Trottier cherishes memories after losing Islanders teammates to cancer
Two of them, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, were Trottier’s wings on the “Trio Grande Line” that helped the Islanders win the Stanley Cup in four consecutive seasons (1980-83). The other, Jean Potvin, was a member of the championship teams in 1980 and 1981.
Both Gillies and Bossy died of cancer, Gillies aged 67 on 21 January and Bossy aged 65 on 15 April. Potvin died on March 15 at the age of 72. He cut the Islanders well before his 50th birthday, but he won’t break. the bond created by playing for a dynasty that will likely never happen again.
It’s hard for Trottier to talk about, but he’s made it a point to smile with his families.
“I want to celebrate his memory,” Trottier told NHL.com. “I talked to (Bossy’s daughters) Josiane and Tanya and (wife) Lucie. I talked to (Gillies’ wife) Pam and (daughter Brianna), and I share my stories and they’re all uplifting. They’re not sad. These are powerful and funny stories. They make me laugh.”
The Islanders will celebrate their annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Saturday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at UBS Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; MSGSN2, BSOH, ESPN+, SN NOW). There will be special guests, celebrities and alumni attending the pre-game and in-game commemorations. Players will wear Hockey Fights Cancer T-shirts and use pink and white sticky sticks in warm-ups. Sparky the Dragon, the team’s mascot, will be donning a special sweater and mingling with the fans.
Hockey Fights Cancer has raised more than $32 million in its 24th year and supports the Islanders Children’s Foundation, which has raised more than $14 million through events and initiatives since it was founded in 2003 by the late owner Charles Wang. The philanthropy has continued under co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, players who visit cancer patients young and old.
Gillies was an ambassador in the fight against cancer, and Bossy said he regretted smoking cigarettes in a 2017 letter to his youth published in The Players’ Tribune. Education is tough but mandatory, and goes beyond a fashion statement.
“It’s not just wearing the tie or the pin,” Ledecky said. “Awareness of the new generations, awareness of our contemporaries of the causes of cancer, but also of the fact that we can beat cancer by staying focused on a cure, I think that’s what the islanders as a community of trust can really achieve. through .”
The mystique of Gillies, Bossy and his legacy with the islanders is compelling. Fans made their presence felt whenever their previous home, the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, showed Gillies on the jumbotron smashing a can against his head. Come in Matt Martin can relate to a physical game indicative of what “Jethro” contributed throughout his career and the Matt Martin Foundation, which generates financial support and awareness for various causes.
Martin has attended several functions for the Clark Gillies Foundation, which helps children with physical, developmental and/or financial challenges. He misses Gillies, his texts no longer telling him he’s watching during the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs, knowing the fine line between motivation and being nonchalant.
“He was so present,” Martin said. “He was a special person. I think he’s going to be missed around here for a long time.”
Gillies was the muscle (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) behind the dynasty, the left wing alongside Trottier and Bossy. He had 663 points (304 goals, 359 assists), fourth all-time in Islanders history, and remarkably never took more than 100 penalty minutes in 872 regular-season games with New York. Cancer did not spare Gillies, Bossy, Trottier’s grandparents, or Bob Johnson, Trottier’s coach when he won his sixth Stanley Cup championship playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91 (Johnson died in November 26 of that year).
It was incomprehensible to believe that Gillies, “that big bug” and a gentle giant, was dying.
“I wanted to remind him that he was basically invincible in my eyes,” Trottier said. “We got the news that the cancer was in every part of his body. He was like, ‘What? Not so big body. There’s no way.” Shocking isn’t a big enough word as fast as it was. I tell myself that this can’t happen to a man so strong and powerful in my mind, heart, and eyes.
“I get mad just talking about him. That hurt. Mike hurt. Clark hurt. ‘Johnny’ Potvin hurt. Guy Lafleur (died April 22) hurt. All those guys that happened, they all hurt me, but it was just impossible for me to bring down my big ‘Clarkie’. But cancer has no favourites.”
Potvin, a defenseman and older brother of Hall of Fame and Islanders captain Denis Potvin, played 402 games with New York. Bossy scored 573 goals in 10 seasons before a back problem forced him to retire after the 1986-87 season. Trottier wrote about his first impression of Bossy in his book, “All Roads Home, A Life on and off the Ice,” recalling a lanky forward (6-foot, 186) who in a grip strength test after the their first practice together scored 90 points. with the left hand and 98 with the dominant right, the rest of the islanders with an average of between 40-60.
Trottier (1997), Bossy (1991) and Gillies (2002) were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
A week after Bossy’s death, Lafleur died at age 70, another devastating blow to hockey and Montreal Canadiens fans who watched the Hall of Famer score at least 50 goals between 1974-75 and 1979 -80 and won four consecutive Stanley Cup titles. 1976-79. The following month, on May 14, the Dix Hills Ice Rink in Dix Hills, New York was renamed the Clark Gillies Arena at Dix Hills Park, where his wife inaugurated a marquee over the main entrance.
“First of all, it’s their families,” the islanders say Josh Bailey said “I think the response from the Island community was well deserved and done right to honor these guys and what they meant to this organization and to Long Island as a whole. Special people [who will] is always missed.”
For 50 years, the Islanders have entertained visitors to Nassau Coliseum, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and UBS Arena. Youth players emulated Bossy, Gillies, Trottier, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith and others as the dynasty captivated the surrounding community.
“We felt very appreciated,” Trottier said. “They were all kids, maybe he inspired a generation of hockey players. These people made it fun for us crazy hockey players in Canada.”
Cancer is no fun. It’s unfair, it hits hard and it hits home, but hope lives on. Advances in research have helped many go into remission. Dr. Bryan John Trottier Jr., one of Bryan’s four sons, sees it every day as a hematology/oncologist treating blood cancers at St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Modern medicines are available and anyone can help through donations or moral support.
Islanders are serving others and honoring their history. The Stan Fischler Press Level at UBS Arena in its new home in Elmont, N.Y., was named Oct. 26 in honor of the hockey historian from the 1972 expansion season- 73. Growing up a fan of the rival New York Rangers, NHL Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly watched the Islanders play the biggest, best and most accessible game on Long Island. There’s so much more to give, Fischler’s night a bright light in a tough year.
“We lost a couple of members from that team,” Daly said. “We’re all saddened by his passing, but it’s about coming of age as a franchise. It’s great that they’re where they are and have been through tough times.”
NHL.com freelance correspondent Denis Gorman contributed to this story
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