Before 1982, the Vezina Trophy was a team award, going to the NHL goaltending tandem that gave up the least goals against during the season. When the criteria was changed to voting by the league’s general managers, the first winner was 31-year-old Billy Smith, who finally reached the pinnacle of his career after a decade in the league.
A year later, Smith and his creasemate, 22-year-old Rollie “The Goalie” Melanson, turned in a masterful duet, consistently bailing the three-time champs out of trouble during a tumultuous season to take home the Islanders’ first Jennings Trophy.
Regardless of who was hot and who was cold, Smith and Melanson each gave the Islanders a goalie they could rely on. While the defending Stanley Cup champs battled fatigue, injuries, complacency, and challenges from all comers, the two goalies emerged as the team’s true strength. And when it became clear they had a shot to reward their goalies with the Jennings late in the season, the trophy gave their teammates the motivation they needed to finish strong and defend the Cup again.
Despite their age difference, Smith and Melanson shared similar qualities of a fiery combativeness and a bitter hatred of losing (not to mention each being a good quote). They supported and celebrated each other as the season went on, knowing everyone was counting on them.
But when it got to playoff time, one of them took the puck and ran with it... which we’ll cover in the follow-up episode next week.
Here are some extra pictures and stories from the time:
Research and other assistance was provided by Kevin Schultz. Visit 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 ANXIETY20 to get 20 percent off an order of two items. Our portion of the sales go directly to the Center for Dementia Research.
This episode of Islanders Award Winners was written using archival material from Newsday, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, “Maven’s Memories: Rollie Melanson, The Forgotten Hero” from newyorkislanders.com and the books New York Islanders: Countdown to A Dynasty by Barry Wilner, Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders 1972-1984 by Greg Prato and Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders by Stan Fischler and Chris Botta.
The following video clips were also used in the podcast:
NOT used in the podcast but just for fun:
On the next Islanders Award Winners: After a rocky regular season, the “real” Islanders showed up in the 1983 playoffs, led by the man they called “The Money Goalie.”