Mike Bossy was more than just a pure goal scorer. He was a complete player with some of the most off-the-charts offensive skills and instincts ever seen in NHL history.
He was also a lifelong advocate against the rampant, senseless violence in hockey that marked the era in which he played. Even as a phenom in junior hockey, Bossy was an outspoken opponent of the goons, thugs and hooligans that constantly bruised, battered and intimidated the more talented players on the ice. Becoming an instant NHL star didn’t squelch his drive to open up the game for skilled players, even in the face of ever-increasing retribution and, in a few particularly scary episodes, actual threats on his life.
Bossy won three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player, and probably could have had even more. A few years after he retired, the Islanders had another star with stance against on-ice violence that also started when he was a young player and rankled many of his contemporaries. Pierre Turgeon would take home his lone Lady Byng in the same season in which he was the victim of one of the most brutal cheap shots in league history.
We’ll also look at some other Islanders that got Lady Byng consideration, as well as the history of the award and the very special lady that was its namesake.
When I first planned this episode, I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough material. It’s not like game stories or box scores report on how gentlemanly a player was in a given game. But after reading Bossy’s memoir, Boss: The Mike Bossy Story, I wasn’t worried any more. He dedicates a lot of the book to his battle against goons and cheap shot artists, including his plans for eliminating those aspects of the sport entirely.
Bossy wasn’t necessarily anti-fighting; he just wanted the punishments to be increased so that players would think twice before starting a ruckus. It was the stick swinging, cross checks, hacks, whacks and slashes that he felt damaged the NHL’s best players and robbed the sport of a higher profile among fans.
Much has changed since that era, but is it enough? I’m not sure. We’ll have to ask Mathew Barzal.
I also didn’t realize how clean Turgeon was during his career. And I very nearly forgot to include an important moment in his hockey life; the notorious Punch-Up in Piešťany, an ugly international incident that tainted his career for years.
The story of Lady Byng herself turned out to be pretty fascinating, too. Socialite, stateswoman, traveller, writer, humanitarian, war volunteer and hockey fan. Suck on all that, Georges Vezina.
Here are some extra pictures and stories from the time:
And a few pictures from April 28, 1993, aka The Day Dale Hunter Shook the Island. All are by the great Bruce Bennett (of course).
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 Wikipedia, MacLeans.ca, Bleacher Report, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca, archival material from Newsday, The New York Times and 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.
Mike Bossy’s autobiography Boss: The Mike Bossy Story, co-written by Barry Meisel, was used heavily as well. Although it’s been out of print for a while, it is available from Amazon.
The following video clips were also used in the podcast:
On the next episode of Islanders Award Winners: In the final episode of our first season, we revisit a work-in-progress Denis Potvin and review the sometimes bumpy road to his first Norris Trophy.