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Weird Islanders: The Podcast! - Episode 35 - Alexander Semak (with guest Greg Wyshynski)

Listen, I had no [redacted] idea this guy was an Islander (plus a bonus Devil that no one remembers was an Islander, either).

Mike and Dan kick off another season celebrating short-time Isles with ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski discussing Alexander Semak, a notable Devil and forgotten Islander.

From his inclusion as part of the Devils’ wave of Russian imports to his career high 37-goal season, Semak was an important player in that team’s evolution from pretty good to Cup contender. But he was traded to Tampa Bay just before New Jersey won its first championship, then was traded again to a fisherman-clad Islanders team in abject disarray and going nowhere. Despite a GM firing, a skeptical, temperamental coach and a woefully deficient lineup that piled up losses, Semak somehow had a decent season of 20 goals. Then just as quickly as he arrived, he was gone, with a snarky soundbite from his coach an another (bonus) ex-Devil in his place.

Greg tells us how Semak helped the Devils during a formative time, and how fans lost track of him as they tasted Cup glory without him. The three then dissect Semak’s lone Islanders season including his varied linemates, some of his more notable goals and the dreadful campaign the franchise experienced.

Along the way, they cover the evolution of Lou Lamoriello, White Castles of New Jersey, the sick joys of dangerous arena parking and, somehow, Jean-Claude Van Damme. It’s a headfirst dive into a brand new season of Weird Islanders so let’s get deep.

Thanks again to Greg for coming on and giving us a ton of his time. You know where to find him.


  • Getting Russian players to the NHL wasn’t easy in the late 80’s. After Alexander Mogilny’s defection in 1989, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello wondered if the Sabres’ bold move had, “hurt whatever headway he has made over the past 18 months in negotiating with the Soviets.” Guess it didn’t.
  • When he did finally come over, Semak and the rest of the “United Nations of the NHL” established themselves as a consistent winner (getting Scott Stevens and some updated uniforms didn’t hurt, either).
  • After clashing with Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, Semak was traded to Tampa Bay just before New Jersey won the 1995 Stanley Cup. He then was acquired by the Islanders for a fifth round pick just before training camp. Fun Fact: GM Don Maloney also had his eye on another Russian center at the time, Senators star Alexei Yashin.
  • Semak’s one season with the Islanders was a quality one from a scoring perspective. Funny how a normal power play goal was so rare for them back then.
  • This game against the Sharks included goals from Semak, Craig Janney and Wendel Clark, all of whom have been featured on this podcast. A Weird Islanders bonanza!
  • That Brett Lindros-Alex Semak connection never really had time to cook. Oh what could have been.
  • His penultimate goal as an Islander helped seal a win in Winnipeg.
  • Semak scored 20 goals for a dreadful Islanders team having a chaotic season. By the start of the 1996-97 season, Mike Milbury was now the GM and he left Semak off the preseason protected list, exposing him in the Waiver Draft where he was claimed by Vancouver. Why leave him off the list? ‘’Because he was driving everyone nuts,’’ Milbury said. ‘’He doesn’t distribute the puck. He plays his own game on his own time.’’ Also, he was expensive. Ah Mike, you rascal.
  • After only 18 games as a Canuck, Semak found success in the IHL, winning a Turner Cup championship and playoff MVP trophy with the Chicago Wolves in 1998. He played for the Devils’ AHL team the next season. After that, he left North America for Germany and then his home country, where he played a few more years before going into management in both the men’s and women’s hockey.

What makes a “Weird Islander?”

We’re always open to suggestions about other Weird Islanders to discuss. Remember the criteria. Candidates must fulfill one of the two of the following:

  • Played one (1) season or less for the Islanders or very short stints over multiple seasons.
  • Be a veteran NHLer who is not generally associated with his time on Islanders.

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Theme song: “Knuckles” by Björn Falk. Hear more of his music on Spotify and at Bandcamp.

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