BrooklynFans Of Books: On Hockey History

(The Islanders celebrating one of their Stanley Cup wins in the 1980s)

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, and the New York Islanders are a part of it, taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

There are plenty of books out there to read up on the Islanders and hockey history, including: Birth of a Dynasty: The 1980 New York Islanders by Alan Hahn;  Rangers vs. Islanders by Stan Fischler and Zachery Weinstock; The Voices of Hockey by Kirk McKnight; and Hockey 365 by Mike Commito.

Birth of a Dynasty: The 1980 New York Islanders 

By Alan Hahn, Foreword by Bob Nystrom

Sports Publishing; hardcover, 180 pages; $24.99

The National Hockey League saw the birth of a new dynasty in 1980, as the Islanders won the first of four straight Stanley Cups.

The Islanders were an expansion franchise in 1972 in Long Island, and for years, they played in the long shadow of the Rangers and were considered the league’s laughingstock during their first season.

Miraculously, eight years later, they were champions. Despite their mercurial rise in the 1970s, which included a first-place overall finish in the 1978-79 season, the Islanders were still considered chokers because of playoff failures. The most frustrating failure of all came at the hands of the rival Rangers, who beat them in 1979 to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

A year later they stumbled through an injury-plagued and inconsistent regular season. When the playoffs arrived again, they were ready this time. Bolstered by the late-season addition of speedy center Butch Goring and the bitterness of the previous year’s defeat, the Islanders overcame their past failures and put together an exhausting and dramatic run to their first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

In the Finals, they met the still-dominant Philadelphia Flyers, two-time champions in the 1970s. The tough series demonstrated not only the promise with which the Islanders had always teased their fans, but also the maddening struggles that seemed to hold them back every year. That is, until Game Six, when Bob Nystrom, an everyman’s everyman, scored the clinching goal at 7:11 of overtime to make history in both the NHL and on Long Island.

Nystrom writes in the foreword of his legendary moment, “In the almost forty years since I was blessed enough to score The Goal, there are times when I dare myself to wonder: What would have happened if I didn’t score that overtime goal to beat the Flyers? What if we didn’t win that game? What if we lost the series?

“Would they have dismantled this team that had two bitter disappointments the two years prior against the Rangers and Toronto?

“Every once in a while, you see a play in sports that makes you appreciate being on the winning side. The hero rather than the goat.

“Why was I the lucky one?

“Don’t think I haven’t asked myself that question. I’m not sure why I was the one, but I am forever grateful to have been put in that position. It was my choice to return the favor to the teammates who had helped me and my teammates fulfill a lifelong dream. The stars like Billy Smith, who on so many occasions had held us in the big games with save after save, and Mike Bossy, the purest goal scorer of our generation, and his partner in crime, Bryan Trottier, who was probably the best all-around center to ever play the game.

“And how about that other member of Trio Grande, Hall of Famer Clark Gillies? The guy who took it upon himself to battle Terry O’Reilly and the Boston Bruins and gave us the respect we needed.

“Then there was, of course, our captain and three-time Norris Trophy winner, Denis Potvin, who endured injuries all year but was at his best when we needed him the most.

“These were our Hall of Famers and the guys who we expected so much from each night, and they delivered. But the key to our success was the team as a whole. The entire unit, which, to me, couldn’t have done what we did if just one piece was removed. I truly believe that.”

Nystrom’s goal is a moment that still lives in the hearts of Islanders fans and in the annals of Long Island, as a region and a community. It is a moment that spawned a run of four consecutive championships, the longest by any United States-based professional hockey team,  and a run that has since gone unmatched. Newly revised, Birth of a Dynasty: The 1980 New York Islanders is the story of how it happened, how it came together, and what it felt like to be there.

Rangers vs. Islanders: Denis Potvin, Mark Messier, and Everything Else You Wanted to Know about New York’s Greatest Hockey Rivalry

By Stan Fischler and Zachary Weinstock

Sports Publishing; hardcover, 268 pages; $24.99

The rivalry between the Islanders and the Rangers is like no other in the NHL. Playing in the same division and with home rinks mere miles from one another, they face off against each other multiple times a season. This rivalry is marked by the devoted fans on either side backing their personal hometown favorites, making all the games have a playoff atmosphere.

In Rangers vs. Islanders, Stan Fischler and Zachary Weinstock expertly narrate the entirety of the on-ice feud between the Islanders and Rangers. All of the major events are covered in-depth: from the Islanders’ founding in 1971; to the first meet-up in 1972; to the infamous 1975 playoff series; to all eight playoff meetings during the ’70s and ’80s; to the notorious Game Five of the 1984 playoffs; to the pair’s first-ever shootout in 2005; to the Islanders’ controversial move to Brooklyn in 2014; and every other major event in between.

In addition to the heated on-ice action, Fischler and Weinstock also include all of the greatest off-ice moments in the legendary rivalry. There are chapters that look at the impact of the fans and interviews with players, coaches, and managers.

Rangers vs. Islanders is a must-have for every true hockey fan, whether they root for the team from Long Island or Broadway Blue.

The Voices of Hockey: Broadcasters Reflect On The Fastest Game On Earth

By Kirk McKnight

Rowman & Littlefield; hardback, $40.00; paperback, $19.95; eBook, $19.00

Hockey is called “the fastest game on Earth” for a reason. There are plenty of line changes, limited time outs, and pucks traveling 100 miles per hour, and keeping up with this non-stop action takes a special kind of talent.

Today’s NHL broadcasters capture the game in arguably the most difficult capacity in the world of sports, giving the fans a guide to the action in a way nobody else could. With careers outlasting the players, coaches, general managers, and, in some cases, the city itself, the NHL’s broadcasters have more than their fair share of stories to tell.

In The Voices of Hockey: Broadcasters Reflect on the Fastest Game on Earth, Kirk McKnight takes thirty-four of the game’s most gifted play-by-play broadcasters—including nine hall of famers—and shares their many insights, memories, and experiences. These broadcasters have witnessed all-time greats such as Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, and Alexander Ovechkin, making them the ideal voices to pay tribute to the legends of yesterday and the heroes of tomorrow.

The Voices of Hockey brings the reader down to the surface of the ice to experience overtime marathons, record-setting performances, bloodied fights, intense rivalries, and the raising of the Stanley Cup, with details and inside perspectives from some of the most qualified spectators of the game.

From Bob Miller’s description of “The Miracle on Manchester” to John Kelly’s childhood recollection of Bobby Orr’s famous “flying goal,” this book is truly an encapsulation of the NHL over the past fifty years. Generations of hockey fans will enjoy reliving their favorite moments and reading about those they missed in this unique and captivating view of the fastest game on Earth.

McKnight writes about the Rangers last championship and what made it unique from a broadcasting perspective, “Nowadays, any TV broadcasting duty – especially during the Stanley Cup Final – is turned over to the national networks. In 1994, however, Sam Rosen had the good fortune to not only be in the building but also call the team’s long awaited return to glory. The Hall of Fame broadcaster notes,

“‘You start with the passion. The passion of the long-suffering Rangers fan. The team had not won the Stanley Cup since 1940. For me, the game that supersedes all is game seven of the Stanley Cup Final. For the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup after 54 years and ending that drought. To win it at home, at Madison Square Garden, in front of those fanatic, passionate, loving fans, there’s nothing more exciting or thrilling for me. As a broadcaster, it’s something you want, that opportunity to call a championship moment, and I had that in 1994.

“‘Unfortunately, that was the last time in the NHL that the local broadcasters went all the way with their team to the final. After that, the networks broadcasting the NHL had exclusivity in the final round. Now, exclusivity starts in the second round. I did have the good fortune of working for the NHL radio network after that for a dozen years and calling Stanley Cup Finals from 1996 through 2008. Those were thrilling, but nothing compared to 1994, when the Rangers ended 54 years of frustration with one of the greatest moments in New York sports history. For the Rangers to win in game seven, that was the ultimate because that’s the crowning moment.'”

Hockey 365: Daily Stories From The Ice

By Mike Commito

Dundurn Press; paperback, $20.00; eBook, $9.99

Mike Commito is a hockey historian and writer. His work has appeared on the Athletic, Sportsnet, and VICE Sports, and in the Hockey News. He lives in Sudbury, Ontario.

With the new book Hockey 365, Commito has found a hockey history moment for every day of the year.

A few seconds can make a game, even a season, and behind each play is a piece of history. he marks every day of the year with a great moment in hockey and shows how today’s game is part of an ongoing story that dates back to its origins on frozen ponds.

From the National hockey League’s first games in 1917 to Auston Matthews’s electrifying four-goal debut for the Maple Leafs in 2016, Hockey 365 has something for everyone and is sure to give you a better appreciation of this wonderful sport.

“Behind every great play is a piece of history,” Commito writes. “Every milestone goal, point, or shutout is measured and contextualized by how it compares to the feats achieved by players from previous eras. Understanding the history of hockey is important because it highlights the sport’s most significant athletes and how the game has evolved and situated the contemporary game within its rich heritage. You may not think you’re a hockey historian just yet, but every time you watch a game, you’re invariably comparing the accomplishments of the current players on the ice with those of their predecessors.

“Having a better understanding of hockey’s history gives you a better appreciation of the sport and how far it has come  – from its early days on frozen ponds and rivers when the game was played with a block of wood instead of a puck to the riveting crescendo of the NHL’s three-on-three overtime – and it also makes you a better fans. Knowing the history of the sport gives you an insider’s knowledge of the game, both on and off the ice. Moreover, sharing in these moments engages you with the game on an intimate level and connects you in a way that transcends the outcome on the scoresheet.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *