Mike Bossy: Humble man, extremely confident hockey player
TORONTO — One of Mike Bossy’s greatest personal traits, as widely described by those who knew the late Islanders Hall of Famer, was an incredibly humble and sincere nature.
“He always had time for people,” Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said. “He was so modest about it.”
But Bossy, who died of lung cancer on Friday at the age of 65, was always extremely confident in his hockey abilities. It made him one of the greatest scorers in NHL history, if not the greatest, and an integral part of the Islanders dynasty that produced four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983.
“The greatest goalscorer who ever played the game,” said Butch Goring, whose locker was next to Bossy during their time as teammates. “But he never spoke in those terms. He didn’t have the ego that he wanted to talk about himself all the time. It was always about fun and winning.
Bossy’s linemate and closest friend, Bryan Trottier, said every other aspect of Bossy’s game was underestimated because it was so easy to focus on his scoring ability.
But there’s no question the Islanders needed Bossy’s greatest skill set.
In 1977 NHL pre-draft interviews — he went 15th to the Islanders — general manager Bill Torrey told Bossy the team was looking for a scorer.
“We have a good team with Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, a lot of other guys, and Bill said, ‘Can you score goals?’ Islanders Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin recalled the conversation. “Bossy’s first response was, ‘I’m going to score 50.’ And Bill Torrey always said he couldn’t believe that at the end of the year Boss had scored 53 and then never stopped scoring under 50 until last year.
“The best scorer I’ve ever seen,” Potvin said. “Not the best of his era. The best of all time in the NHL, no doubt.
Bossy scored at least 50 goals in each of his first nine seasons before earlier problems ‘limited’ him to 38 in 1986-87 and eventually forced him to retire.
There have been plenty of NHL players who, like Bossy, have had hard, accurate shots. But what raised him?
There are two explanations: Will and skill.
“This guy didn’t want to score. He needed to score first and foremost,” Goring said. “That’s all he talked about every game, his need to score. You heard Bryan Trottier say it was his job to get Mike Bossy ready because Mike Bossy needed to score. He got in position to score all the time, and if he was covered, he worked to get clear.
And Bossy’s shot was lethal once the puck was on his stick.
“He just had an incredible ability to trick goalkeepers into thinking he was shooting somewhere else,” said four-time Cup winner Bob Nystrom. “It was always the short side. In those days, goalkeepers stood pretty straight, and as soon as they moved that leg to cover the short side, he shot five holes and he could hit it like nobody else. I’ve never seen.
“It was strange, just by the way he held his stick and the way he shot that they would give up that five-hole, which is not the easiest thing to hit. Even in practice , it was scary to see him walk away. Thank goodness we got him because he just completed that line of Trottier, Gillies and Bossy. They really stopped a lot of teams from being really aggressive with us because they were constantly scoring on the power play.
One of Bossy’s most notable accomplishments was tying the Maurice Richard Canadiens Hall of Fame record of 50 goals in 50 games, which he did on January 24, 1981, with two goals late in the season. third period in a 7-4 win over the Quebec Nordiques at Colisée de Nassau.
But long before he got to 50 out of 50, Bossy made it his stated goal to do so.
“He put himself there, ’50 in 50, I’m going,'” Trottier said. “I’m like, ‘What? Are you crazy?’ Think about it, but when you say it out loud, it’s bold. A little cheeky, but also brave. It’s okay.”
Bossy scored goal 49 on the power play at 15:50 of the third period, then reached 50 at 18:31.
Seconds later, he and Trottier found themselves on another ice rush.
“Yesterday I was talking to my dad about it,” said former Islanders goaltender and Sabers announcer Marty Biron, who was born in Lac-Saint-Charles, Que., in 1977 and remembers watching the match. “He said, ‘You know, the funny thing about that game is he scored two goals and Bossy had a chance for a hat trick, and he passed it to Trottier, who marked. ”
Even Trottier was surprised.
“Mike’s rule was don’t pass it to me, pass it to my stick,” Trottier said. “Everyone is checking Mike pretty tight. But his stick was open and I slid the puck towards him. Everyone thinks he’s going to shoot, including the goalie, and he just threw the puck back at me. Those two-pass situations where the goalkeeper is engaged, he just can’t respond.
“We skate to the bench and I say, ‘Mike, why didn’t you shoot?’ He says, “Because it was the right play.” And he was 100% right. In every situation he would make the right play. He could have gone 51 for 50 and broken the record, but he didn’t think so. He thought it was a situation where I was playing the right game.”