He epitomized what it means to be a New York Islander. The pride he felt wearing the Islanders sweater on the ice was evident by his willingness to do anything to win.Lou Lamoriello
Beloved power forward nicknamed “Jethro” was a key pillar in building the Islanders’ dynasty
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
The term “power forward” has become synonymous with several NHL players: Bob Probert, Cam Neely, Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros and Todd Bertuzzi. But prior to those players entering the NHL, another player emerged to become one of the top “power forwards” of his era in the 1970s and 1980s: Clark Gillies. He was a key member of the New York Islanders, who won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. Gillies was big, tough, strong, and menacing—but he also demonstrated an ability to score goals.
Born and raised in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Gillies played junior hockey with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League (WHL). In three seasons with the Pats (1971 till 1974), Gilles played 201 games, scoring 283 points (117 goals with 166 assists). In his final year with the Pats, the team won a WHL championship and Memorial Cup title. In February 2000, the Pats retired Gillies’ number 9 jersey.
The New York Islanders entered the NHL in 1972. The late General Manager, Bill Torrey, known as “The Architect,” wanted to obtain solid foundational pieces in building the Islanders franchise via the draft. Clark Gillies was one of those “foundational” pieces alongside Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Ken Morrow, Bryan Trottier, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom, Mike Bossy and Butch Goring (acquired in a trade). Other key players were Stefan Persson, Gord Lane, Bob Bourne, Anders Kallur, Dave Langevin, Wayne Merrick, Duane Sutter and brother, Brent.
The Islanders drafted Gillies fourth overall in the 1974 entry draft. Gillies played 12 seasons for the Islanders (1974 till 1986). He retired at the end of the 1987-1988 season after playing two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. Gillies has his name in several Islanders’ records. He ranks fourth in goals (304), fifth in assists (359), fourth in points (663), fifth in games played (872) and seventh in penalty minutes (891). In 1996, his number “9” was retired by the franchise. In 2002, Gillies was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. According to an article in The New York Times, Gillies is survived by his wife, Pam Goettler Gillies, daughters Jocelyn Schwarz, Brooke Kapetanakos and Brianna Bourne—as well as eight grandchildren.
Bryan Trottier, who was Gillies’ linemate, would remain close friends after the two men retired from the NHL. “Clark was the prototypical power forward before the term was used,” he said in an email interview with the Other Press. “He had great skills [and was a great passer and] playmaker [with a] heavy shot. [He loved to drive] the net […] He could do it all. We [rode] his coattails whether he realized it or not. Tremendous warrior, competitor [and] leader. He was also a big brother and the toughest man in the NHL as far as I was [concerned]. So, we all played a little bigger [and] with less intimidation. I know [Mike Bossy and I] worried less that someone was going to take liberties. He was a protector and kept [the] opposition honest and deterred any stupid headhunting. One hell of a policeman.” Trottier also said Gillies was a giant who had an even bigger heart: “[He was a] natural athlete. The greatest friend you could ask for and cared about us all as much as he cared [and] loved his family. Impressive in every aspect of life.”
Another teammate, Butch Goring, shared a humorous story about Gillies. Today, Goring is the colour commentator for New York Islanders broadcasts on the MSG Network. In an interview with the NHL Network on January 25, Goring remembered Gillies being a prankster, who could deliver insults to teammates—while also willing to be the recipient of an insult at his own expense: “But I used to call him, ‘Stupid’ and people would ask him, ‘Why does he call you stupid?’ He said, ‘I’m not sure. But even worse is, I answer!’”
Lou Lamoriello, president and general manager of the New York Islanders issued a statement about the passing of Clark Gillies: “He epitomized what it means to be a New York Islander. The pride he felt wearing the Islanders sweater on the ice was evident by his willingness to do anything to win. Off the ice, he was just as big of a presence, always taking the time to give back to the local community. The New York Islanders have four Stanley Cups because of the sacrifices he and the members of those dynasty teams made for the franchise. On behalf of the entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to the entire Gillies family.”
Retired Hall of Fame broadcaster, Jim Robson, was the play-by-play announcer during the 1980 Stanley Cup Final for Hockey Night in Canada on CBC (New York Islanders versus Philadelphia Flyers). Robson was sharing play-by-play duties with another Hall of Fame announcer, the late Dan Kelly until game six—when Kelly moved to CBS and Robson calling the game solo on CBC. And during game six at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, Robson called the famous overtime goal scored by Bob Nystrom—to clinch the first of four consecutive championships for the Islanders.
Robson recalled Clark Gillies’ impact as a player with his size and strength. “Clark Gillies was the perfect fit on one of hockey’s greatest forward lines with centre Bryan Trottier and great goal scorer Mike Bossy,” Robson said in an email interview with the Other Press. “Clark was a big, intimidating winger who could play the game [any way] you needed to win. Off the ice, he was a friendly big guy they called [Jethro], probably named after a star on the TV show [The Beverly Hillbillies].”
In retirement, Gillies maintained a strong presence in the Long Island community. He established the Clark Gillies Foundation to help children with physical, developmental and financial challenges. Emily Tyree, director of the Clark Gillies Foundation, said Gillies was a kind and generous man who was always willing to help others—and those acts of philanthropy and selflessness are his legacy. “That he never had to say no to someone who needed help,” she said in an email interview with the Other Press. “Whether there was a family who needed a handicap bathroom built for their disabled son or a group that wanted books for their Pediatric Cancer patients. It was never ‘we can’t help,’ Clark would always find a way.”
Tyree said it is important to finish what Gillies had started as the foundation meant so much to him. “He had [so much] more [that] he wanted to do with [his foundation], so we will make sure we do it for him and children everywhere,” she said. Tyree said Gillies may be gone but his memory will live on in those he affected with his “larger than life” presence: “He will be sorely missed and we will live [every day] the way [he] would have wanted us to: full of love and laughter. Clark would want us to continue his mission.”
More information about the Clark Gillies Foundation