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If Bossy has an innate ability to put the puck in the nets, his sense of direction is acquired. "In junior I pretty much carried the puck all the time except for one year when I played with a center named Jean Trottier," he says. "But when I came to the Islanders, Bryan had the puck most of the time, or Clarkie was digging for it in the corners, so I had to find a way to get into position to take a pass if I wanted it. If I stand in one place, the other team will hook, hold and clutch me, but by moving around the way I do, all they can do is whack at me, and that won't stop me. It's hard work, it's tiring and it's bruising, but I want to be in position where I can get the puck and shoot it."
And when he does, the red light goes on. "Mike may not even realize it," says Esposito, "but he's absolutely relentless in his pursuit of a goal." Sorry Phil, but Bossy does realize it. "Scoring goals is the thing I love most about hockey," he says. "When I score a goal, the feeling I get is something I'd wish on people." Bossy's psyche almost demands that he score. That's why his eyes can betray his lips on nights his team wins 9-3 but he comes up empty.
"People may think I'm not allowed to get angry in that kind of a situation, but that's a bunch of baloney," Bossy says. "When I don't score, it's almost never the goalie who stops me. I stop myself. So why shouldn't I be mad? That has nothing to do with the team; it doesn't take away my feeling for a victory. But maybe one of the reasons I do score so much is because I put so much pressure on myself every game, and getting angry when I don't is just part of that."
At the same time, Bossy becomes snappish if he's overlooked, or criticized because he hasn't scored. "It's always been that if Mike Bossy didn't score, then he had a bad game," he says. "That's not right." Bossy wants to be recognized as an all-round player: for his excellent playmaking ability (last Tuesday night he failed to score a goal in the Islanders' 6-3 win over Toronto but nevertheless set a club record by assisting on all six goals) and his improved checking and defense as well as his goal-scoring. It bothers him that he has never been a first-team All-Star in the NHL, not even in 1978-79 when he had those 69 goals; La-fleur has been the All-Star right wing the last six seasons. Bossy believes he has the ability to dominate a game for shift after shift after shift, like Lafleur, but is convinced that the Islanders' defensive style restricts him. He also believes that too many people consider him to be just a lucky stiff, that anyone could score 50 or 60 goals playing alongside Trottier, with whom Artoo Detoo could probably score 25. Esposito played with Bobby Orr for eight seasons and many of his goals came on passes from Orr or deflections of Orr shots, and he heard the same criticisms as Bossy. "People say Michael can only score goals, and that's not true," Esposito says. "But even if it were true, that's still what this game is about. If he gets three and they get two, who wins?"
Resch offers a different view. "So much of the criticism of Mike is only a reflection of human nature, of jealousy," he says. "Here's this kid who comes into the league and rips it up like it's peewees. How do you rationalize that? So you get back at him with criticism. But now, anyone who doesn't respect Mike has to have a chip on his shoulder."
The Islanders have always been a clannish team—too clannish, in fact—and they didn't hustle out the welcome wagon for Bossy in 1977. The rookie showed up with his big goal-scoring numbers and was both sensitive and outspoken; he was, in fact, the perfect target for a needle. And when Arbour immediately placed Bossy on the team's glamour line with Trottier and Gillies, a number of Islanders—not including Billy Harris, the right wing Bossy replaced—couldn't mask their jealousy. Beyond that, Bossy made it clear that he preferred his own company to that of most of his teammates. "They were wary of me and I was wary of them," he says.
Mike is the sixth of Dorothy and Borden Bossy's 10 children, the fifth of six sons; his four older brothers are his senior by four to nine years. "With the age difference, my brothers were always big brothers, not playmates," Mike says. "Coming from a large family, I've never needed a group scene away from home. I've always got along on my own."
But life as a solitary man on a sports team can become unbearable, and not even Bossy could be an island. He quickly found a kindred soul in Trottier, who, like Bossy, prefers hot fudge sundaes to beer and Maxwell Smart reruns to late hours in taverns in Edmonton. "I call them 'Bread and Butter,' " says Islander Wing Garry Howatt.
"If I didn't have Bryan as a friend, I don't think I would have been able to get through the last three years," Bossy says. "With Bryan, I was accepted as myself from the first day. I don't have to worry about what I say or how I act."
Trottier says, "Mike may be too thin-skinned or sensitive, but he's coming around. You can't needle him and get results as much anymore."