May 23, 1983
On Nov. 28, 1979, New York Islanders goalie Billy Smith became the first netminder in NHL history to score a goal. That feat, since duplicated five times, is most noteworthy now as one thing Smith is known for that is neither accumulating penalty minutes nor winning in the clutch.
For almost two decades Battlin' Billy treated opponents like no goalie before him. The crease was his, and woe to the forward who made the mistake of gliding through it—or of even getting too close. Smith was notorious for viciously using his stick on rival skaters, especially jabbing opponents with the butt end. Because of his ferocious play, the NHL mandated in 1982 that goalies had to tape that end of their sticks, and in '86 the league began expanding the crease. "When I played we didn't have the big crease, and a lot of goalies were getting run," Smith says. "Players knew if they went in the crease, interference wouldn't be called."
Smith's intimidating methods helped make him one of the best postseason goaltenders of all time. With Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier, he led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup championships, from 1980 to '83. In '83 he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP after he stymied Wayne Gretzky—whom he called a "crybaby"—and the rest of the high-scoring Edmonton Oilers in a four-game finals sweep. His 88 playoff wins and 489 penalty minutes for a goaltender ranked first in NHL history when he retired in '89. Although he was elected to the Hall of Fame in '93, the unsentimental Smith says, "I really don't look back on my career much. What I did, I did."
Today Smith, 48, is in his first season as assistant head coach of the Florida Panthers, for whom he'd been the goaltending coach since the Panthers' first practice in 1993. As a player Smith made no secret of his dislike for practice, occasionally firing a puck at teammates who shot too high on him. Does he find it ironic he's now responsible for running practice? "To get better, of course you have to practice," he says. "I didn't like practice then because of a lot of the drills. I really didn't care for the one where guys teed it up from the slot."
The man once vilified in the Edmonton papers as Public Enemy No. 1, Samurai Billy and Jack the Ripper now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., with his wife of 25 years, Debbie, the mother of his two adult sons. "There are other goalies who play aggressively," says Smith of today's netminders. "Maybe not as much as I did. I did what I had to do to win, and I was pretty good under pressure."