As the current Islanders get ready to head to Toronto for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s reasonable to think that there are a few names on the roster and in the organization that will one day garner consideration for induction into the Islanders Hall of Fame. We’ll see how this summer and fall’s post-season and upcoming seasons play out, but there could be a time down the road when we’re talking about names like Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, and Mat Barzal as possibilities to join the other iconic names in Islanders history in the rafters of Belmont Park Arena when it opens for the 2021-22 season.
But first things first.
The current Islanders have some work to do and there are still some names from the past that need to be considered for the one spot remaining on the current Hall of Fame banner and for when a second banner is raised to the rafters. I reached out to a number of individuals that have both worked for the Islanders and covered the Islanders over the years to get their thoughts on players and builders that should be considered to join names like Torrey, Arbour, Potvin, Bossy, Smith, Morrow, Tonelli, Nystrom, Gillies, Flatley, Bourne and Trottier in the Islanders Hall of Fame.
Hired as a scout by Islanders General Manager Billy Torrey in 1972, Devellano played a role in the Islanders drafting some of the greatest players in NHL history like Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Clark Gillies. In 1974, he was promoted to Director of Scouting and then was named Assistant General Manager in 1981.
“What Jimmy D did to help build the Islanders of the dynasty years was maybe unparalleled in NHL history,” said former long-time Islanders television voice Howie Rose. “You look at the drafts that they had even going back to the very first one and for about five or six years I mean they just kept adding stud after stud. Jimmy just had this great eye and this great ability to discern who was going to not only play in the NHL but play at how high a level and where would he fit with the Islanders.”
“(Devellano) was responsible for overseeing the drafts that produced Bryan Trottier, Brent Sutter, Mike Bossy, and many others,” said Pat Calabria who covered the Islanders for Newsday during the dynasty years and would later become the team’s Vice-President of Communications. “Jimmy was as smart a hockey man as there ever was. He’d go see a senior team play at midnight because he loved hockey that much. I know. I spent two weeks with him on a scouting trip and we actually did watch a senior game at midnight.”
“His scouting and ability to recognize and draft talent made the team what it was,” said Islanders legendary television play by play announcer Jiggs McDonald.
Devellano has three Stanley Cup rings from his time with the Islanders. He left the organization in 1982 to become the General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.
Speaking of Jiggs, our next candidate is…
An NHL play by play announcer for fifty seasons, Jiggs became the Islanders television announcer before the 1980-81 campaign and was the “voice” of the Islanders for fifteen seasons. He became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 when he received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award given to those members of the radio and television industry who make outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of hockey.
“He’s already in the Hockey Hall of Fame, so he needs to join the Islanders Hall of Fame as well,” said current and long-time Islanders radio voice Chris King. “Just hearing his voice instantly brings back every great Islanders memory from the dynasty years and beyond.”
From the dynasty years to the 1987 Easter Epic to the magical 1993 post-season run, Jiggs called many memorable games featuring some very special players.
After spending time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers, Jiggs returned to the Islanders family filling in from time to time for Howie Rose and current television voice Brendan Burke. Earlier this season, Jiggs returned to Long Island to be the master of ceremonies when both John Tonelli and Butch Goring had their numbers retired. On a personal note, Jiggs is one of the reasons that I wanted to be a sportscaster growing up and while it really bothered me when he was not brought back, I’m thrilled that he was able to come back and be a part of the Islanders family again.
When asked for his nominees for the Islanders Hall of Fame, Jiggs picked a few names including the man who replaced him as the team’s television play by play voice.
Following the announcement that Jiggs McDonald would not return for the 1995-96 season, it came as a surprise to many Islanders fans when Rangers radio play by play voice Howie Rose was the choice to become the Islanders’ new television play by announcer. If I remember correctly, “Holy Matteau” was the headline of the Newsday story about the hiring of Rose to replace Jiggs with that being a not so subtle reference to his call of Stephane Matteau’s overtime goal in game seven of the Rangers’ 1994 playoff series against the Devils.
Rose, currently a radio voice for the Mets, actually held that job longer than Jiggs as he spent 21 seasons as the Islanders television play by play voice before stepping away after the 2015-16 campaign.
“His work during all those years when the team was subpar was outstanding,” said McDonald.
There were many Islanders fans that never fully embraced Rose as the team’s announcer because of his ties to the Rangers, but he was an outstanding voice of the Islanders for a new generation of fans for over two decades.
Before Rose called Mets, Rangers, and Islanders games and before he was an on-air personality for WFAN, he was a radio reporter and covered the Islanders, not only during the Stanley Cup years but also during the years that launched the Islanders into championship contention.
He had a few terrific suggestions for players to be considered for the Islanders Hall of Fame.
THE 1975 ISLANDERS TEAM
Earlier this season when the Islanders retired the numbers of John Tonelli and Butch Goring eight days apart, there were some fans and media that I ran into at both games that suggested that the Islanders have a separate honor for the 16 players who were a part of all four championship teams. I thought that was an interesting idea, but Howie Rose had one that I thought was even better.
Go back even further and pay homage to the team that was responsible for the birth of the dynasty.
“I would say frankly that you can take the 1975 team and give them their own standing in the Islanders Hall of Fame because that’s the team that put the Islanders on the map and they never ever ever received their proper due. I used to beg them to honor the ’75 team. How that ’75 team has not been recognized as a group is beyond my comprehension.”
After not making the playoffs in their first two seasons, the Islanders were a post-season team for the first time in 1975. They upset the Rangers in the opening round on J.P. Parise’s goal eleven seconds into overtime of the decisive third game at Madison Square Garden, then rallied from being down three games to none to beat the Penguins in seven games, and then almost did it again against the Flyers in the semifinals. The Isles were down three games to none before winning the next three games but lost in game seven.
But that year, the seeds were planted.
Howie Rose also suggested that two members of the 1975 Islanders could be individually honored.
Bill Torrey will always be remembered for the trading deadline deal that brought Butch Goring to the Islanders as the “final piece of the puzzle” in 1980, but midway through the 1974-75 season, he swung what turned out to be an important deal with the Minnesota North Stars bringing J.P. Parise to Long Island.
Why was he so important?
“Not just because of the goal that he scored against the Rangers but he was kind of Butch Goring before there was Butch Goring,” said Rose. “Even though he was undersized, he had spunk and he had personality and I think that he sort of to use a baseball term lengthened their lineup a little bit.”
Parise was traded to the Cleveland Barons in during the 1977-1978 in a deal that brought Wayne Merrick to the Islanders.
GLENN “CHICO” RESCH
Islanders fans who are old enough will always remember goalie Chico Resch kissing the goalpost after the 1-0 game seven win over the Penguins in 1975.
“Chico’s work that year in-particular and for a few years after also gave the Islanders and identity because he was so effervescent and so Chico as we came to know him,” said Rose.
Resch was the backup to Billy Smith on the 1980 Islanders Stanley Cup team and was then traded during the following season to the Colorado Rockies who eventually became the New Jersey Devils.
Including General Manager Bill Torrey and Head Coach Al Arbour, there are twelve members of the dynasty team that are in the Islanders Hall of Fame. Maybe there’s room for another one.
There were sixteen players that were on all four Islanders Stanley Cup winning teams and an important, but also a somewhat unheralded contributor, was lefty defenseman Stefan Persson. The Swedish blueliner played nine seasons for the Islanders and perhaps his most iconic moment in blue and orange was his game-tying goal late in the third period against the Flyers in game one of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals, a contest the Islanders won on their way to the first of four straight cups.
“Stefan Persson was a key member of those Cup winning teams who was one of the best passers in the game,” said McDonald.
Persson scored five goals during the 1980 playoffs and was part of an Islanders team that was the first club to win a Stanley Cup with European players on the roster.
One of the greatest players in Islanders history is long overdue to be honored. He didn’t win a Stanley Cup and he had a messy divorce from the Islanders in 1991, but all these years later, he’s still a fan favorite.
A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and one of the greatest United States born players in NHL history, Pat LaFontaine played eight of his fifteen NHL seasons for the Islanders. Drafted third overall in 1983, LaFontaine was part of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team before joining the Islanders as they would go on to play in the Stanley Cup Finals for a fifth straight season.
There are many who feel that LaFontaine is long overdue to be in the Islanders Hall of Fame and there are also some who feel that his number 16 should be retired.
“There is only one guy in team history who is top ten in all-time scoring, recorded one of the most significant goals in team history and isn’t in this hall,” said former long-time Islanders executive Jim Johnson who is now Executive Director of LaFontaine’s Companions In Courage foundation (www.CiC16.org). “For almost 20 years, this former player has been using his celebrity to connect pediatric patients to their family, classmates and heroes through his foundation.”
LaFontaine scored a career-high 54 goals for the Islanders during the 1989-90 season and scored one of the most iconic goals in team history. In a game against the Capitals that would be forever known as “The Easter Epic”, LaFontaine scored in the fourth overtime against the Capitals in game seven of the 1987 opening round playoff series.
“He’s already in the Hockey Hall of Fame and he spent the majority of his career with the Islanders,” said King. “So now he needs to join the Islanders Hall of Fame. His off-ice accomplishments are Hall of Fame worthy as well.”
“Retire number 16,” said former Newsday Islanders beat reporter Mark Hermann. “He established himself as a superstar on Long Island and then by making his home and raising his family here, he established himself as a true Long Islander.”
Because of a contract dispute, LaFontaine did not report to training camp and demanded a trade before the start of the 1991-92 season. Bill Torrey traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in a deal that brought the Islanders Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue and Uwe Krupp, three key members of the 1992-93 team that went to the conference finals.
During the course of Islanders history, there have been many great players. a Hall of Fame General Manager, a Hall of Fame Head Coach, and numerous team employees that have bled orange and blue. There are two individuals that you may or may not have ever heard of, but in the words of Billy Joel, “Somewhere Along The Line” they should be recognized.
They are Estelle Ellery, one of the Islanders’ first employees who helped Bill Torrey organize the front office and Joanne Holewa, who has spent more than 40 years with the Islanders and is currently the Manager of Hockey Operations.
“Both women were the backbones of the franchise in the early years,” said Johnson. “Estelle Ellery was Torrey’s first hire out of the American Hockey League in 1971 and Joanne Holewa remains the link to 40 years of Islanders history. Unsung builders deserve public credit occasionally, too.”
If you’re an Islanders fan and didn’t know who Joanne Holewa was before this season, you know who she is now. She earned praise from Head Coach Barry Trotz when she was able to secure a visa for newly-acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau to quickly make his Islanders debut back in February against the Rangers.
I’ll close with my two cents on the Islanders Hall of Fame.
I truly believe that Pat LaFontaine should be the next Islander to have his number retired, but I would make him the first name on the second Islanders Hall of Fame banner. The person who I would fill the last spot on the first banner with needs to be recognized because without him, there would not be a New York Islanders franchise.
The last name on the first Islanders Hall of Fame banner should be Roy Boe, the original owner of the Islanders who brought NHL hockey to Long Island in 1972.
He was also the owner of the New York Nets so at one point he owned both major sports tenants at the Nassau Coliseum. Boe sold his share of the team to John Pickett in 1978, just before the Stanley Cup dynasty began. He would later be the first owner of the Islanders’ AHL farm team the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Boe passed away of heart failure in 2009.
After Roy Boe and Pat LaFontaine are honored, I think the great team that is the Islanders Hall of Fame needs a broadcaster to join them and I would love to see Jiggs McDonald’s name on a banner as well as longtime radio voice Barry Landers.
There’s a lot of uncertainly about the 2020-21 season for the Islanders. Will they play at Nassau Coliseum which is currently closed? Will they go back to play at Barlcays Center before moving to Belmont Park Arena for the 2021-22 season? Will fans be allowed to attend games next season?
Well if the Islanders do indeed play at “The Barn” and if the coronavirus pandemic has subsided to the point where fans can be at games, then the Islanders have a chance to close out their second stint at Nassau Coliseum in a very special way. There are many individuals and even a special group of players that should be strongly considered for that final spot on the first Islanders Hall of Fame banner.
And then the organization can get to work on filling up a second banner.