Building the dynasty and the 40th anniversary of cup victory over Minnesota
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“I didn’t say much after calling the Nystrom goal and saying, ‘[The Islanders win] the Stanley Cup!’ That was a good time to shut up and let the viewers hear the excitement of the roaring crowd.” -Jim Robson
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the New York Islanders’ second Stanley Cup victory. In the 1981 cup final, the Islanders defeated the Minnesota North Stars 4 games to 1. The Islanders would win two more cups, making it four consecutive championships from 1980 till 1983—the last US-based NHL team to accomplish this feat.
The New York Islanders first entered the NHL in 1972, playing their home games at Nassau Coliseum. As an expansion team, the Islanders endured challenges—and winning games was their biggest obstacle. In their debut season (1972-1973), the Islanders won only 12 games (along with 60 losses and 6 ties).
However, Bill Torrey (who passed away in May 2018 at age 83), was the general manager and known as “The Architect.” Torrey helped build the Islander dynasty by the draft. In 1973, before the start of the Islanders’ second season, Torrey hired the legendary Al Arbour (who later passed away in August 2015 at age 82). From 1972 until 1980, Torrey drafted key components to the Islanders’ roster: Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Ken Morrow, Dave Langevin, Mike Bossy, Duane and Brent Sutter, John Tonelli, Stefan Persson, Billy Carroll, and Tomas Jonsson. Torrey added other key players: Bob Bourne, Anders Kallur, Wayne Merrick, Gord Lane, and Butch Goring.
The Islanders would become competitive in the mid-1970s. In 1975, in only their third season, the Islanders won their first playoff series—defeating their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers in overtime at Madison Square Garden—on a goal by J.P. Parisé at 11 seconds (Islanders won series two games to one). They met Pittsburgh in the second round and incredibly overcame a 3-0 deficit—and won the next four games to win the series in seven games. However, the Islanders would lose in round three in seven games to the eventual cup champions, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Unfortunately, more playoff defeats would occur including losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1978 (losing in game seven in quarterfinals) and the New York Rangers in 1979 (losing in six games in semi-finals). But the painful losses for the Islanders were tough lessons to be learned—and ultimately made them stronger.
On May 24, 1980, the Islanders reached the pinnacle of hockey supremacy by winning their first Stanley Cup. Bob Nystrom’s memorable cup-winning goal in overtime at 7:11 in game six will forever be etched in the hearts of Islanders fans. Retired Hall of Fame broadcaster, Jim Robson, announced Nystrom’s cup-clinching goal for Hockey Night in Canada on CBC Television. “He scored the series winner, assisted by John Tonelli and Lorne Henning,” Robson said in an email interview with the Other Press. “I did a good call, which was not difficult as Nystrom was in the clear, backhanding the puck past Flyer goalie Pete Peeters [….] I didn’t say much after calling the Nystrom goal and saying, ‘[The Islanders win] the Stanley Cup!’ That was a good time to shut up and let the viewers hear the excitement of the roaring crowd.”
The following season, the Islanders defeated the Minnesota North Stars in the 1981 final in five games. Butch Goring won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In 18 playoff games, Goring scored 10 goals and had 10 assists for 20 points (Goring scored two goals in cup-clinching fifth game). Islander winger, Clark Gillies, told The New York Times after the victory: “I’ve never seen a team as up for a game as this team was. We had won the Cup last year, but we were still very hungry. This is a great team, and the proof is in the Stanley Cup.” Although disappointed by the loss, Minnesota defenceman and captain, Paul Shmyr (who passed away in September 2004 at age 58), conceded the Islanders were just too strong: “They have an excellent hockey team,” Shmyr told United Press International. “As far as I’m concerned, the better team won.”
Notably, the Islanders had won back-to-back Stanley Cups, solidifying them as one of the most dominant teams in the NHL. The next season (1981-1982), the Islanders once again defended their Stanley Cup title—making their third straight appearance in the finals. Their opponent in the 1982 final would be the Vancouver Canucks.
This is the second of four articles commemorating the New York Islanders’ dynasty of winning four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 till 1983. Next week, a look back at the 1982 Stanley Cup Final between the New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks.