Mike Bossy scored in his first National Hockey League game. He scored in his second game. He scored a stunning 20 goals in his first 22 games on the way to a rookie scoring record.
Mr. Bossy kept on scoring through 10 seasons until a chronic back injury forced him from the ice.
One of the most prolific goal scorers in hockey history, Mr. Bossy’s sharpshooting helped his New York Islanders claim four consecutive Stanley Cup championships. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most-valuable player in the 1982 playoffs after the Islanders swept the Vancouver Canucks in the final.
Earlier, he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1978. He also won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship three times.
Mr. Bossy, who said last October he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, died in Montreal on Thursday night. He was 65. The death was confirmed by the Islanders and TVA Sports, the French-language network where he worked as a hockey analyst.
Mr. Bossy possessed quick hands and a sniper’s cold touch. An imperceptible flick of his wrists rifled the puck into a corner of the net. Smooth in every aspect of the offensive game, he was described as a phantom for his ability to pounce suddenly on a loose puck while clear of a rival checker. The deft right-winger scored 50 or more goals in nine consecutive seasons, a feat which eluded even the great Wayne Gretzky, in whose shadow he spent most of his career.
His preternatural skills placed him among the historical greats of NHL skaters. He was chosen for the list of greatest 100 players released to mark the league’s centenary in 2017.
At 6 feet and 186 pounds, he was not a power forward, though Sports Illustrated described him as having the strength of a longshoreman. A long, horsey face reminiscent of Lurch, the manservant in The Addams Family, hinted at menace, yet the pacific forward eschewed violence.
“Each time you knock me down,” he said, “I will get back up and score more goals.”
His unwillingness to engage in hockey’s roughhousing led some scouts to dismiss the young player for lacking courage.
Despite having been a scoring sensation as a junior player in his native Quebec, Mr. Bossy was the 15th player selected in the 1977 NHL amateur draft, as all three Canadian teams overlooked him, the Toronto Maple Leafs twice going with other picks. The New York Rangers also passed on him twice to their later regret as they had to endure the triumphs of their crosstown rivals.
Mr. Bossy responded by scoring a record 53 goals in his rookie campaign. By the end of his third season, he was a Stanley Cup winner as the Islanders launched what would be a four-year championship dynasty.
Michael Dean Bossy was born in Montreal on Jan. 22, 1957. He was one of 10 children (Vivienne, Patrick, Rodney, Donald, Christopher, Mike, Pamela, Constance, Carole, and Gordon) born to the former Dorothy Ada Mills and Borden Bossy. His mother was an English war bride from Stratford-Upon-Avon who married a Canadian airman on overseas service. Sergeant Bossy, an ethnic Ukrainian born in Poland, served as a navigator in Royal Canadian Air Force bombing raids over Germany.
While Mrs. Bossy and their first daughter arrived in Canada aboard the Scythia in March, 1946, the sergeant was not yet demobilized and only returned home later in the year. In peacetime, he worked as an industrial designer.
Every winter, Borden Bossy built an outdoor rink complete with boards behind the family’s rented home in Ahuntsic, a neighbourhood in north Montreal across the river from Laval.
“I can remember my dad going out, winter after winter, in freezing weather, hosing down the area behind our house to build a skating rink for me,” Mr. Bossy told the New York Daily News in 1982. “And I realize now it was so he could provide me with the opportunity to practise.”
The boys played hockey on the ice, while the family’s girls clamoured for figure-skating time. The Bossy backyard was filled with neighbourhood children, nearly all of them fans of the Montreal Canadiens, though the Bossy family oddly did not cheer for the local hockey team. Mrs. Bossy was a fan of Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings, sending him a birthday card every year and naming her youngest son after him. Mike Bossy would later explain his lack of affinity for the Canadiens by noting a family preference for cheering for underdogs.
It was said young Mike scored 23 goals in his first organized hockey game. In any case, he was immediately seen as a prospect for each level of hockey as he ascended through the age ranks. The organizers of the Laval Nationals junior hockey team arranged to have the boy play out of an arena in the suburban neighbourhood of Chomedey, where the 15-year-old was smitten with a girl working the snack counter. Lucie Creamer was the daughter of the rink manager and young Mike perfected his French to be able to speak with her better. They had a June wedding in 1977, shortly after he signed his first professional contract. The couple honeymooned in the Bahamas, while the player bought his mother an automatic washer to replace the old wringer washer with which she handled laundry for a household of 12.
After a sensational career with the junior Laval Nationals, during which he scored an astounding 309 goals over four seasons, the career standard for major-junior hockey, Mr. Bossy’s selection late in the first round of the draft reflected perceptions of him as lacking toughness and a willingness to back-check.
When asked by Islanders general manager Bill Torrey whether he would make the team in his first year, Mr. Bossy replied, “I’m going to play, sir, and not only that I’m gonna score 50 goals.” The rookie record at the time was 44 goals.
At training camp, coach Al Arbour placed him on a line with Bryan Trottier, a superb, two-way centre, and Clark Gillies, a left-winger fearless in the corners. The linemates clicked and the Trio Grande emerged as one of the NHL’s most effective combinations. For a decade, Mr. Trottier and Mr. Bossy shared an uncanny intuition, mesmerizing opponents with their deft passing.
The 53 goals Mr. Bossy scored in his debut season in 1977-78 stood as the rookie standard until Teemu Selanne scored 76 for the Winnipeg Jets 15 seasons later.
In the 1978 Stanley Cup quarter-finals, the Islanders were upset by the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games. Mr. Bossy later admitted he had been intimidated by Tiger Williams, a player of limited skill but unlimited ferocity.
A driven perfectionist, Mr. Bossy refused to be drawn into hockey’s violent code, preferring instead to respond by scoring more goals. He led the NHL with 69 goals in his sophomore season.
In the four playoffs in which the Islanders won the Stanley Cup, Mr. Bossy scored an astonishing 61 goals in 72 games against the tightest, most vicious checking opponents could muster.
Mr. Bossy scored consecutive Stanley Cup-winning goals in 1982 and 1983.
The 1982 triumph over the Canucks was all the sweeter because Mr. Bossy managed to overcome the demon of Mr. Williams, then with Vancouver, who added punch to an overachieving Canucks lineup.
“Tiger was Tiger. He taunted me, threw elbows at me, worked, cross-checked and punched me,” Mr. Bossy said. “Williams couldn’t have cared less if he broke my neck.”
In the 1980-81 season, the right-winger challenged Maurice (Rocket) Richard’s memorable standard of 50 goals in 50 games. A slight decline in production midway through the season left Mr. Bossy with 48 goals in 49 games. His 50th game came at home against the Quebec Nordiques, who held him from the score sheet through the first two periods and most of the third. Finally, with only 4 minutes 10 seconds left in the game, Mr. Bossy beat Ron Grahame in the Quebec goal. With a capacity crowd at Nassau Coliseum cheering him on, Mr. Bossy rifled another shot past the Quebec goalie with only 1:29 on the clock.
For all his success, Mr. Bossy remained an enigma to most teammates, other than Mr. Trottier.
Thoughtful, though with an unsympathetic habit of speaking of himself in the third person, he came across to others in hockey’s rough-and-tumble world of machismo as something of an oddball, if not arrogant.
“I realize I have a talent, a natural ability,” he said in 1986. “I term it in that frame because there are things I can do that I can’t explain. But I know one thing, that I have to work with what I have just as much as someone else. Throughout my career there have been people who noted Mike Bossy is nonchalant, isn’t really working, and said, ‘Look how easy it is for him.’ But it hasn’t been. I work just as hard as anybody else.”
With his back aching from a decade of cross-checks delivered by less skilled players, Mr. Bossy retired in 1987. He had scored 573 goals in 752 regular-season games with another 85 goals in 129 playoff games.
Away from the arena, he worked as a publicist for Daoust Skates and as a vice-president for hockey equipment manufacturer Karhu Canada. He appeared in French-language television commercials for potato chips and managed real estate holdings in Montreal.
He also became a broadcaster and was noted for his unvarnished evaluations of players.
In October of last year, he announced he was leaving his job as a hockey analyst for French-language broadcasts on TVA Sports to receive treatment for lung cancer.
“I can tell you that I intend to fight with the determination and the enthusiasm that you have seen me display on the ice and in my game,” he wrote at the time.
Mr. Bossy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (1991), the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame (Panthéon des sports du Québec) (1995), the Laval (Que.) Sports Hall of Fame (1996), Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2007), and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Hall of Fame (1998). In 1992, the Islanders retired his No. 22 sweater, a number selected to match his birthday.
The QMJHL awards a Mike Bossy Trophy each season to the player identified as the best professional prospect, while an arena in Laval carries his name.
Mr. Bossy leaves Lucie Creamer, his wife of 44 years, and their daughters, Josiane, an artist, and Tanya, a hospital administrator. He was predeceased by three siblings. A full list of survivors was unavailable.
Of all the goals he scored, the one he considered the most spectacular was netted during Game 3 of the 1982 Stanley Cup final at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. With the Islanders leading 1-0 midway through the game, the right-winger fired a quick shot and a rebound from the slot with both stopped by Canucks goalie Richard Brodeur.
“I was dumped by defenceman Lars Lindgren just as Brodeur kicked my second shot back to me,” he wrote in his 1988 autobiography, Boss: The Mike Bossy Story, written with Barry Meisel. “I was parallel to the ice, in the air, about to land on my stomach and face from the force of Lindgren’s hit when the puck reached me.”
With his body extended, parallel to the ice, he pushed the puck from his forehand to his backhand before flicking it toward the Vancouver goal, where it slipped past the sprawling goalie and a defenceman who tried to block the net.
“The only part of me touching the ice when I shot was the blade of my stick,” he wrote. “I was amazed.”
In the broadcast booth, analyst Howie Meeker squeaked in delight as the improbable goal was shown in slow-motion replay.
“You have to see it to believe it,” Mr. Meeker said. “And then you shake your head.”