LOOKING BACK TO THE PAST - THE STANLEY CUP GENERATION
Newyorkislanders.com takes a look back at the Cup championship teams and how the current core of young players are matching up
Thursday, 07.8.2010 / 6:50 PM ET / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
The New York Islanders began their journey to four straight Stanley Cups in 1972. A brand new NHL franchise, General Manager Bill Torrey built the Islanders Empire with home-grown prospects. Thirty-eight years later, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow is following in Torrey’s footsteps by bringing young talent back to Long Island through the NHL Entry Draft.
The Isles first Stanley Cup victory came eight years after their inception. It was the fastest victory following the birth of any NHL franchise. In many ways, Torrey’s Empire started at the 1972 NHL Entry Draft when the Islanders selected Bob Nystrom 33rd overall.
“I think that for me it was such a big thrill (just making it to the NHL). There was a whole group of young kids that were coming in the first few years,” Nystrom said. “I think the enthusiasm level was incredibly high, so much to the point that oftentimes when we got on the ice we tried to do too much and we just ran around a little bit.”
In 1973, Denis Potvin was selected 1st overall at the Entry Draft. The following year, Torrey selected Clark Gillies with the 4th overall pick and Bryan Trottier with the 22nd pick.
“There was a whole group of youngsters coming in and the enthusiasm was amazing,” Nystrom said.
The energy and determination of the young players began to pay off in the franchise’s third season, when the Islanders made their first playoff berth – ending their regular season with 88 points.
“We saw our first glimpse (of success) in 1975 when we put together a pretty good string of victories and went to the Semi Finals,” Nystrom said. “We beat the Rangers and then beat Pittsburgh after going down three (games). We came back and tied (the series with) Philadelphia three-to-three. I think that was our first glimpse of success.”
“Then we had a couple of setbacks in ’76 and ’77, so it’s very hard to determine or to see what the future is going to bring, but I think we had improved each and every year,” Nystrom said. “Although we lost in the playoffs, I think that we all learned a little bit from every loss that we had.”
After fine tuning their young talent, the Islanders selected Mike Bossy 15th overall in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft. In ’78, Torrey selected Jon Tonelli. In ’79 he added soon to be main-stays Duane Sutter, Anders Kallur, Ken Morrow and Dave Langerin.
“What was exciting, especially when I got drafted, was I knew I was going to a team that had had a little bit of success prior to me getting there and had a ton of potential,” Mike Bossy said about his transition to the NHL.
“When I arrived at the team in ’77-’78, we had a disappointing loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs and then in ’78-’79 we had a disappointing loss to the Rangers,” Bossy continued. “As I’ve always said, there’s a fine line between winning and losing and we were able to cross that fine line the following year.”
With all the new prospects, the strong core of young talent selected in the early ‘70s helped the Islanders franchise bring home their first Stanley Cup victory in 1980. Nystrom, Potvin, Gillies, Trottier and Bossy were a force to be reckoned with. The team went on to conquer the NHL and win the next three Cups.
“Our desire to win a Stanley Cup was as prevalent as ever the year that we did win it,” Bossy said. “It was just a matter of putting everything together at the right time and everyone living up to their potential and being able to withstand the pressure of winning four series to win the Stanley Cup.”
“The energy in the locker room and on the ice was always fairly intense in the sense that there was always a lot of competition between the players to be successful,” Bossy continued. “There was always a lot of individual desire, as I like to put it, of players who not only wanted to succeed individually, but also wanted to succeed collectively and be known as a great hockey player. So in the locker room and on the ice, it was always very intense, always very competitive.
But the chemistry and camaraderie is really what propelled the Islanders team of the ’70s. When you know the ins and outs of a person, you can almost act without thinking and your play on the ice becomes natural.
Bossy’s teammate Bob Nystrom agreed.
“We had an incredible chemistry with all the guys. We really hung close together,” Nystrom said. “We would have our parties and we would go out. We just seemed to really mesh. Even when Butch Goring came, he added a new dimension. So in 1980, we had a pretty good group of guys that got along very very well.”
Looking ahead – the Past and Present
More than 15 years after the Islanders last won the Stanley Cup, current General Manager Garth Snow started rebuilding the team in the same way that Torrey had in the early ‘70s with young prospects. The start of the build was the selection of Kyle Okposo, 7th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Two years later, Snow would select Josh Bailey 9th overall. Then in 2009, Snow became a popular man amongst Islanders fans by drafting John Tavares with the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft and Calvin De Haan with the 12th overall pick.
“I think we have the right mix of players [to make it to the Stanley Cup],” said Tavares. “Garth is working hard to keep improving our team. He is bringing in these young players that keep contributing to our organization.”
Last month, Snow brought praise upon the organization for surprising everyone by selecting 17-year-old Swiss power forward, Nino Niederreiter as the Islanders fifth overall pick in 2010, and then trading up to choose Brock Nelson with the 30th overall pick.
Okposo, Bailey, Matt Martin, Tavares, de Haan and Niederreiter are several names that have been assembled by Snow that go along with other solid Islanders picks from the past such as Blake Comeau and Frans Nielsen. With these names, they are starting to resemble the group of young talent that once wore the royal blue and orange in the 80’s.
Islanders legend Bob Nystrom has recognized the similarities between the current roster and his legendary team’s from the ‘80s.
“I really do like this young group of kids that are coming in and the way that they play,” Nystrom said. “At the end of last season, I thought that they really meshed. They’re going to be hot and cold and that’s just youth. I think that what we really have to look at is that they’re coming together, they’re going to grow together and if they’re given the time to really develop, they could make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.”
In 2008, Okposo played in 65 games, tallying 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points – extremely impressive for a freshman. In his second season, Okposo played in all but two regular season games, scoring 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists).
Nystrom, who was Torrey’s first piece of the puzzle, had been playing in the NHL for eight seasons before the Isles won their first Stanley Cup. Okposo, who made his debut in the 2007-08 season, didn’t begin playing in the NHL full-time until 2008-09. With only two seasons under his belt, and having more than a 50-point season, it’s safe to say that Okposo will serve as a major contributor on the scoreboard in the next few seasons.
Next in the Islanders line of up-and-coming young guns is the highest touted forward since Mike Bossy pulled on the Islanders sweater, John Tavares. The Mississauga, ON native played all 82 regular season games in his rookie year. He tallied 24 goals and 30 assists for a 54-point season to lead the Islanders in scoring.
Tavares believes the Islanders are ready to make a long playoff run. The chemistry among the current group rivals the chemistry of the Stanley Cup generation.
“As young guys, just growing and maturing together in this League at our age is real important. It helps us become real close, develop that friendship, that bond and that camaraderie in the locker room that we’re going to need to go deep into the playoffs and to win a Stanley Cup one day,” Tavares said.
Hall of Famer Mike Bossy loves how close the current Islanders have become. As one player whose retired number hangs from the Nassau Coliseum rafters between the likes of Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Nystrom, Bossy had a lot to say about the will to win and the power of positive thinking.
“I’m a big believer of people wanting to achieve great things individually and at the same time willing to achieve them with teammates and willing to help teammates achieve great things,” Bossy said. “I think when everyone has their own success and their teammates’ success in the back of their mind, then everyone will help them get better.”
“It is when everyone is playing at their potential that great things can happen,” Bossy continued. “It doesn’t mean that they will happen, but they can happen and it’s always a matter of having the right pieces of the puzzle that makes great teams. With the young kids that we have on our team and with the success that they’ve had individually in the last couple of years, they’re on the right path.”