35 years after playing his last game as a member of the New York Islanders, Butch Goring will finally be up in the rafters of the Nassau Coliseum, and soon-to-be Belmont Arena (from “Islanders retire Butch Goring’s number to the ‘toy department,'” Newsday, 02/29/2020). The retirement ceremony was announced on Dec. 18, but this move was long overdue.
Goring was brought over from the Los Angeles Kings as part of a trade deadline deal that saw two important pieces of the Islanders roster, Billy Harris and Dave Lewis, shipped out to California. Harris and Lewis had essentially been with the team since its infancy. Harris was the Islanders’ first-overall selection in the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft and he had some productive years on the island, scoring 50 or more points in seven seasons.
The Islanders were one of the NHL’s best clubs in the late 1970s, yet they could not find that last piece that would set the organization over the edge. During the 1978-79 season, the Isles won the Presidents’ Trophy and then fell to the cross-town rival New York Rangers in demoralizing fashion. With Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Dennis Potvin, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, and others, talent certainly was not the issue. For whatever reason, the locker room had a very “tight” atmosphere and general manager Bill Torrey knew that he needed someone to keep the players loose in tough situations. Goring was that guy, cited as the “final piece of the puzzle”.
From a hockey standpoint, Goring was the perfect fit as the Islanders’ second-line center. He was offensive enough that opposing teams would have to contain him, yet he could play on the penalty kill. By adding another all-star into the equation, Bossy and Trottier could have an off night and the team could still get the two points.
In six seasons on Long Island, Goring was absolute magic. His calming personality was able to relax the locker room and the Islanders were able to come out of the 1980 trade deadline firing, eventually taking that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup. They didn’t stop there on their way to four straight championships, becoming the last team in the NHL to accomplish such a feat. On the way, Goring won the 1981 Conn Smythe Trophy for scoring 20 points in 18 games, leading the team to a gentleman’s sweep of the Minnesota North Stars in the Final.
Goring’s stats were not the most impressive, but what is so interesting about his numbers was the increase in point production once the playoffs would start. Some players have the ability to step up in big moments – Goring was clearly one of those guys. He was one of the most important players in Islanders history, and he continued leading by example after his playing career.
Off the Ice
Outside of the game of hockey, Goring still had a tremendous impact on the Islanders organization. He’s been the announcer of the team since 2007 and has called many great moments in franchise history. During his commentating career, the Islanders went through different many phases from being one of the worst teams in the league, to the John Tavares era, and now the Lou Lamoriello/Barry Trotz era.
In his jersey retirement ceremony, you could see how much Goring means to the Islanders fanbase. Chants of “thank you, Butch” and “the only 91” rang throughout the Nassau Coliseum walls. As he took to the podium, Goring recalled thinking of his first game as an Islander: “I’m going to like playing here with these types of fans. We’re gonna win a Stanley Cup.” It was here that Goring helped lead this franchise to the promised land, and it’s only fitting that the ceremony took place in Nassau.
Goring was one of the faces of the Islanders’ organization throughout the glory years of the early 1980s, and he continues to play a major role in shaping the minds of young fans. For the rest of time, Goring will be amongst a group of Islanders legends.
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