To this day, April 24, 2002, remains a signature moment in the history of the New York Islanders.
On that memorable evening, the Isles played host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in game four of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with a chance to send it back to Toronto tied. And it was one moment which, no matter how long ago it was, still tugs at the heartstrings of the passionate, rabid Isles fanbase.
With 2:30 left remaining in regulation, Shawn Bates, a 27-year-old native of Medford, Massachusetts, was awarded a penalty shot. Receiving a penalty shot that late in a game is extremely rare, but honestly it only added to the drama of what was turning out to be a classic series thus far.
The Isles and Leafs had battled for three games with the home team being victorious each time. Game four brought another terrific playoff atmosphere and a hostile one at that after the hits and cheap shots thrown one night earlier in a 6-1 Islander win.
Everything that built up to that point is what made that penalty shot so special. As it was for Bates, in what would become a career-defining moment was the culmination of a five-year journey.
Selected 103rd overall by the Boston Bruins in the 1993 entry draft, Bates was an accomplished player at the college level at Boston University. With the Terriers, he helped lead the team to the Frozen Four in each of his four years, including an NCAA Championship in 1995; Bates was also a two-time member of the Hockey East All-Tournament Team and named to the All NCAA All-Tournament Team in 95′. After his college career was over he suited up for his hometown Bruins, but never really flourished.
This led Bates to sign with the Islanders in July 2001, and it’s where former g.m. Mike Milbury and new head coach Peter Laviolette finally gave him a real shot.
Bates would go on to have immediate success in his new role, setting a new career high in goals (17), assists (35) and points (52). The Isles also benefitted immensely from his addition, recording a 96-point campaign and clinching the club’s first playoff berth in eight years.
The postseason started off quietly for Bates. He went pointless in the first two games of the playoffs before scoring his first career postseason goal in game three. Game four looked like a repeat of the first two games for Bates; he only had one shot the entire game before the penalty shot while both teams traded six goals.
Then it happened.
After Islanders goaltender Chris Osgood made a pad save, the rebound went right out to d-man Roman Hamrlik who made a soft drop pass to Alexei Yashin who then saw a streaking Bates. Bates received the feed just before center ice and picked up speed heading into the Maple Leafs’ zone. Leafs blueliner Bryan McCabe got beat by Bates, only to haul him down just before he was able to make a move on his netminder Curtis Joseph.
Seeing this, the referee pointed right to center ice signaling a penalty shot.
The Toronto bench was incensed while Bates took his time in preparation for the moment. He went over to the bench and had quick chats with Islanders backup goalie Garth Snow and captain Michael Peca. And as fate would have it, Peca’s advice to Bates — not fake but to just shoot — would work.
Bates took the puck from center ice after he got a running start and went in right on Joseph. Coming in with speed, he moved just past the hash marks and ripped one past Joseph’s blocker which sent the 16,234 inside the Coliseum into utter pandemonium.
The sheer roar of the crowd after that goal is still considered by many the loudest moment in the history of Nassau Coliseum. Yes, for a building that saw four straight Stanley Cups, numerous legendary rock concerts and other spine-tingling moments, it was this goal that topped them all. Islanders legend Ken Morrow said it himself.
The Islanders would survive those final minutes and take the game 4-3 to tie the series. And it was Bates who was the hero.
“As a kid growing up that’s what you dream about,” he told reporters after the game. “It’s a great feeling, an awesome feeling.”
You ask any player who was on that Islander squad who played in that series, or any fan who was in the building that night, and they’ll tell you it’s the loudest they’ve ever heard an arena sound. Mark Parrish in an interview I did with him in September of 2018 said the hair was standing up on his neck after the goal, and that it was so loud he couldn’t hear what Laviolette’s instructions were or who was being sent out for the faceoff.
For Bates, that goal evokes so many memories.
“It’s one of the greatest moments in my hockey career,” he said in an interview in 2015.
Sadly the Islanders would go on to win another emotional-filled game six in front of the Coliseum crowd but would lose the series in the seventh and deciding game.
Ever since that night, there have been other wonderful playoff memories created by the Islanders. But it’s Bates’ goal though, even now 18 years later, which still brings a chill down people’s spines.
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