(Ed. note: The following was submitted to us via email and we'll let the author introduce himself below. We thank him for his submission, which should resonate with a good deal of our readership. Enjoy!)
Some of you who go back to the beginning of Islanders history might vaguely remember my name. I'm Harry Klaff, and I was the original Isles correspondent for The Hockey News starting at the very beginning in 1972. I later programmed the Nassau Coliseum scoreboard for over 25 years.
I was there with them during their improbable playoff run of 1974-75, which started with Jean-Paul Parisé's 11 second overtime victory over the Rangers, and the three games to none comeback against the Penguins. They almost did it again in the semi-finals, dropping the first three to Philadelphia, tied it up, and then lost to singer Kate Smith (who has appeared negatively in the news lately) and the Flyers.
For newer (read younger) fans, the Flyers never seemed to lose at home in those days when they played Smith's recording of "God Bless America." They even brought her to the Spectrum on occasion to appear in person before "big" games. Game 7 against the Islanders was one of them. Older Isles fans will remember captain Ed Westfall skating over to her with a bouquet of flowers, perhaps to counteract the force.
That year was just the beginning of the Islanders long period of dominance and dynasty. Improvement continued until they achieved their ultimate prize. Four times.
There are many similarities between this season and what took place in 1974-75. Here are a few of them.
1. New coach/new program. Al Arbour was in his second year at the Isles' helm in '74-'75, but that's new enough. Arbour brought a different emphasis to the team—defense and goaltending, which is exactly what Barry Trotz has brought to the table. Billy Smith and relative newcomer Chico Resch (who replaced Gerry Desjardins) split the goaltending that year, and were every bit as dominant as Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.
Everyone is making a big deal that Trotz knocked off 100 goals against from the year before. Guess what? Radar Al did the same. The Isles gave up 347 goals in their first season under Phil Goyette and Earl Ingarfield. Arbour brought it down to 247 in '73-'74.
The following year, when they shocked everyone by making the playoffs for the first time, they lowered the GA again to 221 goals. That happened to be the third best in the NHL.
2. Lack of respect from the media and the rest of the league. These were the Islanders. No one gave them a chance in '74-'75. Even when they finished with the exact same number of points as the Rangers, virtually no one felt they could knock off the Broadway Blues in the first round. Of course history and Parisé proved otherwise.
About 2/3 of the media picked the Penguins over the Isles this year, despite the fact that the Islanders finished the regular season with 103 points compared to Pittsburgh's 100. Again history proved these "experts" wrong again.
Of course in both years, the Islanders players never believed any of this hype and had tremendous confidence in themselves. When Parisé and Jude Drouin came over in two separate trades with the Minnesota North Stars in January, 1975, they emphasized to their new teammates that they had no idea how good they were. Today, Lehner has no qualms about telling the world what a force the Islanders are.
3. A "pest" line. The success of the Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin is well known. But the Isles of '74-'75 had a similar line that also hit anything that moved. They even had some pretty familiar names: Garry Howatt, André St. Laurent, and Bob Nystrom.
Of course being a "pest" in those days involved a little more—like fighting—almost every night. And those three got into more than their share of scraps. But they could score as well (remember, the NHL was a little more offensive back then). St. Laurent finished with 14 goals, Howatt with 18, and Nystrom with 27.
Hopefully this post-season will play out even better than the '74-'75 run. Kate Smith isn't around anymore. Not even in Philadelphia.
UPDATE: Harry gave us a little more about his time with the Islanders during that first playoff run.
I did the in-game programming--penalty descriptions, out of town scores, stats, etc. A big thank you should go to George Ogle, who was the full-time operator. I told him which file number to put up, and he's the one who pressed the button. He was unceremoniously let go by SMG during the first players' strike and now lives in Atlanta. Talk about a raw deal, but we're still in touch. I'm also still in touch regularly with [organist] Paul Cartier.
One last quick story for you. At the Parise game, the daily beat reporters (Daily News, Post, Newsday) were in a modified pressbox just above ice level in one of the corners. The rest of us (the smaller, local papers) were in the corner of the press box just below the blue seats at the Garden. There's an adage that states, "no cheering in the press box." Forget it. When Parise scored, all the people covering the Islanders absolutely went nuts.
There's a picture on the cover of an Islanders press guide, probably 1975-76, that shows the late, great Sid Payne of the old Long Island Press congratulating Arbour in the background. Another no-no!