Butch Goring had figured — or at least strongly hoped — he’d be with the Los Angeles Kings, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 1969, for his entire NHL career. That confidence only grew after he signed a five-year, $1.25 million deal with the Kings in 1978 rather than jumping to the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers.
Yet he was in the visitor’s dressing room at The Forum on April 11, 1980, with the Kings holding a 3-1 lead over his new team, the Islanders, going into the third period of their best-of-five first-round playoff series and looking to take a two-games-to-one-lead.
Goring’s acquisition to be the second-line center behind Bryan Trottier was supposed to be the final piece to a championship puzzle for the Islanders after devastating playoff losses to the Maple Leafs in 1978 and the Rangers in 1979.
“The room, to me, looked like it was in serious trouble,” Goring told Newsday this month. “It was almost like you could read the minds: ‘Here we go again, you’ve got to be kidding me.’
“I remember saying to Clark Gillies, ‘Clarkie, we are not going to lose this game. It’s on us and we’re going to go out and get it done.’ And we did.”
The Islanders' run to the first of their four straight Stanley Cups could have been derailed in that Game 3. Instead, Goring set up Gillies to bring the Islanders within a goal at 3:22 of the third period, then scored the equalizer at 6:34. Ken Morrow won it in overtime and the Islanders eliminated the Kings the next day, 6-0.
“Butchie was really slick,” goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch said. “He brought his personality into the locker room right away. He was very confident. You looked at him and he had that goofy helmet and there are some other things about Butchie that you think are not that impressive. But he had a presence both on and off the ice. We basically said, in our minds, ‘You really are the leader. You really are going to be Moses and lead us out of this wilderness.’ And he accepted that.”
General manager Bill Torrey sent popular Islanders Billy Harris and Dave Lewis to the Kings for Goring on March 10, 1980. Harris was the expansion franchise’s first-ever pick in 1972 — No. 1 overall — and had played with the team from the start. Lewis was drafted in 1973 and joined the Islanders that year.
Goring’s new teammates were stung by the loss of their longtime friends and Goring was angry with the Kings for trading him.
The Islanders, who had won only six of their first 21 games in 1979-80 after earning their first division title in 1978 and leading the NHL in points in 1979, still were just 31-28-9 when Goring joined the team. They finished the season on an 8-0-4 run.
“Usually, what happens when you make a big trade is it’s designed to do one of two things: shock the team or send a message that we trust you and we’ve invested in you to get you over the hump,” said Pat Calabria, who covered that team for Newsday and now is the vice president for institutional advancement and enrollment management at SUNY Farmingdale. “Here’s the thing about that trade: It did both.”
The Goring-fueled late push earned the Islanders the fifth seed — the NHL then seeded its playoff teams one through 16 regardless of division or conference — and a matchup with the 12th-seeded Kings.
Which pleased Goring immensely.
“Well, the hockey gods work in strange ways,” he said. “The fact that our first series was against the Kings, from my perspective, there couldn’t have been a better opponent. I was really upset with the trade when it happened. I left a lot of good friends. I had to relocate my entire family. It was a great team I was coming to but, at that point in time, I had no plans to move anywhere. I had planned to play my entire career in L.A.”
The Islanders won Game 1, 8-1, at Nassau Coliseum, with Goring setting up Trottier’s second shorthanded goal of the second period as he completed his hat trick. Goring also had an assist on the last goal of Game 2 as the Islanders lost, 6-3, after falling behind by six goals midway through the second period.
It set up the pivotal Game 3 and Goring’s part in the third-period comeback that turned the playoff tide for the Islanders.
He also had a goal in Game 4 and wound up notching seven goals and 12 assists in the Islanders’ 21 playoff games, culminating in a six-game win over the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.
“Butchie was the last piece to the puzzle,” Hall of Famer Mike Bossy said. “He came in and provided a lot of good second-line work. He was great on the penalty kill. He was a little buzzsaw out there. I think a motivating factor for him was he went from L.A. to come to the New York Islanders that had Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and everyone else that contributed to us winning. It must have been motivating for him and he proved to be a big part of our success.”
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