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It was the afternoon of June 25, 2021. The Islanders were in Tampa for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals, and we here at The Post were preparing for a special section on the team in the event of a victory.
That meant that I was going to have another chance to write about The Dynasty, four decades after I’d done so contemporaneously. This gave me a pretty good excuse to be on the phone, chatting up Mike Bossy.
Of course, I was always looking for excuses to speak to Bossy. When Connor McDavid was dragged into a fight while playing in the OHL, I called No. 22 for his take. When Guy Lafleur was diagnosed with cancer, I called Bossy. When the Rangers won the lottery and were primed to pick Alexis Lafreniere first overall, I called Bossy. When I couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse and I just felt like talking to him, I would call the greatest goal-scorer there ever was.
And Bossy, working as an analyst for the Canadian network TVA, would call, email or text intermittently throughout the years, looking for insights on the Rangers. If he was in New York, we’d try and get together. Our relationship of 45 years represents one of the singular pleasures of my career.
There will be no more calls. There will be no more email or text exchanges in the wake of Bossy’s passing at age 65. There are, and will be, only memories now: great ones and happy ones that are shared with his teammates and the extended family of Islanders that has taken such a brutal beating this year.
Gone far too soon, Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin and Bossy. But never far away in spirit. Never far away in our consciousness. Never far away in our hearts.
Bossy was Sinatra on skates, a virtuoso who became A-number 1, king of the hill, top of the heap by doing it his way. He charted his own course and was true to himself from the first day of his career to the final days of his life. He was the NHL’s most famous conscientious objector in an era in which bench-clearing brawls were not only commonplace, but also an integral part of life in the NHL.
He knew who he was; he knew what he could do; he knew what he believed in and never had the slightest inclination to keep it to himself.
“The one way we are quite similar is that Guy has always been outspoken and willing to live with the consequences,” Bossy said when we were talking about Lafleur in September 2019. “The way everyone in Quebec knows Mike Bossy, everyone in Quebec knows Guy Lafleur.”
Lafreniere was born 14 years after Bossy was forced into retirement following the 1986-87 season following just 10 years in the league. Lafreniere was the 2019-20 recipient of the Mike Bossy Trophy given to the QMJHL’s Best Professional Prospect and met the award’s namesake at a postseason banquet.
“I only met him that one time, but of course you grow up knowing all about him and having respect and pride and feeling a connection to him and to Guy Lafleur,” Lafreniere told me a couple of weeks ago. “They’re really the face of hockey in Quebec.”
Nobody has ever scored goals like Bossy, who is the NHL’s all-time leader with .762 goals-per-game, ahead of Mario Lemieux’s .754. When I was writing a freelance piece for Sports Illustrated when Bossy was chasing 50-in-50 in 1980-81, Chico Resch said that Bossy, “scores goals as naturally as you and I wake up in the morning and brush our teeth.”
That release. That shot. That ability to appear out of nowhere on the ice and score. And score. And score. He had 573 goals in the regular season and another 85 in the playoffs, and when I asked Bossy last June if he could name a favorite, he talked about two of them and you can probably guess which ones.
“The 50-in-50 is probably the signature goal of my career,” Bossy said, referring to the night of Jan. 21, 1981, on which he scored his 50th goal in the 50th game of the season at 18:31 of the third period against Quebec (after getting No. 49 at 15:50) to turn a fretting Coliseum into bedlam. “That’s what my brain tells me.
“But my most pleasing goal was the backhand in Vancouver in the final. The one I scored in mid-air.”
Oh, right. The one Bossy scored in mid-air on his backhand from in front of the net in Game 3 of the final. In mid-air.
“Just the context of it,” Bossy said 10 months ago. “Scoring in the final while almost horizontal. Yeah, that was pretty cool.”
He might not have been one of the boys, but he luxuriated at being a part of the Dynasty. “The guys,” he said 10 months ago, when I asked what he thought of first when he allowed himself to reminisce. “All those moments, just everything we did and shared together.
“You know I will always be an Islander.”
But Bossy was also apart from the team early in his career. He wasn’t a drinker. He never went out with the group. He really wasn’t one of the boys, and he was fine with that. He found a kindred soul in Bryan Trottier, though, forming a pair that was inseparable on and off the ice.
We met in Manhattan for a working lunch in 2017 and did a fair amount of catching up. “A lot of people ask me whether I’d be able to score 50 now, with the way the game is played,” Bossy said. “My answer is, ‘Of course.’ I’d probably score 60. I’m not going to say no.”
He was one of a kind, the best ever at what he did for a team that arguably was the best ever itself, with its four straight Cups and 19 consecutive playoff-round victories that, it turns out, weren’t enough for Bossy.
“To this day I think about what I could have done more to win that fifth one,” he told me when we last spoke. “Absolutely, I do.”
I am listening to that recording now. At the end of the conversation, we exchanged some small talk and told each other we’d talk soon. Oh, how I wish. Oh, how I wish I could call Mike today.