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.
The pre-dynasty Islanders might be the most fascinating era in team history. Many of the heroes of that growing team would be overshadowed by the Cup-winning heroes that came around later (and then forgotten in favor of heroes from the less successful teams of recent memory).
J.P. Parise is fully enshrined as an Islander legend thanks to his series-winning goal 11 seconds into overtime against the Rangers in 1975. But his linemate Jude Drouin not only laid a perfect pinpoint pass on Parise’s stick, but also provided the young Islanders with a steadying veteran presence that helped them lock down their first playoff berth and go on a Cinderella run that spring.
The two became a matching pair as soon as they arrived on Long Island. Parise was in his early 30’s and Drouin was 26. Both had been in the league for a number of years and been important players for the North Stars but had become trade bait for GM Jack Gordon. Drouin and Parise were acquired from the same team in the same week but in two separate deals. Parise came to the Islanders from Minnesota on January 5, 1975 in a deal for forwards Doug Rombough and Ernie Hicke. Two days later, the North Stars sent center Drouin to to the Islanders for forward Craig Cameron.
Both would be placed on a line with Islanders captain Ed Westfall, who shared some of their qualities as well. All three had also played for a bunch of different teams before even getting to the Islanders (Drouin for the Habs, Parise for the Bruins and Leafs, Westfall for the Bruins). Most importantly, all had been to the playoffs before and brought some experience to an Islanders team that, for the most part, had no idea what they were doing in the post-season.
“I think only Eddie (Westfall), Jude and I had been in overtime before, which is probably why Al put our line out to start the period,” Parise is quoted as saying in The New York Islanders: Countdown to a Dynasty by Barry Wilner. “We hadn’t done a damn thing in the third period either, but it made sense to go with us.”
Westfall, Drouin and Parise were the team’s oldest line. But they attacked the Rangers zone in the opening shift. Westfall pressure a Rangers defender behind the net, the puck came around to Drouin, who fired it across the zone to Parise who was almost all by himself.
According to Parise, that pass was everything.
“Jude made the whole play. All I had to do was touch the puck because [Rangers goalie Eddie] Giacomin was on the other side of the net. As soon as I scored, I fell on the ice because [Brad] Park hit me. I was a little dizzy. Then I looked up at the clock and said, ‘Is it really over so soon?’”
That pass - and that goal - was part of a transformation that began when the trades went down. Islanders players were excited at the time that the two veterans were coming in to balance out the lineup. Drouin, though, well... he wasn’t all that excited.
“I had been with the North Stars for seven and a half years. My first reaction when Jack Gordon told me was, ‘Don’t send me to New York. I’m not over-enthused for New York.’ I guess I had a bad attitude about coming to the Islanders and I didn’t know what to expect. The Islanders were just coming into contention for the playoffs. Jack said, ‘Why don’t you talk to Mr. Torrey.’ Bill said he’d really like for me to be there tomorrow. But I said you just don’t move like that. He talked about how they had a very important week coming up and I could do a lot of good for them.
“I remember he promised that ‘at the end of the week, we’ll send you back to Minnesota to straighten up stuff.’ He sold me and I felt very good to get such a great welcome. Al told me I had a lot of experience and he would use me a lot. He made me feel important right away. And the players were great. They let me step right in.”
Drouin also helped his new teammates to understand just how good they could be. The ‘75 playoffs ended up being just the tip of the iceberg. The Islanders made the Stanley Cup semifinals in each of his first three seasons with them and became one of the best young teams in the NHL, thanks in large part to the “old” guys in the lineup. Drouin scored 21 and 24 goals in the next two seasons, respectively, before an injury derailed his 77-78 season.
It’s a shame that Drouin, like Parise, wouldn’t be on the Islanders when they finally broke through to the Stanley Cup. After 250 games over four years, 64 goals and 105 assists, Drouin left Long Island for Winnipeg as a free agent in 1979.
Those numbers don’t really illustrate just how important Jude Drouin was to the nascent Islanders. The trade, the pass, the presence. They all helped the franchise climb the mountain.