Islanders Feature a New Look in ’85 : Efforts Are Under Way to Recapture Magic of Four Stanley Cups in a Row
The New York Islanders practice in a rink at Cantiague Park, a Nassau County recreation center here.
There were 15 people watching practice the other afternoon, many dressed in Islander team jackets.
Cheryl Brown of Hicksville was standing by the locker room door after practice trying to snag a few autographs. She brought her 4-year-old nephew, Charlie, with her. Charlie, a dwarf, has had surgery 13 times.
“Every time he has had surgery, the Islanders have sent him a card or something,” she said. “You know what’s different about these guys? They’ll all stop and give you an autograph.”
The Islanders captured the hearts and minds of fans on Long Island when they won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.
But the Islanders, the National Hockey League’s first dynasty of the 1980s, are a team in transition.
They are at the crossroads after reaching the Stanley Cup final five straight years.
“I really don’t look at it as rebuilding,” said right wing Mike Bossy. “I look at it as taking a Rolls-Royce after it has a few miles on it and adding a few new parts.”
The Islanders made it to the Stanley Cup final in 1984 for the fifth straight time, but lost to the Edmonton Oilers.
Last season the Islanders failed to reach the final, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round.
The Islanders finished third in the Patrick Division with a 40-34-6 record. The 86-point season was their worst since 1973-74.
“I think we lost a lot of respect around the league last year,” goalie Kelly Hrudey said. “We didn’t do anything at the start of the year and milled around .500 all year. And we never came back.
“But we still have a good nucleus of guys like Bossy, (John) Tonelli and (Bryan) Trottier. “When a losing team rebuilds they have to learn how to win. We know how to win.”
Said goalie Billy Smith: “Was it time to make a change? Maybe. Let’s face it, we got beat the last two years.
“But how many teams win four Cups in a row?”
The Islanders tried to salvage some respect by beating the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
But the Flyers embarrassed the Islanders in the Patrick Division final. They shut out the Islanders twice and won the series, 4-1.
“I think last year we were a little uptight,” said veteran left wing Greg Gilbert. “This year we’re trying to have fun. The overall attitude is different from when I came here three years ago.”
Bill Torrey, the Islanders’ general manager, is trying to reshape the team this season, adding new players.
“After we lost to Edmonton, it became apparent that some of our players were starting to get old and it was evident that we were going to have to replace them,” Torrey said. “And it’s tough because they played 23 to 24 extra games every year in the playoffs. That adds up to a little over one season.
“I think before the season is over we’ll be the youngest team in the league. But you’ve got to have patience. Look at what Philadelphia did last season. They had the youngest team in the league and they went to the Stanley Cup final.”
Islander Coach Al Arbour had reportedly considered retiring after last season, but Torrey convinced him to return. “As long as he’s in good health, he’ll continue to coach,” Torrey said.
Arbour, 52, is the senior coach in the NHL with 13 seasons, but he likes the challenge of rebuilding.
“We’re reshaping and rebuilding,” Arbour said. “We’re making the transition to get younger guys into the lineup. We’re trying to mesh the younger guys with the older guys.
“We could see it coming after we lost to Edmonton. We can’t wait for everyone to get old at the same time.”
Eight players who were on the Islanders’ last Stanley Cup championship team are gone.
There are six new players on the team this season, the largest number of newcomers to make the Islanders since the team entered the league in 1972.
Among the newcomers are a pair of standouts from Finland, right wings Ari Eerik Haanpaa and Mikko Makela. The other newcomers are are left wing Bob Bassen, right wing Mark Hamway, center Scott Howson and defenseman Randy Boyd, acquired from Chicago in the waiver draft a few days before the start of the season.
The Islanders also have a group of young veterans to build around, such as center Pat LaFontaine, 20, defenseman Paul Boutilier, 22, right wing Patrick Flatley, 22, and goalie Kelly Hrudey, 24.
“It seems like there’s a new excitement and a new enthusiasm here,” LaFontaine said. “Last year we had a bad training camp and we were up and down all year. Hopefully we can get some consistency this year.”
Arbour has tried to work the new players into the lineup, placing them on lines with veterans.
Haanpaa plays on a line with LaFontaine and Bossy. Makela has been teamed with right wing Patrick Flatley and center Roger Kortko. Howson plays with Clark Gillies and center Brent Sutter.
“It’s a big thrill to come and play with guys like this,” Howson said. “I think some of the guys may be hungrier this season because they got a taste of losing and they didn’t like it. They were a little more serious in training camp.”
The season is less than a month old, but the Islanders are on a roll. They will take a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) into tonight’s game against the 1-8 Kings at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders handed the Quebec Nordiques their first loss of the season last week, snapping Quebec’s seven-game winning streak. The loss ended Quebec’s bid to tie the league record for most victories at the start of the season.
The Islanders played perhaps their best game of the season last Saturday in St. Louis in a 5-2 win over the Blues.
With all the changes, this is an uneasy time for veterans such as left wing Bob Bourne, 31, who has been sidelined with a rib injury.
“I think we started to rebuild last year. When we lost in the quarterfinals to the Flyers they decided to clean house and get rid of the veterans they weren’t happy with,” Bourne said. “Last season they vacillated between going with the old guys and going with the young guys. This year they have made a real commitment to youth.
“All I can think about is that I’m getting closer to the end (of my career) than I thought I was, but I still think I can help the team.”
Goalie Smith, 34, is another player who is at the crossroads. Hrudey has been playing well, and Smith has been erratic. However, Smith is scheduled to start tonight’s game.
“I don’t think I’ve played poorly,” Smith said. “I think our division is so tough that we can’t afford to go with one goalie. Nobody likes to get pulled out of the lineup, but Kelly has the team going well behind him. You can’t pull 20 guys off the ice, so you pull the goalie.”
Tonight’s game will be televised on Prime Ticket at 6 p.m. It will also be broadcast on KGIL (1260). . . . The Kings sent rookie defenseman Ken Hammond to their New Haven minor league team. . .