Clark Gillies, the fun-loving Hall of Fame power forward who won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders, passed away at age 67 on Friday, the team announced.
The coaching staff and players were informed immediately after a 4-0 win over the Coyotes at UBS Arena. The team did not reveal the cause of death.
"I think he epitomizes everything being a New York Islander is," Matt Martin said. "I remember when I met him for the first time. I was like, that’s who I want to be when I grow up. He’s just an amazing human being.
"It’s just very sad and unfortunate, and I speak for the whole organization when I say our hearts and thoughts and prayers go to the family. He’s got a beautiful family."
The 6-3, 210-pound Gillies was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, but made a life on Long Island after 14 seasons in the NHL, the first 12 with the Islanders.
Gillies compiled 319 goals and 378 assists in 958 regular-season games plus an additional 47 goals and 47 assists in 164 playoff games. A feared fighter, he also had 1,023 penalty minutes.
"The entire Islanders community is devastated by the loss of Clark Gillies," president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement. "The pride he felt wearing the Islanders sweater on the ice was evident by his willingness to do anything to win. Off the ice, he was just as big of a presence, always taking the time to give back to the community.
"The New York Islanders have four Stanley Cups because of the sacrifices he and the members of those dynasty teams made for the franchise. On behalf of the entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to the entire Gillies family."
Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll never forget last season’s playoff run when a smiling Gillies was shown on the Nassau Coliseum scoreboard. Gillies drank a beer, then smashed the can on his head to thunderous applause.
"Any time you ran into Clarkie, it was a wonderful experience," Anders Lee said. "He lived and breathed Islander hockey."
"He loved to tell bad jokes," said Martin, adding that he modeled his foundation after Gillies’ foundation. "For as tough a guy as he was on the ice, probably not a nicer human being away from the game. His presence and who he was will continue to live on with us."
The Islanders selected Gillies fourth overall in 1974, the same year the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers drafted him seventh overall. He made his debut that year, recording 25 goals and 22 assists in 80 games as a rookie.
He finished his career with two seasons with the Sabres starting in 1986.
Gillies was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 2002. He represented the Islanders at the 1978 NHL All-Star Game and was named to the NHL First All-Star Team in 1978 and 1979. Gillies had his number 9 retired on Dec. 7, 1996, and his banner hangs at UBS Arena.
"It was tough to hear," Brock Nelson said. "Barry mentioned it to us after the game. Thoughts and prayers to the family. He’s an upbeat guy. We’ll be thinking about him tomorrow."
Gillies was one of 16 Islanders players who won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83 and also was a member of the group that set the NHL record of 19 straight playoff series wins, a mark that still stands today.
Nelson called Gillies and the rest of the players on the 1980-83 Cup champions "the foundation of what the team and what the organization are all about. A lot of those guys stuck around and made this place their home. The Island embraced them. We’re lucky to interact with them."
Nelson said Gillies was a regular at the team’s alumni events.
Lee recalled a planned golf event with Gillies several years back that got rained out and still turned into a special day.
"We sat in the clubhouse all morning and it turned into a long day," Lee said. "It was just a great morning with Clarkie. Nothing mattered about the round that day. We just got to sit around a table and spend time with him."
Trotz said the continuing relationships the Islanders’ alumni have with the current team is crucial, and that Gillies was a huge part of that.
"He was bigger than life," Trotz said. "You saw Clark Gillies, you thought Islander. My heart dropped when I was told coming off the ice. And he’ll be missed. He really will."
"The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Clark Gillies, a tower of strength on the ice for the dynastic New York Islanders of the early 1980s and a pillar of the Long Island community ever since," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Gillies helped define the term ‘power forward’ during a 14-season Hall of Fame career with the Islanders and Buffalo Sabres that was highlighted by winning four straight Stanley Cups with the Islanders.
"His 319 goals and 378 assists in 958 NHL games — and 47 goals and 47 assists in 164 Stanley Cup Playoff games — reflected his talent. The adoration and admiration of his teammates reflected the heart and passion he brought to our game. We send our deepest condolences to his family and his countless friends and fans."