New York Islanders fans will get another chance to salute storied franchise figures Ed Westfall, Gary Howatt, Butch Goring, Pierre Turgeon and Shawn Bates as part of an April 4 "decades night" added to the promotional schedule for the final season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
This tribute night is in addition to previously announced promotional nights, including March 24 when Pat LaFontaine will return to the Coliseum.
On April 4 the Islanders face the Buffalo Sabres -- who themselves have on staff Bryan Trottier, the Islanders Hall of Famer who will be honored Friday, Jan. 16. The five players featured on April 4 are each fixtures in Islanders history, for a variety of reasons.
The Captain, '18,' Ed Westfall
Westfall was the Stanley Cup-winning veteran (from his Boston Bruins days) who led the Isles from day one. After being claimed in the expansion draft (something he learned from a customs agent at the airport), he became the Islanders' first captain, the mentor, and an uplifting presence -- all the way until his retirement just before the Islanders started winning Cups of their own.
This video of him narrating a shocking upset of his former team (and defending Cup champions) at Boston Garden gives a taste of what the team dealt with in its early years:
Fittingly, Westfall scored the lone goal in the Islanders' 1-0 Game 7 defeat of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the series where the Islanders became the first team in over 30 years to win a series after trailing 3-0:
After retiring, he became a beloved Isles broadcaster. This LHH roundup from his Islanders Hall of Fame induction in 2009 has plenty more resources and quotes from his heyday.
'Pound for Pound' Garry Howatt, 'Toy Tiger'
Another from the inaugural Islanders season, Garry Howatt could destroy people and score goals too. He stayed with the team through their first two Cup wins before going to the Whalers via trade.
While with the Isles, his lowest PIM total was 121, while he had seasons of 16, 18 and 21 goals too.
In fights, he was known for taking on all comers despite a frequent size mismatch. As he told the Daily News in an entertaining update about his move to Arizona to rope steers ("I don't get to run into people, but I love it"):
"They changed the ruling right after my first season," he explained. "I was having no problem with these tall guys because I was grabbing their hair and pulling it down. So then we couldn't grab hair. I thought we were in a fight. I didn't know there were stupid rules. I was trying to win. After giving up a few inches in height and reach, it was pretty tough."
Speaking of hair, his fight with the much bigger and legendary Dave Schultz is a YouTube favorite, not so much for the bloodying of Schultz as for the announcers' awe at the David vs. Goliath victory by the guy known as "pound for pound" the toughest fighter of the day:
As quoted by the Hockey Hall of Fame site, he later regretted his departure from the Isles:
"I'm not happy with what I accomplished in the NHL," he recounted, "because I felt that I could have played at least another three years? I should have listened to my wife. She was the one who said we shouldn't leave the Island when I did. And then she said we shouldn't leave Hartford when I did. So if I would have listened to her the first time, then who knows, I might have been with the Islanders, coaching or whatever. But it worked out for the best, and now -- my wife thinks she's the boss!"
Butch Goring, 'The Final Piece'
The Islanders' original #91, Goring surely needs no introduction even to younger fans since he has been a fixture of the team's broadcasts for several seasons.
His story is a familiar one: In retrospect one of the best trade deadline deals in NHL history, his acquisition in 1980 allowed the Islanders the 1-2 center threat -- and resulting center depth -- that Bill Torrey and Al Arbour believed would get them over the hump in the playoffs.
Goring rewarded that belief and then some, playing some of the best hockey of his career -- which was previously outstanding but overlooked out in California -- as a core part of all four Stanley Cup wins, including a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981.
Always a clean player, he's also known for his infamous road "wardrobe," his one-of-a-kind helmet, his adventurous pronunciation of names as the Islanders color man on MSG, and for briefly coaching the Islanders during the darkest Milbury years after leading their IHL affiliate to championships in Denver and Utah.
Here's a great vintage feature on Goring with him in a swimming pool and rocking an awesome Izod polo:
Pierre Turgeon, 'Sneaky Pete'
Turgeon registered the third-highest single-season point total in team history, and he did it on a team where the second-highest scorer was 45 points behind him.
It's almost mind-boggling to ponder the early '90s today, after the rules have tightened up but the defensive structures have remained from the low-scoring mid-'90s. But Turgeon's 132 points in 1992-93 was a thing to behold, while Steve Thomas was next with 87 points -- a great total by today's standard.
That was the year the Islanders entertained and upset their way past the two-time Cup champion Penguins before a series of overtimes, Patrick Roy saves and officiating moves we're not going to talk about stopped the Isles' run in the conference finals.
In case you need the reminder, that was the last time the Islanders won a playoff series, and they had to win the second series without Turgeon, who was assaulted by Dale Hunter after Turgeon put the Capitals away thanks to a Hunter turnover.
But I'll never forget Turgeon's smile, his powerful stride and spins behind the net, his distinctive crouch as he bore toward the net, and the fact for a few seasons in the early '90s the Isles still had a superstar #1 center.
Here's a regular season penalty shot -- one that tied the game with just seconds to go -- that captures the memory perfectly: Seeing #77 streaking down the ice, blade on the puck and eyes peeled at where he'd go next:
Shawn Bates: The Penalty Shot
Bates is the player who stands out on this list in that he wasn't a great player or a longtime fan favorite like Howatt, and his memorable highlight came in a playoff series the Islanders ultimately lost.
But he was a speedy forward and penalty killer, and his infamous moment came during the 2001-02 season, the season of 9/11 and the first time the Isles rose from the ashes of their '90s ownership hell. This moment taught a new generation of fans -- and anyone watching on TV across North America -- what the Coliseum sounds like when the fans were blowing the roof off.
This was a violent series, marked by cheap shots from the Leafs that cost the Isles two of their most important players, so the ending in seven games has never felt just.
But Bates' moment is one no one who witnessed it can ever forget. Add to it that this was an era when penalty shots were rarely called in the regular season, much less the playoffs -- yet this one was called with 2:30 to go in regulation of a tie game -- and the pinch-me intensity of the situation was amazing. (Seriously, for this post I just watched it again now and got goosebumps all over again, on probably my 100th all-time viewing).
Aside: The Howie Rose version used above is of course preferred, but a bonus from the ESPN footage of this moment is the shot of Garth Snow's legendary shoulder pads at 1:07 of this clip.
Cheers to every one of these storied former Islanders. Can't wait till they get another turn in the spotlight on April 4.