The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
Gordie Lane might end up being the most famous player in this series.
Although he’s probably barely known or even completely unknown to the later generations of Islanders fans, the rough and tumble defenseman was definitely a fan favorite in his time.
And to hear his old teammates talk, it sounds like he was damn near the most popular guy in the dressing room immediately after he arrived in a trade from Washington in 1979. In Greg Prato’s book Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders 1972-1984, Lane takes up a good chunk of the “Unheralded Heroes” chapter, and gets glowing praise from a lot of his more... uh, heralded? teammates.
Bryan Trottier told Prato, “without him, we don’t have half the success,” and that, “When he came to the team, he was one of those guys that knew his role and played it to the max. I’d get up in the morning and say, ‘Boy, am I glad I don’t have to play against that guy anymore.’” He also lovingly called Lane, “a menace.” Stan Fischler said the Islanders needed Lane because, “They didn’t have a guy who put fear into the other team because you never knew what crazy thing he would do.” The Maven also likened him to Sean Avery (insert requisite spit here) in that he could play, and also play on the edge.
Bob Bourne, Jiggs McDonald and former trainer Jim Pickard also called Lane one of the most unheralded Islanders, bringing not only a massive degree of toughness with him, but also being a fun teammate to play with when the pressure started getting ratcheted up.
Here he is in 1984, doing his thing against Penguins winger and unibrow enthusiast Wayne Babych.
Or this one from a year later (and, hey, on my birthday!) versus Canadiens and later Bruins goon Chris Nilan.
There are a bunch of videos of Lane on YouTube and they’re all fights and or brawls he was involved in. A lot of times, he seemed to do more absorbing than punching but he certainly wasn’t going to let his teammates be taken advantage of, nor would he go away quietly. Like Jiggs McDonald says in Dynasty, “You didn’t want to get in an area that was being controlled or patrolled by Gordie Lane.”
Lane came to the Islanders in a trade with the Capitals in December of 1979, for middle six center Mike Kaszycki (who might also be a good subject for this series). Those early Caps squads were god awful. He played three games for the 1975-76 Caps, a team that won a grand total of 11 games. Later, he wanted more playing time and got a trade instead. Coming from there to the Islanders just as they were on the cusp of a dynasty must have felt like a dream come true, even if it meant having to fight dudes on an almost nightly basis.
While Butch Goring gets called the “Final Piece of the Puzzle” and Ken Morrow is Mr. Miracle on Ice, Lane’s presence on the Islanders when they won their first Stanley Cup doesn’t sound like a coincidence. He played in all 21 games that spring, with one goal, two assists and 85 penalty minutes, an eye-popping number for a single player in the playoffs these days. He was a regular in every postseason during the dynasty, but missed the majority of the 1984 playoffs with an injury. According to his Wikipedia entry, “Lane’s presence was sorely missed in the Cup finals, as the Edmonton Oilers outskated the tired, battered, and undermanned Islanders.”
All told, Lane spent six seasons as an Islander, racking up 614 PIMs in that time. He played one final season in the AHL and retired in 1987. He founded a company that helped hockey players transition into business jobs, and is an advocate for the stuttering community, talking openly throughout his career about his stuttering and how speech therapy helped him in his life.
Gord Lane has faded a little from Islanders history but everyone that watched him or played with him will never forget him.