SUNRISE, Fla. – The late Bill Torrey may have identified himself more with the Panthers once he joined the organization as president in 1993, but he never stopped watching the Islanders.
“He’d been with the Panthers for 25 years, he wanted to see hockey succeed here so badly,” the Hall of Fame NHL executive’s son, Rich Torrey, told Newsday. “Out of the side of his eye, the whole time here, he always watched the Islanders. The surroundings of how he ended up leaving them were painful. I don’t know if he ever really got over it.”
The Panthers honored Bill Torrey, who passed away at his West Palm Beach, Florida home on May 3 at age 83, with a simple yet tasteful pre-ceremony prior to Saturday night’s match with the Islanders at BB&T Center as part of their Legacy Saturdays series. The Islanders wore a bow tie sticker on the backs of their helmets to honor their former general manager and his signature neckwear.
The Islanders, who raised a banner for Torrey as “The Architect” and with a bow tie on Jan. 13, 2001, will also hold a tribute for Torrey later this season once they resume playing games at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“My brother Willie had talked to (president/general manager) Lou Lamoriello about that,” said Rich Torrey, 59, who lives in Shoreham. “He was saying my dad had no connection to the Barclays Center.”
The Panthers had already raised a banner for Torrey on Oct. 23, 2010.
Rich Torrey and his three brothers, William, Peter and Arthur, were on the ice for Saturday’s ceremonial puck drop and a tribute video was shown ending with “Thank You Mr. Torrey, 1934-2018.” In all, 19 members of Torrey’s family were in attendance.
“It’s a little surreal,” Rich Torrey said. “It’s the first time we have all been at BB&T Center since he passed.”
After leaving his first job as an NHL GM with the now-defunct California Golden Seals and their flamboyant owner, Charles O. Finley, in 1971, Torrey was the expansion Islanders’ first employee and stayed with the organization for four Stanley Cups through 1992, when he was forced out by new ownership.
He then helped build a second expansion club in the Panthers as team president from 1993-2001, including a trip to the Stanley Cup final in 1996.
“He’s the builder,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “He knows how to put teams together.”
“Bill was a very quiet individual,” said MSG analyst Butch Goring, acquired by Torrey from the Kings in 1980 as the final piece to the Islanders’ championship puzzle. “Usually, once a year, he’d come in and rattle the sabers a little bit because the team was playing .500 hockey and everybody would get the message that, OK, it’s time to get a little more serious.”
Goring was the Islanders coach when the organization raised Torrey’s banner.
Rich Torrey was riding around with his dad on the ice.
“It was a funny ceremony,” Rich Torrey said. “For whatever reason, they had him ride around the ice in a car. He wasn’t going to do it unless his sons sat in the car with him. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, you’re getting the car.’ He said, ‘No.’ I don’t know what the car thing was about. But it was very meaningful to see him get his due there. His name and teeth were cut there.”