Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, who formed one of the best forward lines in National Hockey League history, were reunited yesterday in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
They helped the New York Islanders win four consecutive championships, 1980-83, and after watching Bossy get inducted in 1991 and Trottier in 1997, Gillies, the mucker on the line, received the honour in yesterday's induction ceremony.
"To be recognized as one of the great lines that was ever put together is very special," said Gillies, 48, a native of Moose Jaw, Sask.
Two other players who also rose to prominence in the 1980s also were inducted: Bernie Federko, 46, the brilliant St. Louis Blues playmaker from Foam Lake Sask.; and Rod Langway, 45, the lanky American who won the Stanley Cup with Montreal and moved on to Washington where he twice won the Norris Trophy as best defenceman.
Roger Neilson, 68, head coach of eight NHL teams and now an assistant in Ottawa, was inducted in the builders category.
Gillies, who won the Memorial Cup with the Regina Pats juniors before moving up to the big league, had 319 goals, 378 assists and 1,023 penalty minutes in his 948-game NHL career. Others not in the Hall have greater numbers but Gillies' contributions to the Islanders were invaluable.
He was the tough 6-foot-3 power forward on the left flank of The Trio Grande. His teammates called him Jethro after a character on the TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.
"I told somebody the other day, 'I'd have scored 50 goals if Trots was right-handed.' But, nah, I knew my job on that line was pretty clear," Gillies said after being presented with his navy blue hall blazer and sparkling ring before a round of morning interviews. "The puck would come around the boards to me, I would throw it to Trots in the middle, and he'd throw it to Boss, and Boss would go in and score.
"That's not far from the truth."
Coach Al Arbour hammered home the need for Gillies to stick to the basics.
"He'd always tell me, 'I don't want you cutting through the middle or making fancy backhand passes. Your game is straight up and down the boards. Bang in the corners and get the puck out and get it to [Trottier and Bossy]' " Gillies recalled. "It worked very, very well. We accomplished a lot together."
He considers the 1980-83 Islanders "the greatest team that was ever assembled." Hombre, his German shepherd back then, even got to eat dog food out of the Stanley Cup.
Besides Bossy and Trottier, previously inducted Islanders were defenceman Denis Potvin (1991) and goalie Billy Smith (1993). Arbour (1996) and president Bill Torrey (1995) are in the builders section.
Gillies had always hoped to join his teammates in the Hall. He'd been nominated twice before, and fell short both times by one selection committee vote.
"I just kind of put it on the back burner and it's been six or seven years now for this day to come up," he said. "It's a wonderful, wonderful thing. It's the ultimate reward for playing a game that was just a lot of fun."
Gillies said the defining moments of his career occurred during the 1980 playoffs.
"One of the knocks against me was, 'Leave the big guy alone and he'll sleep a little bit and won't do much damage,' " he recalled. "We had a series against Boston that year and I had to really get motivated to the point I would go out there and do some things I wasn't really comfortable doing, like fighting with Terry O'Reilly.
"It was something the team needed. It wasn't something I really enjoyed doing. When it was all over, I didn't get any big thrill out of it. Then we had to play Philly in the finals and that was a very tough series as well. That year I proved to myself I could go out there and play that style of game as well if I needed to."
There are others from the Islanders' championship teams who deserve consideration by the selection committee, he said.
"Bobby Nystrom would be my next choice from that team. His contributions to that team were immense."
Gillies would have trouble with the strict officiating of the NHL today.
"It would be tricky," he said. "If I couldn't clutch, grab, hook and hold, I wouldn't have had very much success, because I learned at an early time in my career . . . the best way to stop somebody was just not to let them get going."
Against Philadelphia, Gary Dornhoefer would be all over him.
"I'd start to skate and he'd hook and hold and his stick would be between my legs. I did that a lot when I played, and our team did that a lot.
"We made sure when the puck was dumped into our end nobody got a free shot at any of our defencemen. If the puck was dumped in, the player who dumped it would have to go get it because everybody else was being held up -- probably illegally most of the time by today's standards.
"But that's the way we played, and that's why we were successful as a team."
Neilson, who coached the Vancouver Canucks in the 1982 final -- won 4-0 by the Islanders -- says The Trio Grande "was one of the best lines ever."
Said Gillies: "Of all our Stanley Cup teams, even including the one that won the fourth Cup, that '82 team was as solid as you're going to find. We wore teams out, and they didn't really have much of a chance. We were confident before we stepped onto the ice that they weren't going to beat us."
Neilson's first NHL post was Toronto, and the Leafs upset the Islanders in the second playoff round in 1978. Gillies and his teammates would learn from that experience.
"Roger had the ability to really fire up his players," Gillies said. "Those Roger Neilson-coached teams were always tough to play.
"All his teams played a very aggressive style, and they always seemed to be well-conditioned."
Neilson, who to his knowledge has no living relatives, was asked who might be happy for him on his induction day.
"Well, one guy who might be pretty surprised would be [late Leafs owner]Harold Ballard," he replied.
Said Neilson of his dinner speech: "It's only four minutes long. I'll just thank a few people and cut up the Leafs. That's about it."
Langway, like Gillies whom he skated against, had to wait for Hall of Fame acceptance beyond his eligibility date.
"I was disappointed not to have got the call last year -- I have to be honest with you," he said. "I thought that, if I didn't get in this year, I might get overlooked.
"There's some great players coming up in the next few years. I'm glad it's over with. It's a great honour."
Federko was the first skater to earn as many as 50 assists in 10 consecutive seasons, and he's the first St. Louis-drafted player to be inducted.
"I was looked to as a guy who could carry the torch and I was proud to carry it for 13 years," said Federko, who is a colour commentator on Blues TV broadcasts. "As a player, you dream about winning a Stanley Cup.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get that but it wasn't for lack of trying. I just tried to be the nucleus of that hockey club for as long as I could."