Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom will always be considered champions. Both were core members of an Islanders franchise that won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early ‘80s. That run made the Isles the last great dynasty not only in hockey but in sports.
Now with the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, Gillies and Nystrom chatted with Betway.com’s Chris Peters for a lengthy combo on those special years and what it takes to lift the silver chalice.
The Islanders came a long way in a short time from just being an expansion franchise that made its debut in 1972. It took them only three seasons to make the postseason. And in those 1975 playoffs, they would make it within one round of the Stanley Cup finals, losing out in seven to the eventual champion Philadelphia Flyers. But the foundation had been laid for future success.
A few years later, the Islanders were one of the premier teams in the league and seemed ready to finally win it all. But as Gillies remarked, they weren’t there yet and needed to learn the hard way. “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,” he said. 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.”
The Isles finally did get over the hump in 1980 when they won their first Stanley Cup on Nystrom’s game-winning goal in overtime of game six. From then on, the club wanted more, and nothing would satisfy unless it ended in a championship.
“To win, to find out what a sweet taste that was,” Gillies added. “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.”
What made those historic clubs so special was that was they were a team in every sense of the definition. As it’s been noted, they had 16 players who were there for all four titles. That is unheard of in today’s NHL. Nystrom: “Everyone really knew what their role was. The penalty killers would sit on the bench, but then they’re ready to go. I think there was just knowing what you needed to do as a player, knowing your limitations.”
What the Islanders accomplished may never happen again Nystrom believes. They were a different breed in a time when teams staying together truly made them unique. Winning one title is difficult. Winning four straight? Inconceivable.
“I think it’s impossible,” he noted. “We had most of our team together for those Stanley Cups. That’s unheard of. A guy will have a great season and they’re moving on to another team for more money. That really never happened with us.”
Today’s Islanders are trying to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bossy, Nystrom and those legendary teams. But becoming a true winner takes time and discipline.
“When you really come right down to it, it’s such an education. Once you experience what you go through in all of those series, all of a sudden you’re not shaking,” Nystrom said.
“Al would always say: “Don’t be afraid to lose, the sun will come up in the morning.”
That’s what it takes to be a champion.
You can read the full interview below: