For hockey players, winning a Stanley Cup is a huge accomplishment. After years of practice, hard work, and a lot of time on the ice, maybe a hockey player will make it to the Stanley Cup. Legendary New York Islanders Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom know a thing or two about winning the Stanley Cup – both having done so.
In fact, both were part of the New York Islanders dynasty that brought home four consecutive Stanley Cups in between the years of 1980 and 1984. Both had been on the team for more than five seasons before hitting their winning streaks. So, what’s it like to have been part of a team that dominated the rink for that many years?
In a recent virtual sit down with Betway, both former New York Islanders players opened up about building this epic dynasty, what it was like playing for Al Arbour, and the importance of remaining friends to this day.
Do people ever know when it’s their time to achieve greatness? For Nystrom, when asked when they had realized that their team had the capability to win the Stanley Cup, the former New York Islander responded:
“It became apparent when we won the Stanley Cup [laughs]. You know what, we had a couple of teams in 1978 and 1979 that we really thought we were right there at that point, especially in ’79 when we won the Presidents’ Trophy. We thought we were on our way, but the playoffs are so totally different.
I would have to say when we got [Miracle on Ice defenseman] Kenny Morrow and [trade acquisition] Butch Gohring, I think that really solidified our team. At that point, I thought we could have a run at it.”
Gillies then went on to agree:
“I agree totally with Bob, it was a real learning process for us. It took losing those two years against Toronto and the Rangers. It took losing to help us figure out what we needed to do to put the effort in to win.
One of the things we were missing in ’78 and ’79 was that physicality. Facing the Bruins in the second round in 1980, that’s when we really woke up. Everyone was picking the Bruins to outmuscle us and intimidate us. I think we showed them in a big way that we weren’t going to be pushed around in 1980. It springboarded us to beat the Flyers in the finals and I think from that point on, we had the respect of everyone in the league.”
Aside from the key additions of Morrow and Gohring in that first Stanley Cup season, how important did you feel Bill Torrey’s dedication to keeping your group together played into your Stanley Cup success?
“When we lost in ’79 to the Rangers, I thought for sure they were going to change a lot of people on the team. I have to compliment Bill Torrey and Al Arbour for being patient and when they picked up Butch and Kenny, that made a big difference. All the guys came together really, really well. We went out together at night, you know. We had a good group.”
Continuing how pivotal Al Arbour was, Gillies continued:
“[chuckles] I think we were all friends. Al Arbour would say if we weren’t pulling for each other. He once came into the locker room, and you’ll remember this Bobby, he said: “I don’t care if you go to dinner, go to lunch, or if you ever see each other off the ice. You come through that dressing room door, you better be willing to go through a wall for each other.”
“There were guys that hung out with certain guys and we’d get together as one big group every once in a while, but all-in-all we really liked each other. We were together for a long, long time and we were more like brothers than we were teammates. I think I knew everything from one second to the next, I knew what Bob was going to do, he knew what I was going to do. We just got to know each other so well that we were just like a bunch of brothers, working for the same goal and it developed tremendous chemistry. We just knew each others habits and it was a kind of feeling.”
How important was it to have the same coach, too? NHL coaches don’t last the way Al Arbour did anymore, but how did that impact your ability to win?
“I’ve always said that the one of our biggest assets was that he knew each and every guy on that team. He knew what buttons to push.”
So how much did that first championship galvanize the group? What made you all want to stick together and keep pushing for even more success?
“I always go back to 1978 and 1979 and what a bitter taste that left in our mouths. To win, to find out what a sweet taste that was. We were still a very young team and the personnel had not changed from the first year. So we were still all very hungry. We knew we had another shot. That was great, let’s do it again! That was the feeling amongst everybody. We were a very good hockey team and we had every right to repeat. Let’s go out there and do it again. We all had the same mindset. Our only outcome that we all wanted was to win the cup again.”
There’s a saying that champions walk together forever. You guys are still great friends and friends with many of your teammates. What’s it like when you all get together now?
“It’s like we’re never apart. When we get back together, it’s like we were together all the time. It’s just a family, it’s literally impossible to duplicate.”
“John Ledecky has taken it upon himself to get all of the alumni together to come in once a year. It’s not just our team, but every player that ever played a single game for the Islanders. It’s really interesting to get all the guys together from even after Bob and I played. We get together and we’re just all big one happy family.”
For the full interview, make sure you check out Betway Insider! For more Chris Peters editorials and interviews (or if you just love hockey in general), make sure you’re checking out Betway Insider.
Source: Betway Insider
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