Mike Bossy, the Hockey Hall of Fame wing who played a key role in driving the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, died Friday at his home in Montreal. He was 65.
Kimber Auerbach, communications director for the Islanders, said the cause was lung cancer. Bossy announced that he had the disease in October.
The Islanders, founded as a National Hockey League expansion team in 1972, won only 12 games in their first season at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and were not much better the following season.
But they began reaching the playoffs under General Manager Bill Torrey and coach Al Arbor, who teamed up with Bossy on the right wing and his linemen Bryan Trottier in the middle, Clark Gillies on the left wing, Denis Potvin in defense and Billy Smith in goal. (Gillies died of cancer on January 21 at age 67.)
The Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers in their Stanley Cup championship from 1980 to 1983, and then lost to the Oilers in the 1984 Cup final.
The Canadian-born Bossy was among the NHL’s fastest skaters, and he possessed an eerie ability to get rid of wrist shots before opposing goalkeepers had any idea the puck was on its way.
“Mike has the fastest hands I’ve ever seen,” said Arbor, a former defender who had played alongside Gordie Howe with the Detroit Red Wings and Bobby Hull with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Bossy led the NHL twice in goals, with 69 in the 1978-79 season and 68 in the 1980-81 season. He scored at least 51 goals in each of his first nine seasons before a back injury limited him to 38 goals in his final season. His 85 goals in 129 playoff games were the most in NHL history at the time.
Bossy scored 573 goals and had 553 assists in 752 games in the regular season over 10 NHL seasons, all with the Islanders.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
A finesse player and easily built, Bossy avoided hard controls and refused to get into melee.
“Guys knew he would not fight,” Trottier told Sports Illustrated in 1999. “They wanted to hit him, give him a spear, it did not matter. He did not need much space. The guy was as creative as he could make something special with just half an inch. ”
“I probably developed what scouts called my quick hands and quick release more out of self-defense than anything else,” Bossy recalled in his memoir, “Boss: The Mike Bossy Story” (1988, with Barry Meisel). “The NHL was zoom, zoom, zoom compared to junior. I learned to make quick passes and take quick shots to avoid being hammered every time I had the puck. “
Bossy won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly in 1983, 1984 and 1986. He incurred only 210 penalty minutes.
He was selected by the Islanders as No. 15 in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft after being bypassed by teams that, despite his remarkable junior hockey goal score, felt he had no control over his ability to survive in the NHL.
It did not take long for Bossy to prove otherwise. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy for 1977-78 as the rookie of the year in the NHL, scoring a rookie record of 53 goals that lasted 15 years. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 1982 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Michael Bossy was born on January 22, 1957 in Montreal, one of 10 children of Borden and Dorothy Bossy. His father was of Ukrainian descent and his mother was English. Table Bossy flooded the backyard of the family’s apartment building in the winter to create an ice rink, and Mike learned to skate as a 3-year-old.
He dropped out of Laval Catholic High School to join the Laval national team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League near the end of the 1972-73 season and played four full seasons for Laval, scoring 309 goals.
Then came his choice of Islanders in the draft.
Bossy’s NHL career was interrupted by a chronic injury. At the beginning of Islander’s training camp in 1986, he experienced back pain. He missed 17 games in the regular season and injured his left knee in the playoffs as the Flyers eliminated the Islanders in a preliminary round. The doctors eventually found out that he had two injured discs that could not be repaired by surgery. He sat out the 1987-1988 season, then retired from hockey in October 1988.
The Islanders retired Bossy’s No. 22 in March 1992, making him their second honored player after Potvin.
Bossy’s survivors include his wife, Lucie Creamer Bossy, and their daughters Josiane and Tanya.
Bossy, who was bilingual, pursued business ventures and radio and television work in Canada after his playing career ended. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he took leave from his position as hockey analyst for the Montreal-based French-language channel TVA Sports.
Despite all that Bossy and his Stanley Cup champion Islanders achieved, they lacked the charisma of his contemporaries, the Oilers’ Hall of Fame Center Wayne Gretzky and Gretzky’s Edmonton team, which won four Stanley Cups in the 1980s.
“We never got a millionth of the recognition we should,” Bossy once told Sports Illustrated. “We had a very low-key organization. They did not want guys to do too much because they thought hockey liked it. People do not talk about us in the first mention of great teams.”
He added: “I think when I get older, I get tired of telling people that I’ve scored more than 50 nine years in a row. Everything I say makes it sound like I’m “Bitter, but I’m not at all. It’s just that when you do something good that our team did, you want to be recognized for it.”
As for comparisons to Gretzky, Bossy told The New York Times in January 1986, when he became the 11th player in NHL history to score 500 goals: “People call him the great Gretzky. I can not compete with that. I feel “I’m comfortable with what I’m helped my team achieve. Whether I think of Wayne Gretzky as the best thing since apple pie is another question.”
Maia Coleman contributed with reporting.