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.
Here’s my Bob Beers story: I met the former NHL defenseman in the bowels of the then-Fleet Center (now TD Garden) after a Bruins-Islanders game in December of 1997. Beers, who had just started working for the Bruins’ radio affiliate that season, chatted with Stan Fischler and I for a few minutes about the Islanders, who won the game 4-3 on Todd Bertuzzi’s power play goal in the third. After a pleasant talk, I had to go, so we exchanged a couple of “Nice to meet you. Take care”s and went our separate ways. That’s it.
Hey, I didn’t say it was a “good” Bob Beers story...
Beers still works as a Bruins analyst for 98.5 The Sports Hub radio in Boston. He’s kept that job for 20 years thanks to his eight years of experience in the NHL, eight years of experience in the AHL and IHL, three trips to the World Championships with Team USA, and his natural ability to tell stories much better than the one I told to start this post.
Here’s a story from If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Boston Bruins Ice, Locker Room and Press Box by Dale Arnold with Matt Kalman that is relevant to our interests. Taken by Boston in 10th round of the 1985 draft (man, those old drafts were loooooong), Beers went from the University of Maine to the Maine Mariners of the AHL. When he first was called up to the Bruins, their coach was Mike Milbury, their lineup had All Stars like Cam Neely and Ray Bourque and they were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. After trades to Tampa Bay (more about them later) and Edmonton, Beers signed with the Islanders as a free agent in 1994 and his coach was, once again, Mike Milbury.
But the circumstances were very, very different.
“We had a very poor showing one night, and he had us at practice the next morning at 8:00 am. He wouldn’t let the Zamboni driver redo the ice, and we weren’t allowed to wear jerseys because he said we didn’t deserve to wear the Islanders emblem. We practiced with no pucks, and bad ice, for an hour-plus. Then we went in and did video, and that was a complete rip session. Then we did weight circuit for after that, then we went back out onto the ice. Pat Flatley was our captain, and he gathered up our jerseys and just told Mike, ‘We’re wearing our jerseys.’ Then we did another hour or so of one-on-one, two-on-two battle drills. And then after practice, he sent me and Tommy Salo down to the minors.
“I wish he had done that before the practice,” Beers recalled with a laugh.
Beers wasn’t with the Islanders long, but probably longer than you think. He played 33 games for them over the course of two seasons and was mainly used as a 5th/6th defenseman. His Islander career got off to an absolutely horrific start when he took a puck to the face during his first training camp, causing multiple fractures and bleeding in his eye. He missed about half the season, and didn’t get into the lineup until the end of February. In his second season, he played 65 games for the Utah Grizzlies of the IHL under coach Butch Goring and only 12 for the big club. The Islanders were pretty lousy in both seasons, with or without Beers in the lineup.
He wasn’t known as a fighter, exactly, but he still found time to mix it up while he was here. This is a preseason fight from 1995 against Rangers’ Jeff Beukeboom. Oh man, Alexander Semak...
Beers scored a grand total of two goals and 12 assists for the Islanders across those two years, which is a far cry from what he did as a member of the Lightning. Traded to Tampa by the Bruins in October of 1992 for defenseman Stephane Richer (no, not that Stephane Richer. The other one), Beers exploded offensively, scoring 12 goals and 24 assists for the inaugural expansion team.
Here’s the second of two goals he scored against the Islanders in a game with the Lightning early in that first season. Some A-plus penalty killing in this clip.
His hot streak continued into the next season. But 16 games in, he was traded to the Oilers for well-traveled defenseman Chris Joseph (not Curtis Joseph). Beers finished the 1993-94 season with a 11 goals and a career-high 43 points.
He then signed with the Islanders and his wild goal-scoring ride was over. After his two seasons in blue and orange, Beers followed his heart back to New England and the Bruins in 1996. He played another season for them, then retired to join the broadcast booth (although he still played parts of the next two seasons for the Providence Bruins, which is kinda crazy when you think about it).
Beers may have had his best seasons with the Lightning and Oilers, and will forever be a Bruin. But it was fun having him and his awesome hockey name on the Islanders for a little while.