From Vinny, a history lesson. Appropriate since he’s a student of history. Today’s lesson is kick-ass hockey. Our spunky Islanders man has an institutional memory of his team that could stand up against any barroom bet. Can the Islanders of today measure up to the hallowed names of the past? They’ve got 72 games left to prove it.
“Saturday night, The New York Islanders honored their 1992-1993 Conference Finalist squad before a controversial 3-2 OT loss to San Jose (at least the ref admitted he made a bad call to end it, that really keeps me from being too piss and vinegar about it).
The New York Islanders have a special tradition – more so than most teams. We are, as Isles fans, largely defined by that tradition, both good and bad. This tradition requires a history lesson. It’s a tradition of such dominance in it’s early stages thanks to the genius of Torrey and Arbour with 4 Cups in their first 11 years of existence, that I can say that will NEVER be duplicated.
The 80’s didn’t end there, no, a guy by the name of (Please excuse my indulgence or a brief moment, my dear Buffalonians) LalalalalalalalaLAFONTAINE told the Caps to screw off in one of the greatest game 7s in sports history, a game so Epic, it started on Saturday and ended well into Easter Sunday.
Since then, the highlights have been spread out. A few come to mind, the drafting of John Tavares for instance. He’s a superstar, a gamechanger. And he’s Property of the New York Islanders for a LONG time. Another that I got to see unfold was the improbable Dubie run to the playoffs. Little Yoda pokechecked Brylin’s attempt and the old Brendan Byrne Arena (That’s the IZOD center, the Devs old home, for you n00bs) erupted like it was Nassau West. One more time, Easter belonged to the New York Islanders.
Another defining moment was the 2002 Series against the Leafs where the two teams simply ravaged one another. Everyone still talks about game 4, where a game winning penalty shot from Shawn Bates in the dying moments of the third caused me to jump so high I punched my ceiling.
However, I’m a different cat. I’ll never forget game 6 of that series as long as I live. The table was set one game prior, in game 5. Two things happened in that Leafs win of note.
Michael Peca’s knee was irreparably destroyed by that cheap-shotting scumbag, repeat felon, coward who is a Matt Cooke caliber criminal, Darcy ‘Mother’ Tucker. I hate him. I would do violence upon him if I saw him. The other saw one of the game’s true ambassadors do something awful that essentially began the end of the career of longtime Isles stalwart Kenny Jonsson. He charged him from essentially the redline to behind the goal line. I respect Gary Roberts, generally. But that was a dirty a hit with as much intent to injure as you’ll ever see in an NHL game.
Neither hit resulted in any action by the league. They both resulted in plenty of action taken by the Islanders. To set the stage for our newer audience, the NHL Pre-lockout was what hooked me on the game. It was frontier justice on skates. Should you commit a crime, you would be judged by a jury of your peers, not the incompetent biased malcontent that called himself Chief Disciplinarian, Colin Campbell.
The Islanders took the ice that night as Judge, Jury and Executioner. Payment was going to be collected, win or lose. In a nod to Al Arbour’s old approach, decide the hockey portion of the festivities first, and then settle old accounts and see them paid in full. You could tell once we established the outcome of the game, there was going to be an ass kicking.
You knew because as the Centers leaned in for the night’s opening draw, the scoreboard simply read “TONIGHT WE WIN FOR KENNY AND MICHAEL.” To this day, goosebumps. Utter goosebumps.
With 1:55 left in the third, it happened. Eric Cairns, A certified ass kicker, was on the ice. And he was there to get some. But let’s be real kids. Darcy Tucker is a fucking wussie, so he grabs Shawn Bates (WHO NEVER FIGHTS!) knowing it’s about to pop off to avoid squaring with Cairns.
Tucker’s sidekick, Shane Corson, goes to get some of Cairns. That was none too smart. Cairns hands him his lunch, and Corson, like a bitch, tries to kick him with his skate. Bitch. Some Tough Guys, Leafers. Real Manly Men. And they both left with ass kickings for their trouble as Cairns skates off saluting the crowd. Riveting old-time hockey.
If you’re asking what any of this has to do with 1993, I’ll tell you. Our glory years mostly exist through an old dusty lens. Our newer pleasures are small, if poignant moments. The ’93 team is our last link to tangible greatness. That’s why it’s special to us. Those were the last moves of Torrey, the last gasp of Arbour’s tenacity. These are the only links a lot of us remember to the best damn team to ever put on a pair of skates. This squad went in against a Caps team poised for a big run and knocked them out decisively.
Dale Hunter cross checked Turgeon into the endboards after Sneaky Pete scored the series clincher in one of the ugliest moments in NHL history. The Caps hatchetman got one of the longest bans in NHL History.
Still, the Islanders limped into Pittsburgh without their best player against the two-time defending Champions and punched them squarely in the eye. Kasparaitis doggedly hounded Jagr and Lemieux every time they touched the ice, frustrating, incapacitating and infuriating them.
Ultimately, the unlikely duo of Ferraro and Volek would end the Champs reign and take this ragtag banged up overlooked squad to the Conference Finals. It chills me to the bone (in a good way) to see so many parallels to the current team on that plucky iteration of the fabled Never-Say-Die-Landers.
Mick Vukota : Trevor Gillies The Sheriff. That’s what Vukota was. He’d dust you 6 ways from Sunday. He would feed you a diet of fists. If you were still trouble, he’d shoot a double leg that would make Dan Gable proud. “Protection Buddy, it’s what you’re here for.”
Gillies gets that. He’s one of the NHL’s most hated men, and most Islander fans don’t give a rat’s ass. He is as the cold war adage went, Mutually Assured Destruction. If you run Tavares, Grabner, or Okposo, we will let, as that homerriffic hack Steigerwald put it “Gillies out of his cage.” Protection.
Darius Kasparaitis: Travis Hamonic A young Defenseman not afraid to get some of the games biggest stars, who delights in taking the body and can chip in offensively with a well placed slapper. If you run him or his teammates, he will throw them. And no, he doesn’t care about your “Hall of Fame resume.” That applies to Kasper in 93 and Hammer now.
Vladimir Malakhov: Mark Streit Silky Smooth 2 way Dman with a cannon of a shot and the ability to move the puck like a forward.
Ray Ferraro: Frans Nielsen Crafty two-way Centerman with the ability to set up the backbreaker of a goal. Fun to watch.
Glenn Healy: Al Montoya Netminder that’s been around failing to breakthrough, gets a chance to shine on the Island and runs with it.
Pierre Turgeon: John Tavares The game-breaking sniper.
The added layer to this parallel is the ability to disappear from the defense and then de-cloak in the Offensive Zone like a Klingon Bird of Prey and light the lamp. Again and again.
Travis Green: Blake Comeau That about tells you what I think of Comeau when I compare him to the guy Milbury referred to as “Gutless Puke”.
These parallels are mostly clearly evident. Can this squad honor the 92-93 team by recapturing some of it’s swagger and magic? I certainly hope so!”
You will follow Vinny on twitter, and you will like it: @TheLastIslander