Ed Westfall is Long Island through and through even if it took him 32 years to get there.
Born in Belleville, Ontario, he played his junior hockey north of the border and spent his first 11 NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins while winning two Stanley Cups in the process before he was selected by the upstart New York Islanders for their inaugural season at the 1972 expansion draft.
He never left.
Westfall, who brandished No. 18 in blue and orange, was named the Islanders’ first-ever captain, scored the first goal in franchise history, and in seven years with the team from 1972-1979, helped lead the development of an organization from a hapless expansion side to what became one of the last great North American sports dynasties that won four consecutive Stanley Cups form 1980-1983.
That included a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup semifinals in the team’s third year of existence, featuring a three-game upset of the crosstown-rival Rangers and a 3-0 series comeback to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. They almost did it again in the semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers before falling in Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. He also won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1977, awarded to the player who exemplifies dedication and perseverance.
“Eddie was a veteran when I played with him. I was kind of like the rookie and he took me under his wing,” Islanders legend John Tonelli, whose No. 27 hangs in the rafters at UBS Arena, said. “He’s probably the first guy to kind of make me understand that after practice or after all the hard work that goes on every day on the ice, you have to learn to relax, grab a sandwich and a beer at lunchtime. Eddie was a big proponent of that. My biggest problem was I was intense and needed to do that and he helped me with that.”
After retiring in 1979, Westfall made the jump to the broadcast booth where he helped call Islanders games alongside Jiggs McDonald, who often referred to him as “18” for 20 years. All the while — and after he called it quits in the TV booth — he remained on the east end of Long Island where he’s worked tirelessly as a supporter of youth hockey in Suffolk County.
On Saturday, the Islanders recognized the 83-year-old for a lifetime of dedication to Long Island, naming the first-ever year-round ice skating venue and training facility to the east end in Peconic after him.
“To be singled out for things such as this by the Peconic hockey foundation… it’s a recognition that I didn’t think people had of some of the things that had gone on in my life here on Long Island,” Westfall said. “This is absolutely heart-warming. I can’t think of all the words I’d like to think about, but what I really think about is how much this does for our community.
“I grew up in Ontario where small rinks like this is where we all learned how to play hockey. It brought families together… that might teach some of the kids today and some of their families how to get together and do together that they get away from.”
The full-sized NHL rink, which was laid within a climate-controlled bubble, was supported by the Islanders and co-owner Jon Ledecky. Programs will be linked to the team’s “Learn to Play” program while hosting high school and college hockey teams’ practices.
“Ed was our first captain, he was our first All-Star, and he led us to that great semifinal appearance in the Stanley Cup in our third year in the league,” Ledecky said. “He’ll always be No. 18 in our heart so we thought it was a great way to honor Ed for his eight years with the team and then 20 years as a broadcaster. This is a fitting tribute to a great hockey player and a great human being.”
Add this to the list of honors that Westfall has received from the Islanders. He was elected to the franchise’s Hall of Fame in 2011 and helped Ledecky spearhead efforts in reconnecting alumni when the new ownership regime fully took over in 2016 — a concept that fell by the wayside in the decades before.
“The alumni were all but disbanded until Jon Ledecky came along and he asked me one day, ‘Ed, there’s something missing about the Islanders franchise. I want to get the alumni back involved with the team as best I can and as many as I can,'” Westfall recounted. “And he did. The day he got that going, we all jumped in. Guys were as happy as can be about being part of the team again because they were left out. Other people didn’t want them around. he changed that…
“When the players see today yesteryear’s players, it means a lot to them and it meant a lot to me when I was a kid in Boston… I got here, I stayed here, and Jon Ledecky has really rejuvenated not just the alumni but the whole hockey program around Long Island.”
But one long overdue honor remains absent from Westfall’s ledger: Jersey retirement.
Having dedicated much of the last 50 years to the Islanders and the community, No. 18 hanging in the rafters should certainly be something on the franchise’s to-do list in the near future. Ledecky has already greased the wheels of adding to the retired numbers list, adding Tonelli’s No. 27 and Butch Goring’s No. 91 to the rafters in 2020. They were the first players added to the organization’s hallowed group in 19 years, joining Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, and Bobby Nystrom.
Westfall deserves to be in that group, as are the likes of Ken Morrow and maybe even Pat LaFontaine — but those are cases to be made on other days.