclear if world politics would allow Jagr to come to North America any time soon. Had he been immediately available, he most certainly would have gone first overall.

The top five picks were strong, but so was much of the first round. Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Martin Brodeur, and Keith Tkachuk.

Of course there were a few misses, as is to be expected with every draft. But not too many people were expecting the 6th overall selection to be a miss. When the New York Islanders made Scott Scissons, the heart of the Saskatoon Blades, their selection, everyone figured they would get a strapping, two way center who may not prove to be a star player, but would play a long time in the National Hockey League.

So certain were the Islanders that Scissons would be an impact NHL player they, according to Chris Botta, would have taken Scissons over Jagr had they had the chance.

He played just three games in the NHL. Two in the regular season and one in the playoffs. In fact, by 1995 he was out of pro hockey altogether.

Scissons was billed as that gigantic center everyone loves to have. At 6'1" and 200lbs as an 18 year old, scouts drooled over his size. He was an excellent face-off man and solid defensively, something that is pretty rare of a 18 year old player. Scouts agreed he lacked true offensive instincts to be scoring star in the NHL, but they felt he could develop into a Joel Otto or Shayne Corson or like role.

Professional hockey exposed the key weakness in his game - skating. He was a poor skater, lacking  in agility and speed. He tried correcting that by playing the 1991-92 season with the Canadian national team. Ultimately he was cut from the team prior to the 1992 Albertville Olympics.

Often big men can overcome skating deficiencies through rugged physical play. Scissons used his size to his advantage well enough, but he was never aggressive enough in nature to do a lot of the necessary initiating. That combined with a nagging shoulder injury in the junior season after his draft year really caused him to be largely ineffective.

Injuries kept plaguing Scissons in the minor leagues. In just a couple of minor league seasons both shoulders and his back were shot. He was spending more time in hospitals than on the ice.

The Islanders let Scissons go in 1995 but he was not prepared to give up his NHL dream. He was ready to sign with the Dallas Stars organization when there medical team gave him the terrible news.

"The doctor told me the next time I get hit improperly you may not walk again," says Scissons. "I decided there was more to life at 22."


"Without question it's disappointing," says Scissons, but ... "I wouldn't change much. There's certain things you can control and you can't control the injuries."

Scissons returned to Saskatoon where at last report he was working with Western Manufactured Homes. He was even playing some hockey with the Saskatoon Old Pros. He also found a lot of joy coaching his son's teams.

Thursday

Mike Kaszycki

Mike Kaszycki played in 226 NHL games, most notably for the New York Islanders, but also Toronto and Washington.

He was a spectacular junior scoring star. After helping the Toronto Marlies win the Memorial Cup in 1975, Kaszycki joined the Soo Greyhounds and rewrote the OHA record book by scoring an amazing 170 points - 51 goals and 119 assists.

Despite the spectacular junior career Kaszycki slipped all the way to the 32nd deft spot in 1976 where the Islanders nabbed him.

Despite his scoring prowess, Kaszycki never really caught on with the Islanders, who were soon to begin their Stanley Cup dynasty with 4 consecutive championships. Kaszycki played one season with Bob Bourne and Bob Nystrom and the next with John Tonelli and Billy Harris. But he would be traded to Washington in December 1979.

Kaszycki could never keep a roster spot in either Washington or Toronto soon after that. This despite lighting up the American Hockey League with seasons of 118 and 110 points. He won the league scoring title, MVP and sportsmanship trophies, as well as first all star team designation.

Kaszycki later finished his career in Switzerland, playing for several years.

So why didn't Kaszycki stick in the NHL? It was clear he had the offensive tools. He was undersized at just 5'9" and 185lbs - the kiss of death for many offensive players. His defensive game was at times lacking, as well.

Despite his forgotten career, Kaszycki does go down in history for a unique incident. Back on June 1st, 1979 the NHL grandfathered in a clause that made helmets mandatory for all new players in the league. Established players, like Kaszycki, were told they would be allowed to continue to play without a helmet, so long as they signed a waiver. Kaszycki never did sign his, and it was brought to the referees attention in the middle of a game in 1981. Kaszycki was forced to leave the game as he was declared ineligible to play, and he was forced to play the rest of his career with a helmet. 

Tuesday

Mark Fitzpatrick



I took a sincere interested in Mark Fitzpatrick's career. Why? He grew up down the street from me.

Well, sort of. He was born in Toronto, but at the age of 10 he moved with his family to Kitimat, BC, which is about 70km away from my hometown of Terrace. Hey, by isolated northern British Columbia, that is what we call down the street.

Interestingly Fitzpatrick never took up organized hockey until he arrived in Kitimat. That's a pretty later start considering in a few short years he was backstopping the Medicine Hat Tigers to back to back Memorial Cup junior championships in 1987 and 1988. In 1986 he was named as the WHL's top goalie.

All of this led to the Los Angeles Kings drafting Fitzpatrick 27th overall in 1987. He would turn pro in 1988 and after just 17 games in the minor leagues he was called up to play for the Kings.

Those were exciting times, as it was Wayne Gretzky's first season with the Kings. While Gretzky, Bernie Nicholls and Luc Robitaille lit up the opposition net, the Kings were having lots of problems with their own net. Veteran Glenn Healy was not getting the job done. Fitzpatrick, a prized prospect, looked good given his inexperience.

As excited as I was that a local boy was playing with Wayne Gretzky in Hockeywood, things changed that season. Fitzpatrick and fellow Medicine Hat alumni/prized prospect Wayne McBean were traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for another veteran goalie, Kelly Hrudey.

Fitzpatrick played well with a weak Islanders team, but disaster struck just prior to the 1990-91 season. He suffered swollen feet, hands and forearm, shortness of breath and overwhelming fatigue last September after taking L-tryptophan, an amino acid. The supplement caused the player to develop eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), a white blood disease that impairs the functioning of the nerve and muscular systems.

Fitzpatrick essentially missed two full seasons battling the disease. Doctors tried battling the illness with Predisone, but that led to side effects such as mood swings that threatened his personal life. Fitzpatrick would sue the supplement company for $180 million dollars. I don't know how much he did settle for, but I'm told it was significant amount of money.

"Fitzy" did make a come back to hockey, but the once promising career was no longer in the cards. He struggled in New York before finding some stability in Florida, backing up John Vanbiesbrouck. He later bounced around with Tampa, Chicago and Carolina. He even tried out with the Vancouver Canucks in training camp in a bid to back up Dan Cloutier in the new century, but he was cut, essentially ending his career.

In 12 seasons Fitzpatrick got into 329 games, sporting a record of 113-136-49 with 8 shutouts and .896 career GAA.

Friday

Rich Kromm

Rich Kromm earned a reputation for being an unrelenting left wing who possessed a strong work ethic and great savvy. An exemplary defensive-minded left winger, Kromm's team-oriented approach to the game made him a valuable role player. A good skater, Kromm rarely took bad penalties and was well liked by his teammates.

Kromm was born in Trail, BC in 1964. His father Bobby had played there and also coach the famous Smoke Eaters to the Allan Cup and to the World Hockey Championships in 1961 - the last Canadian amateur team to win the World title. Kromm's coaching success took him to coaching jobs in Dallas (CHL), Winnipeg (WHA) and Detroit (NHL), which made for a lot of interesting relocations for his family. Instead of growing up playing shinny on the frozen ponds back in the BC Kootenays, young Rich (and his brother David, who made it to the Canadian junior leagues) was learning from some of the best hockey players in the world.

Rich was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the second round, (37th overall), in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He had spent his junior days with the Portland Winter Hawks where he was a high scoring winger on the same team as Cam Neely, Gary Nylund, Alfie Turcotte, Ken Yaremchuk and Brian Curran.

Rich broke into the NHL in 1983-84 but it wasn't until 1984-85 that he got a good opportunity to play. He responded well by scoring 20 goals and 32 assists and finishing with a +19. However he took a step back in his 3rd season slipping to just 12 goals and 29 points in 63 games.

I best remember Rich Kromm in Calgary for playing alongside Colin Patterson usually. One year the two wingers were centered by Carey Wilson on "the Dice Line." He was a conscientious checker because of his speed and anticipation, and he was sturdy if wiry.

On March, 11, 1986 the Flames traded Kromm and young defenseman Steve Konroyd to the Islanders in exchange for rugged John Tonelli. Tonelli was a huge part of the Islanders dynasty years. The Flames wanted him to help teach their younger players and to help take them to the next level. In order to get Tonelli, the Isles wanted a couple of good young players in return.

Although Kromm scored 7 goals and 14 points in the final 14 games of the 1986, Kromm never developed into much of an offensive player. He played 2 full seasons with the Islanders, scoring 12 and 5 goals respectively. Those totals were quite paltry considering he did see some even strength time playing with a couple of guys named Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy.

By 1988-89 his full time NHL job was gone, and Rich began bouncing around the minor leagues. He ended up playing just 28 more NHL games over the next 5 years.

Although he didn't know it at the time, Rich's last NHL game came in 1993 when the Islanders called him up for one game. And what a game it was for the low scoring winger. He scored once and set up two others.

Rich retired after that season. In 372 career NHL games he tallied 70 goals and 103 assists for 173 career points.  After retiring Rich, who played under two of the greatest coaches ever in Bob Johnson and Al Arbour, would follow his father's footsteps and get into coaching. He has been a long serving coach in the minor leagues with stints also in the WHL junior league.

As an interesting aside, Kromm's father in law knows a thing or two about coaching, too. Rich married the daughter of famous NCAA basketball coach turned television analysts Pete Gillen.

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