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E. M. Swift
January 22, 1979
The fastest draw in hockey belongs to New York's Mike Bossy, who already has 35 goals
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January 22, 1979

This Man Is An Islander Unto Himself

The fastest draw in hockey belongs to New York's Mike Bossy, who already has 35 goals

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"We weren't even tempted," says Torrey, the architect of the Islander franchise. "We think we can win with the personnel right here." The result has been added stability and an almost grim sense of purpose. "We're settled now," says Potvin. "This is a serious team. We're not necessarily worried about finishing in first place. That was our goal last year, and we accomplished it, but then we faced a team that worked its butt off in the playoffs. We weren't prepared to do that. This year we will be."

The myth of the muscle-less Islanders may have been put to rest after a game with the Flyers two weeks ago. His team was trailing 5-1 with 12 minutes to play when Philadelphia's Dave Hoyda, a player with no apparent hockey skills, went on a Kamikaze mission, running at Potvin, then bouncing off and taking dead aim at Bossy from somewhere near the tip of Long Island. He skated three-quarters the length of the ice and charged Bossy into the boards, rubbing his elbows into Bossy's face for added effect. Gillies decided that enough was enough and took matters—and Hoyda—into his own hands, beating him up.

Enough wasn't enough, however. Gillies skated directly to the penalty box as ordered, but Hoyda refused to go. While Hoyda occupied the attention of the two linesmen, Flyer Defenseman Behn Wilson, who is 6'3" and 200 pounds, zeroed in on the six-foot, 180-pound Bossy and started punching. This was Bossy's first fight in the NHL, and he did not acquit himself well. To the rescue came the mighty mite himself, 5'9", 163-pound Resch. "It's not like Boss is a 160-pound weakling or anything," says Resch, "but when I see 6'3" Behn Wilson start pummeling him with no provocation, that's too much. I was trying to break it up, so I grabbed him around the neck. I just can't sucker-punch a guy."

One thing led to another, and with Islander Wing Bob Nystrom leading the charge in defense of teammate Bossy, both benches emptied. The only thing remotely amusing about the whole unsavory brawl came when Resch found himself paired with Bernie Parent, the Flyers' goalie. Resch pointed to his hairpiece. "Bernie, if I take my helmet off, you won't pull my rug, will you?" Resch asked.

Torrey was clearly pleased with the moxie his team showed in standing up to the Flyers' thuggery. He wisely has tried to mold the Islanders after the Canadiens, one of whose trademarks is that if you want to play rough, they will play rough, too. "I like it when they run at us," Torrey says. "It gets the blood boiling in some of our guys, and they need that. We don't want to, but we can play rough with anybody."

Bossy had no illusions about going through his entire career without a fight, or, more accurately, an attack. And he came away from his fisticuffs with the Flyers relatively unruffled. "I knew it would come sometime," he said. "I may have the fastest hands for shooting, but not for boxing."

It is his shooting, however, that is winning games for the Islanders, who drafted him for just that reason. Despite his prolific scoring during his junior career in Quebec (he had 309 goals in 240 games in four seasons), 14 players were selected ahead of him in 1977—incredibly, five of them right wings—mainly because it was thought he was weak on defense. Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman, whose Canadiens passed up a chance to draft the Montreal-born Bossy, says, "There's no way he should have escaped us, especially when he was picked so low. You can't teach a kid—any kid—how to score goals, but you can teach him how to cover his wing on defense."

A Bossy-style scorer was the one element the Islanders lacked. "We thought we had a good enough defense that Bossy could help us by developing as a pure offensive player," Torrey says. Arbour promptly put Bossy on a line with Gillies, a good cornerman, and Trottier, who can do everything and may well be the most complete player in the NHL. The result has been the most productive and most feared line in hockey. "They're so good," says Bowman, "it's almost like they're toying with you."

There are three basic requirements for a goal scorer. He must get open. He must shoot quickly. And he must shoot accurately. Conspicuously absent is the ability to shoot hard. "Boss is not overpowering," says Arbour, a bespectacled defenseman during his 12 seasons in the NHL and an expert on the subject of not-overpowering shots, having scored only 12 goals in his career. "Boss'll get the odd goal from far out. but his main strength is that he's exceptionally quick and accurate. He's the quickest I've ever seen at getting a shot off."

Thus the legend of Bossy as "the fastest hands in the East," with its implication of pickpocket moves from the cradle on. But Bossy has a different notion. "That's a lot of bull," he says. "I get the shot away fast because it's something I've always tried to work on. It's something I was taught to do. People ask if I was surprised to score 53 goals my first year. Yes and no. I was surprised at the time, but after the season was over, and I looked back on it, I wasn't surprised at all, remembering all the chances I had. I usually have five or six shots a game, and if I don't score, it's my fault."

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