Mike Bossy, the Hockey Hall of Fame wing who played a key role in propelling the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, died Friday at his Montreal home. He was 65 years old.
Kimber Auerbach, the Islanders’ communications director, said the cause was lung cancer. Bossy announced he had the disease in October.
The Islanders, founded as a National Hockey League expansion team in 1972, won just 12 games in their first season at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum and did no better the following season.
But they began to reach the playoffs under general manager Bill Torrey and coach Al Arbor, who assembled teams that included Bossy at right wing and teammates Bryan Trottier at center, Clark Gillies at left. left wing, Denis Potvin in defense and Billy Smith in goal. (Gillies died of cancer on January 21 at age 67.)
The Islanders beat the Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers in their 1980-83 Stanley Cup championship, then lost to the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals. cut of 1984.
The Canadian-born Bossy was one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and had an uncanny ability to shoot on the wrist before opposing goaltenders had a clue the puck was heading their way.
“Mike has the fastest hands I’ve ever seen,” once said Arbour, a former defenseman who played alongside Gordie Howe with the Detroit Red Wings and Bobby Hull with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Bossy twice led the NHL in goals, with 69 in 1978-79 and 68 in 1980-81. 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 553 assists in 752 regular season games over 10 NHL seasons, all with the Islanders.
He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
A finesse and lightly built player, Bossy evaded tough checks and refused to get into scrums.
“Guys knew he wasn’t going to fight,” Trottier told Sports Illustrated in 1999. “They were hitting him, spearing him, it didn’t matter. He didn’t need a lot of room. The guy was so creative that he could do something special with just half an inch.
“I probably developed what the scouts called my quick hands and my quick release more out of self-defense than anything,” 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 pass quickly and take quick shots to avoid getting hammered every time I had the puck.
Bossy won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play in 1983, 1984 and 1986. He incurred just 210 penalty minutes.
He was chosen by the Islanders as the 15th overall pick in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft after being passed over by teams who, despite his outstanding junior hockey goals, believed he lacked the checking skills to survive in the NHL.
It didn’t take long for Bossy to prove otherwise. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1977-78 as NHL Rookie of the Year, scoring a rookie-best 53 goals for 15 years. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as 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. Her father was of Ukrainian descent and her mother was English. Borden Bossy flooded the backyard of the family building during the winters to create a skating rink, and Mike learned to skate at age 3.
He dropped out of Laval Catholic High School to join Laval’s national team of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League near the end of its 1972–73 season and played four full seasons for Laval, scoring 309 goals.
Then came his selection by the Islanders in the draft.
Bossy’s NHL career was cut short by a chronic injury. At the start of the Islanders’ training camp in 1986, he experienced back pain. He missed 17 games during the regular season and injured his left knee in the playoffs when the Flyers eliminated the Islanders in the preliminary round. Doctors eventually discovered that he had two injured discs that could not be repaired with surgery. He missed the 1987-88 season, then retired from hockey in October 1988.
The Islanders retired Bossy’s number 22 in March 1992, making him their second player to receive the honor, 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 broadcasting work in Canada after his playing career ended. When it was discovered that he had cancer, he took time off from his position as a hockey analyst for the French-language channel TVA Sports, based in Montreal.
For all that Bossy and his Stanley Cup champion islanders accomplished, they lacked the charisma of his contemporary, Oilers Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky and Gretzky’s Edmonton teams that won four Stanley Cups. In the 1980’s.
“We never got a millionth of the recognition that we should,” Bossy told Sports Illustrated. “We had a very discreet organization. They didn’t want the guys to overdo it because they thought hockey might suffer. People don’t talk about us when they first mention big teams.
He added: “I guess as I get older I get tired of telling people I scored over 50 nine years in a row. Everything I say makes it sound like I’m bitter, but I’m not. Not at all. It’s just that when you do something good, like our team did, you’d like to be recognized for it.
Regarding 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’t compete with that. I feel comfortable with what I have helped my team accomplish. Whether I consider Wayne Gretzky the best thing since apple pie is another question.
Maia Coleman contributed reporting.