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Quick Indirect Praise of Al Arbour and the 1980-84 Islanders

A glorious and exhausting career.
A glorious and exhausting career.

...he seems spent. He said the summer has been overwhelming.

"Winning the Stanley Cup takes more emotional, physical and mental energy than I would have ever believed," Thomas said. "I mean, I’ve been tired after seasons before, but after this run, it’s a hard recovery."

>>Nicholas Cotsonika's profile of Tim Thomas at Yahoo Sports

I can't confirm but suppose it's fair to suggest the "Stanley Cup hangover" for today's athlete is worse than it was for those in the 1980s: The competitive teams are closer to one another, you get a lot more media exposure and community demands upon your time during the summer after the win, and of course the Cup is won in mid-June now rather than late May.

That said, every time I think I can't stand in any deeper awe of Al Arbour's Islanders winning an NHL record 19 playoff series in a row from 1980 to 1984, someone else testifies to the fatigue that comes with the mere down time after winning the Cup.

Those Islanders played not just 19 victorious playoff series (finally falling in the 20th, relinquishing the crown to the young Oilers), their best players also played in the 1981 Canada Cup mid-dynasty and the 1984 Canada Cup right after the dynasty ended. It boggles the mind how those players pulled it off, and how Arbour kept them focused through all the things that can go wrong in four-plus years, all the setbacks that can tempt the body in the moment to say, "You know what, I've got a couple of rings already. I'm gonna take a breather here."

From Ken Morrow's knee injuries to Mike Bossy's back to all the aches, pains and surgeries in between, that squad certainly paid the proverbial price (perhaps a reason why so many were on fumes just a few years later?).

It's no wonder Wayne Gretzky famously testified to walking by the Islanders locker room after their 1983 Cup win and seeing not sheer elation, but a bunch of battered men in ice packs:

They expected to hear hollers and shouts of celebration. Instead, the veteran team was in repair mode. "Guys were limping around with black eyes and bloody mouths," remembers Gretzky in his autobiography. "It looked more like a morgue in there than a champion's locker room. And here we were, perfectly fine and healthy.


"And that's when Kevin [Lowe] said something I will never forget. He said: 'That's how you win championships.'"

We try not to dwell on the past too much here -- don't want to be that Isles fan who doesn't stop yammering about the dynasty days.

But holy cow sometimes that achievement just demands revisiting, to marvel all over again. When Tim Thomas talks about the physical and mental drain of winning one Stanley Cup, I can't help looking back in awe: Now imagine winning four.

It's exhausting to even contemplate. It's also really, really cool.