Phil Goyette article
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Hockey Great Phil Goyette Knows What It's Like To Coach An Expansion Team
By Don Laible
As a lifetime New York Islanders fan , I've always wanted to speak with Phil Goyette - the team's first coach . So, this past Thursday I did.
During the Islanders expansion season of 1972 - '73 , the boys skating on Long Island in the brand spanking new Nassau Coliseum had a rough time. When the season came to a close, the record would read 12 - 60 - 6. For little more than half of the season Phil Goyette was the coach. The announcement came just four months before the first puck in an Islanders game was to be dropped. " They ( Isles ) were looking for anyone available " , Goyette said during our telephone conversation from his Lachine, Quebec home. " I interviewed for the job after the draft, so I had nothing to say about the team ".
Bill Torrey, the Islanders first general manager, is who hired Goyette. During a 16-season NHL career that saw him win four Stanley Cup rings as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, Goyette, 79, recalls his one and only head coaching tenure as if it were yesterday. Still living in the same home since the 1950's when breaking in with Montreal, Goyette recaps the creation of then New York's third NHL club. " The WHA ( World Hockey Association expansion league ) was coming. The Islanders lost more than three quarters of the playeres they drafted to the WHA ", says Goyette. " We ( Isles ) didn't have much to work with. The only experienced players I had were Eddie Westfall and a few others ".
As the expansion season began for Goyette and his team which included future Islanders Cup winners Billy Smith, Bobby Nystrom, and Lorne Henning, it became clear that patience would be needed by management and the fan base. After getting off to a 6 - 40 - 4 record, Goyette was fired. Earl Ingarfield,Sr. , Goyette's replacement , finished out the inaugural run on the Island tallying a 6 - 22 - 2 record. " The team wanted me to stay with them in a different capacity. I went home to Quebec. They ( Isles ) made a change, I imagine to keep the fans from leaving. I don't hold any grudges with the organization " .
As he looks back at the roster he had to work with in the fall of '72, Goyette knew he would be in for a rocky start, if not a bumpy ride all the way through April. Many of the young Islanders were only 18 and 19-years old, just out of juniors. " They weren't Gretzkys ", Goyette states. After Goyette, and his substitute Ingarfield,Sr. were excused , Al Arbour was hired. The following season ( 1973 - '74 ) the Islanders would win seven more games than registered the previous campaign, however there would be a dynasty building at the Colieum that would lead the team to five consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and four consecutive championships. " After I left the Islanders drafted Trottier and Bossy and things started to turn around for the team. It takes time to build a successful team with young players ", Goyette tells.
Being part of an expansion process wasn't new for Goyette on the Island. As a player on the Buffalo Sabres inaugural roster during the 1970 - 1971 season, Goyette sees a distinct difference of skating in Western New York and coaching in Uniondale. Having "older' players as teammates such as Eddie Shack and Dick Duff, plus the very first Sabre drafted Gil Perreault who the organization would build their future around , saw 24 victories captured during year one - twice as what the baby Islanders could muster up.
" I took the opportunity offered but I should have never done it ", believes Goyette. " I was just out of the NHL as a player ". There are some positive memories for the first-ever Islanders bench boss, who centered for Montreal, St. Louis, Rangers, and Sabres during his playing days. A 9 - 1 victory in Boston over the Bruins comes to mind , first. Goyette tells of acting as the Islanders traveling secretary, as well. " They ( management ) didn't know how to make an itinerary on the road; how to get transportation, where to practice. I had to show them the way ", Goyette explains.
Being part of history with an expansion team had to be rough for someone of Goyette's pedigree having grown up in the winning culture of the Montreal Canadiens. " We ( Canadiens ) won four Cups in a row. I played with the Rocket ( Hall of Famer Maurice Richard ) and so many greats ", Goyette fondly recalls. Today, it's playing golf three or four times a week and walking a lot, for Goyette. His voice is perky and his recollection of events of many decades back are sharp in detail. Coaching wasn't his calling, especially on Long Island, but Phil Goyette is okay with that. He really is proud to have been a player - and he says so as eloquently as any.
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