By 1981, 29-year-old Billy Smith had already had a very full career. Acquired from Los Angeles in the 1972 expansion draft, Smith had a front row seat for the Islanders rise from hapless and hopeless to back-to-back Stanley Cups. The one thing he was missing was a Vezina Trophy and the league-wide respect and peer recognition that would come along with it.
From his short, contentious training camp with Team Canada, to co-backstopping the Islanders to a then-NHL record 15-game winning streak, to finishing the playoffs with back-to-back sweeps, 1981-82 was the season in which Smith grabbed headlines for both his play and his personality.
He called out his teammates for playing bad defense, injured the league’s biggest young star, started an employment agency, caused more than a few gray hairs and fought literally anyone that got in his way. He also won, won and won some more, making huge saves in some of the biggest games in Islanders history. And in the end, he was justly rewarded for being the best goalie in the NHL that season.
Personally, this might have been my favorite episode to write and record this season. Smith was absolutely one-of-a-kind in both the best and worst ways. Aside from the 15-game win streak and their third Stanley Cup, a lot of the details about this season don’t seem to have been explored all that deeply, especially when it came to Bill Smith. But what a season he had, one that finally put to rest any question of his ability as a goalie. Good thing he didn’t kill Mike Bossy at that Canada Cup camp...
Here are some extra pictures and stories from the time.
Newsday, Aug 23, 1981.
Newsday, Oct. 28, 1981, by Pat Calabria.
Newsday, March 16, 1982, by Pat Calabria.
Newsday, April 30, 1982, by Helene Elliott.
Research and other assistance was provided by Kevin Schultz. Kevin runs the site LIHockeyHistory.com, its Twitter account @LIHockeyHistory and the new store VintageIceHockey.com, where you can buy t-shirts, hoodies and mugs featuring the logos over over 100 classic hockey teams from all across North America, as well as our own Al Arbour tribute shirt. Use the code LIGHTHOUSE15 to get 15 percent off your order. Our portion of the sales of the Arbour shirt or any sales made using the code will be donated to the Center for Dementia Research.
This episode of Islanders Award Winners was written using archival material from Newsday, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and the books New York Islanders: Countdown to A Dynasty by Barry Wilner, Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders by Stan Fischler and Chris Botta and Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders 1972-1984 by Greg Prato.
The following video clips were also used in the podcast:
On the next episode of Islanders Award Winners: An electric defenseman arrives in a headline-grabbing trade and wins the Calder Trophy, giving Islanders fans hope in a time of chaos.