Knowing Mike Bossy of the Islanders was a unique privilege

It was the afternoon of June 25, 2021. The Islanders were in Tampa for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, and we here at the Post were preparing a special section of the team in case of victoire.

It meant I was going to get another chance to write about The Dynasty, four decades after doing it simultaneously. It gave me a pretty good excuse to be on the phone, chatting with Mike Bossy.

Of course, I was always looking for excuses to talk to Bossy. When Connor McDavid got dragged into a fight while playing in the OHL, I called number 22 for his catch. When Guy Lafleur was diagnosed with cancer, I called Bossy. When the Rangers won the lottery and were ready to pick Alexis Lafrenière first overall, I called Bossy. When I couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse and just wanted to talk to him, I called the greatest goalscorer that ever existed.

And Bossy, working as an analyst for the Canadian network TVA, called, emailed or texted intermittently over the years, looking for information on the Rangers. If he was in New York, we’d try to get together. Our 45-year relationship has been one of the singular pleasures of my career.

There will be no more calls. There will be no more exchanges of emails or text messages following the death of Bossy at the age of 65. There are and will be only memories now: great, happy memories that are shared with his teammates and the extended Islander family that has taken such a brutal beating this year.

On the flight home from Vancouver after the Islanders’ third Stanley Cup in 1982. Left to right, Mike Bossy, Larry Brooks, Newsday’s Pat Calabria, assistant GM Tex Ehmany.
Bruce Bennet

Gone far too soon, Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin and Bossy. But never far in mind. Never very far in our consciousness. Never far in our hearts.

Bossy was Sinatra on skates, a virtuoso who became number 1, king of the hill, top of the heap by doing it his way. He forged his own path and was true to himself from the first day of his career to the last days of his life. He was the NHL’s most famous conscientious objector during a time when bench clearance brawls were not only commonplace, but an integral part of NHL life.

He knew who he was; he knew what he could do; he knew what he believed in and had never had the slightest desire to keep it to himself.

“The only way we’re quite similar is that Guy has always been outspoken and willing to live with the consequences,” Bossy said when we were talking about Lafleur in September 2019. “The way everyone in Quebec knows Mike Bossy, everyone in Quebec knows Guy Lafleur.

Lafrenière was born 14 years after Bossy was forced to retire after the 1986-87 season after just 10 years in the league. Lafrenière was the 2019-20 recipient of the Mike Bossy Trophy awarded to the QMJHL’s top professional prospect and met the award’s namesake at a post-season banquet.

“I’ve only met him once, but of course you grow up knowing all about him and having respect and pride and feeling connected to him and Guy Lafleur,” he told me. Lafrenière a few weeks ago. “They really are the face of hockey in Quebec.

Mike Bossey

No one has ever scored like Bossy, who is the all-time NHL leader with 0.762 goals per game, ahead of Mario Lemieux with 0.754. When I was writing a freelance article for Sports Illustrated when Bossy was chasing 50-for-50 in 1980-81, Chico Resch said that Bossy “scored goals as naturally as you and I wake up in the morning and brush our teeth.”

This version. It’s hot. This ability to appear out of nowhere on the ice and score. And mark. And mark. He scored 573 regular season goals and another 85 in the playoffs, and when I asked Bossy last June if he could name a favorite, he listed two of them and you can probably guess which ones.

“The 50 in 50 is probably the highlight goal of my career,” Bossy said, referring to the night of January 21, 1981, when he scored his 50th goal in the 50th game of the season at 6:31 p.m. the third period against Quebec (after getting number 49 at 15:50) to turn a frustrating Colisée into a ruckus. “That’s what my brain tells me.

“But my most enjoyable goal was the loss to Vancouver in the final. The one I marked in the air.

Oh that’s right. The one Bossy scored in the air on his backhand in front of the net in Game 3 of the Finals. In midair.

That one.

“Just the context,” Bossy said 10 months ago. “To score in the final when he was almost horizontal. Yeah, that was pretty cool.

He might not be one of the boys, but he reveled in being part of the dynasty. “Guys,” he said 10 months ago, when I asked him what he thought of first when he allowed himself to reminisce. “All those moments, everything we did and shared together.

“You know I will always be an islander.”

Mike Bossy

But Bossy was also on the sidelines early in his career. He was not a drinker. He never went out with the band. He really wasn’t one of the boys, and he was okay with that. He did, however, find a kindred spirit in Bryan Trottier, forming an inseparable pair on and off the ice.

We met in Manhattan for a working lunch in 2017 and did quite a bit of catching up. “A lot of people ask me if I would be able to score 50 now, with the way the game is played,” Bossy said. “My answer is, ‘Of course.’ I would probably score 60. I’m not going to say no.

He was one of a kind, the best of all time for a team that was arguably the best of all time, with his four straight cups and 19 straight playoff wins that ultimately weren’t not enough for Bossy.

“To this day, I think about what more I could have done to win that fifth,” he told me during our last chat. “Absolutely, I do.”

I listen to this recording now. At the end of the conversation, we exchanged a little chat and said to each other that we would talk to each other soon. Oh, as I wish. Oh, how I wish I could call Mike today.