Family legend has it that Bossy’s father placed a plastic hockey stick in the hands of two-year-old Michael to see what would result. Ever since he was a kid, he had his sights set on the NHL…
The first training session of the season is normally a simple exercise in maneuverability, but for Mike Bossy it was a nightmare. Suffering an excruciating pain in the back, his first thought was that it was something new and he’d get over it.
Bossy turned up at training camp with a desire to show what he could do. Coach Al Arbour placed him on the same line as two other up-and-coming stars – Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies. In their first exhibition game, the Islanders mounted a good attack. Bossy and Trottier raced the length of the ice, outmaneuvering their opponents and flipping passes back and forth. Bossy didn’t score, but Arbour said after the game, “We picked the guy we needed!”
In his first season, Bossy scored an all-time rookie record of 53 goals and chalked up a total of 92 points to win the Calder Trophy. No one doubted his talents as a sharpshooter, but questions surfaced about whether he would ever be able to play defense. In the junior league, Bossy hadn’t ever tried to play defense well on a mediocre team that had needed a goal-scoring machine to remain afloat. It was in the NHL that he had to learn the ABCs of playing in his own end. It was very rare to come across press reports about how Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux played in their own end zones, but journalists wrote a lot about Bossy’s defensive skills.
Having scored over 50 goals in three successive seasons, Bossy needed a fresh impetus. So he invented it. The great forward for the Montreal Canadiens, Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, scored 50 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 season. Thirty-six years later, no one had ever been able to repeat that feat. Only a very few of his closest friends, including Trottier, knew about Bossy’s plan. They liked the idea. But his partners couldn’t imagine what it was going to cost them.
That 10th season was the worst in his entire NHL career. It was the first time he was unable to score 50 goals, managing only 38 instead. He refused to participate in the 1987 Rendez-vous series when his affliction got the best of him. In fact, it was enough to put an end to the professional career of the Bossy – one of the top scorers in the entire history of the league. And the first player to speak out publicly against rough play on the ice.
During the draft, the scouts had tabbed Bossy as a timid player. He tried his best to lose this label during his professional career, but he also hated violence on the ice and considered fighting and roughing as beneath contempt. It seemed to him that that was why the fans in North America didn’t treat hockey as seriously as they did baseball, basketball or football, but people in control of the game in North America believed the fans enjoyed watching the fights on the ice.
Bossy’s goal was to become the best player of his era, but that title was always awarded to someone else: Guy Lafleur, Bryan Trottier, Wayne Gretzky. He was regarded more as a natural-born sniper than a great hockey player. Besides, Bossy was never the highest scorer in a season. Many of his individual records were eclipsed long ago. Gretzky scored 50 goals in 39 games. But in the record books, the most 50-or-more goal seasons list is headed by Mike Bossy (nine times). On top of that, Mike Bossy has four Stanley Cup rings to his credit. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991 and had his number retired by the Islanders.
Courtesy of Hockey Legends.