EAST MEADOW — Despite their Islanders careers extending to different portions of the 1990s, Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue, and Darius Kasparaitis were either unwilling participants or front-row viewers of the nosedive that would sully the name of an organization for decades.
For the majority of the last 30 years, the franchise that they played for overcame inept ownership, historically bad management, some fish sticks, one of the greatest potential con jobs that almost was, and a series of arena issues that threatened its standing on Long Island. All the while, the history they made along with their teammates was largely pushed to the back burner — secondary and tertiary contributors to a team that highlighted its dynastic run of four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983.
Needless to say, weekends like this one in late January simply didn’t happen before co-owner Jon Ledecky took over seven years ago.
“For some part, we were away from the team,” Hogue said on Sunday. “Then Jon came in and embraced all the alumni and brought them back… I think it’s great. We played here, we know a lot of fans here.”
The Islanders, spearheaded by Ledecky, hosted its alumni weekend during its 50th anniversary season beginning with a dinner in Brooklyn on Friday night, featured suite seats to the current Islanders’ loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at UBS Arena on Saturday night, and was capped off with the second-ever alumni game against the cross-town rival Rangers on Sunday afternoon.
With it has come the remedying of relationships between some of its most iconic players from a portion of the team’s history that wasn’t necessarily its brightest but still just as important for an entire generation of fans.
All three of Hogue, Turgeon — who were acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in the Pat LaFontaine deal — and Kasparaitis starred for the Islanders’ 1993 team that upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the Wales Conference Finals before they were dealt away in a mass five-year exodus that made the Islanders a laughing stock.
With Ledecky in charge, though, things have been smoothed over despite the puzzling deals that were made to ship each of the three off the Island.
Hogue posted three 30-plus goal seasons for the Islanders in as many seasons before he was traded in 1995 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’m still local. I live on Long Island still,” Hogue said. “This brings everybody together and it’s a lot of fun. The camaraderie is still there.
Turgeon scored 58 goals for the Islanders in 1992-93 before he was unceremoniously traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the infamous deal that yielded Kirk Muller — who basically refused to play for the Islanders. It cut short a career that should have seen the forward further cement his status as a franchise legend
“The owners brought us back together and you could tell [he cares],” Turgeon said. “It’s always good to share these stories. That’s why we’re here. The owner is a big part of bringing back the alumni together and we’re very, very happy about this.
Kasparaitis, the bruising defenseman, should have been a centerpiece of the blueline for years to come — temporarily working with other young, promising defenders like Bryan McCabe and Bryan Berard. But he was dealt during the 1996-97 season at the height of the fish sticks era to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he played another decade in the league.
“They’re awesome owners,” Kasparaitis said of Ledecky and co-owner Scott Malkin. “You can call Jon any time and he can help you out with anything you need. That’s the big difference.
“They created this atmosphere that everyone is welcome no matter how many games you played with the Islanders. You’re always an Islander and that changed a lot. More and more guys want to come back and represent this team as alumni.”
Better late than never.