The late 1990’s aren’t a time that’s fondly remembered by Islanders fans, for good reason. The team lost (a lot) more than they won, and the playoffs were often a pipe dream. They also wore new uniforms that were... not well received by customers.
But anyone that saw Bryan Berard play during that time knew the Islanders had a unique, exciting weapon on their hands. The swift-skating defenseman could legitimately bring fans out of their seats during a season that saw an ownership change, a coaching change and a ton of losses.
All GM Mike Milbury and coach Rick Bowness needed to do was foster that talent, surround him with complementary teammates and profit. Spoiler Alert: They didn’t.
The story of how Berard became available for trade from the Ottawa Senators, then came to the Islanders in a low-key coup, are details that have been a little lost to time. His winning the Calder over Jarome Iginla - who even Berard thought would win the award that night in Toronto - isn’t quite the upset that the years have made it seem. And that new owner that had purchased the Islanders that season... let’s just say he wasn’t what he seemed to be, either.
So there’s a lot going on in this one. It was a fun era to revisit, even though I painfully lived through it. It’s also nice to have an actual acceptance speech to throw into the podcast.
The feeling of disappointment as a fan still hasn’t fully gone away, especially when you remember that the Islanders did have at least a few players that could have, with the right leadership, been the core of a successful team. But for now, let’s just take a look back at one of the best individual Islander seasons in a long time.
Here are some extra pictures and stories from the time:
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, The Associated Press, and the books Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders by Stan Fischler and Chris Botta, and Relentless: My Life in Hockey and the Power of Perseverance by Bryan Berard and Jim Lang. You can buy the book in either hard cover or Kindle editions from Amazon.
The following video clips were also used in the podcast:
Berard’s speech at the 1997 NHL Awards happens around the 35:00 mark
On the next episode of Islanders Award Winners: Mike Bossy was more than just a goal-scorer. He also showed hockey fans what being tough truly means, and was awarded three times for his commitment to sportsmanship.