As lofty and sacred as the idea of leaving a legacy is, we all leave one on this planet or some of its inhabitants in one way or another.
Some are larger than others; some are felt for longer, too.
I want to be remembered as an honest, hard-working man with a deep love and loyalty reserved for his family and friends. Simple, yet effective. That’s good enough for me.
But as one of the millions of kids growing up on Long Island from 1990 until today — and most of you can attest to this — I was told the tales of North American sports’ last true, great dynasty in the New York Islanders winning four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983.
And with it, men who I never actually saw play were placed in the upper echelons of a child’s sporting heroes.
Bobby Nystrom — whom if you haven’t met, that means you’re not a true Long Islander — scoring 7:11 into overtime in Game 6 to deliver the Islanders the 1980 Stanley Cup title.
Mike Bossy, the greatest pure goal scorer the game has ever seen and should ever know, grouped with one of the finest playmakers of a generation in Bryan Trottier, along with the bruising skill of Clark Gillies.
John Tonelli, who never lost a puck in the corner, saving the Islanders’ season in 1982 with two goals to see the Islanders past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Patrick Division semifinals.
Ken Morrow, one of the best defensive defensemen who had a knack for scoring immense goals; like an empty-netter to secure the Islanders’ fourth-straight Stanley Cup in 1983 against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers and the overtime winner the following year in Game 5 of another Patrick Division semifinal thriller over the New York Rangers to ensure they’d get to a fifth-straight Cup appearance.
Built by Bill Torrey and led by Al Arbour, 16 players won all four championships together.
And what made it all the more unique was that it truly happened in our backyard.
Unlike other New York champions that have come over the last 40 years — the Yankees, Mets, Giants — they distinctly belong to New York City, or technically New Jersey. The Islanders are uniquely Long Island, representing the nearly 3 million people calling Nassau and Suffolk Counties home.
Now that’s one heck of a legacy to leave.
But it was the only one fan base had for nearly three decades as the Islanders fell off the proverbial rails and plummeted to mediocrity and — a lot of the times — a laughing stock of the NHL.
We don’t need to get to specifics, but from 1991-2018, losing seasons outnumbered playoff appearances 19-8 while a crumbling home cast major doubt on the team staying on the Island.
The projection of the franchise has completed a 180 with such vigor after the arrival of head coach Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello three years ago, it’s understandable to feel the side effects of the whiplash that came with it. That’s probably why all those beer cans littered the Nassau Coliseum ice on Wednesday night after Anthony Beauvillier’s Game 6 overtime winner over the Tamp Bay Lightning.
The Islanders are in the Stanley Cup semifinals for the second-straight season and are just one win away on Friday night from getting back to the Final for the first time since 1984; quite a swansong for Nassau Coliseum before the team moves to UBS Arena at Belmont Park this fall.
Of course, a loss means their season ends in heartbreak. But playing alongside the ghosts of legacies past who can know find a good reason to warm up their vocal cords, Trotz understands that a new legacy has formed on Long Island — a fresh one its inhabitants so deeply connected to the franchise can tell their children about.
“No matter what they do tonight, they’re forging a legacy of being a team that’s consistently hard to play against, consistently have a great work ethic, consistently a team that cares about each other,” Trotz said just hours before Game 7 puck drop in Tampa Bay. “That’s a part of the whole legacy. Win or lose tonight, it’s not going to diminish anything. It’s just a part of the overall journey for these young men.”
Puck drop for the winner-take-all Game 7 from Amalie Arena is at 8:15 p.m. ET.