As the New York Islanders ended five days of R & R in Colorado last week, their 20-year-old rookie goal-scoring sensation was limping in pain. Mike Bossy had pulled a groin muscle during practice Friday morning in Colorado Springs. Even as he lay crumpled on the ice, though, Bossy received no sympathy from 21-year-old Bryan Trottier, the other half of the NHL's hottest scoring combination. Trottier skated over to Bossy and asked, "What'd you do, Mike, trip over the blue line?"
That may seem a cavalier way to treat a stricken buddy, but neither Trottier nor Bossy is about to let minor ailments seriously impair their harassment of rival goaltenders. The hobbled Bossy, whose 20 goals are tops in the NHL, wound up missing Saturday night's 7-2 Islander romp over the St. Louis Blues. But Trottier, the do-everything center who in his third season has emerged as the league's best, kept busy during Bossy's absence by scoring one goal and assisting on another to fatten his league-leading point total to 44 on 18 goals and 26 assists. Meanwhile, the left wing on the Trottier-Bossy line, rugged Clark Gillies, scored a goal and an assist against the Blues himself. And Bossy's stand-in, Jude Drouin, had a goal and two assists.
The Trio Grande, as Long Island addicts call the Trottier-Bossy-Gillies line, now has scored the staggering total of 48 goals in 25 games, 11 more than the NHL's next most productive lines—Montreal's Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt and Jacques Lemaire, and Colorado's Wilf Paiement, Paul Gardner and Gary Croteau.
Better still, the kids—Gillies, at 23, is the senior citizen—have kept the sputtering Islanders within four points of the first-place Philadelphia Flyers in the Patrick Division.
It is startling to see these prolific, and ridiculously young, scorers so quickly changing the look of the Islanders, who in their five-year history have relied on tight checking and strong goal-tending to grind out their victories. Oddly, as the offense has perked up, the Islanders have suddenly begun to commit defensive lapses of the worst kind.
They blew a 3-2 lead over Colorado and had to accept a 3-3 tie last Wednesday night when Goaltender Billy Smith inexplicably tried to score a goal himself into the open net at the other end of the ice, only to have Colorado Forward Paul Gardner intercept his shot and fire it into the suddenly unguarded New York net. But Coach Al Arbour shrugs off the occasional lapses. "I'm encouraged that we're scoring more goals than we ever have," Arbour says. "If we can get our defense back where it should be, we'll be in good shape."
To achieve the new offensive punch, Arbour broke up his old No. 1 line of Trottier, Gillies and Right Wing Billy Harris in training camp, inserting Bossy, a prolific goal scorer during his amateur career, in Harris' old spot.
Growing up in a family of 10 children on Montreal's north end. Bossy developed his shooting touch on the backyard rink that his dad flooded and froze every winter. He amassed 309 goals for Laval during his four seasons in the Quebec Junior League, just five under the junior career record set by Lafleur. But Bossy seldom bothered to check, a deficiency that prompted 14 NHL teams to ignore him in last June's amateur draft before the Islanders, choosing 15th, grabbed him. They had scouted Bossy thoroughly—in fact, one of their talent hunters, Henry Saraceno, had coached Bossy in the juveniles—and believed he had enough basic hockey sense to develop into a two-way player.
It would speak even more eloquently for the Islanders' scouting acumen if they had found out Bossy's correct first name. Though he is bilingual and recently married a French Canadian girl, Michael Bossy is part Ukrainian, part British. Quebec newspapers nevertheless always have called him Michel, and the Islanders drafted him under that name and refer to him that way in their press guide. The team brass somehow got the idea that the name was merely pronounced "Michael." Bossy has a somewhat passive personality, and it was only last week, on the team bus, that he finally clued in Hawley T. Chester III, the club's publicity man.
"It's spelled Michael, too," Bossy said. "That's M-I-C-H-A-E-L."