MEMORIES OF 1980: John Tonelli
by Chris Botta
Islanders all-time fan favorite John Tonelli -- in on virtually every big goal scored between 1980 and 1984 -- will be a big part of the 1980 Stanley Cup celebration on March 4 before the 2006 Islanders host the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I'm looking forward to being a team again," JT told us on Friday. "It's a weekend we've all had circled on the calendar for a while."
We asked John about the atmosphere in the Islanders dressing room on May 24, 1980 between the third period and overtime, after the Islanders gave up a 4-2 lead to the Flyers after two periods.
"The tension, or maybe I should call it intensity, was growing in the room as the intermission went on," said Tonelli. "It was important to keep all negative thoughts out, but the prevailing feeling was that in no way could we allow this series to go back to Philadelphia for a Game 7.
"We had to win it that day, in front of our home fans, case closed. There wasn't another option."
Tonelli said the Cup-winning goal was something "Bobby Ny and I practiced several times a week every chance we got for a couple of years. The idea was to criss-cross at the goal and skate hard and hopefully catch the opposing defensemen flat-footed. Of course, the whole thing wouldn't haven't gotten started if our D didn't make a great play to get the puck to Lorne Henning, who put it perfectly on my stick.
"What I remember about the overtime is that both the Flyers and us had a few decent scoring chances, but it really seemed like there was a feeling-out process early on. Both teams were cautious, which you could understand knowing the Stanley Cup was at stake. Our feeling was to try and be patient and wait for the Flyers to make the first mistake. I'm sure that's what Philly was doing, too. We caught them in a line change that wasn't perfect, Lorne moved the puck quickly to me and Ny and I got to work our play. You can't tell me practice doesn't pay off."
Incredibly, Tonelli watched the overtime in its entirety for the first time just three weeks ago. "A friend of mine gave me a DVD of Game 6. A couple of weeks ago my neighborhood in Westchester lost power. Thankfully, I had a generator, but cable was out. So I popped in the DVD and asked my wife to watch the overtime with me, I think the first time I really watched it.
"What struck me was how short we kept our shifts. It looks like we were out there for 30 seconds at a time. I guess you could say the strategy paid off."
The 1980 Stanley Cup celebration, presented by Modell's and Newsday, will begin at 7:00 pm, followed by the regular season matchup between the 2005-06 Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers. In addition to the 1980 team, the Stanley Cup will also be in attendance at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"For everything the 1979-80 Islanders did for Long Island, our franchise and our fans, we're putting together something special for this amazing team," said Islanders general manager Mike Milbury. "For our fans, it will be a night to remember. For Bill Torrey, coach Al Arbour, captain Denis Potvin and the rest of the team, our goal is give them a weekend they will never forget."
The Islanders have sent out invitations to the 28 men listed on the 1980 Stanley Cup. The list includes Hall of Famers Torrey, Arbour, Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies and Billy Smith; fan favorites such as Bobby Nystrom, Garry Howatt, Dave Langevin, Stefan Persson, Ken Morrow and Duane Sutter. Also included are unsung heroes such as assistant coach Bill MacMillan, trainer Ron Waske and equipment manager Jim Pickard.
"The fans on Long Island and that team that won the first four of 19 consecutive playoff series will forever have a place in my heart," said Denis Potvin, the captain of all four Islanders Stanley Cup teams. "I'm really looking forward to it. We don't get together as a team nearly as much as we'd like. This is going to be a wonderful time for us and for the fans as well."
Islanders full season subscribers will receive an added treat. Season subscribers are invited to the Islanders' morning skate on March 4, followed by an introduction of the 1980 team, sneak preview of that night's ceremony, plus a meet-and-greet with the legends.
Tickets are still available for the March 4 game between the Islanders and Flyers, preceded by the celebration of the 1980 Stanley Cup team. Tickets are available at the Coliseum box office, TicketMaster or by contacting the Islanders at 1.800.882.ISLES.