When the Islanders acquired J.P. Parise in 1975, they hoped his veteran presence would help provide direction to a young team. He did that and more. His series-clinching goal against the Rangers 11 seconds into overtime established the franchise's proud identity, which still stands.
Because of that goal, and the remarkable playoff run that followed it, Islanders fans are and forever will be grateful to Parise, who died Wednesday night after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 73.
Parise had an accomplished lifetime in hockey, serving as a coach and administrator as well as a player. Zach, one of his two sons, is a star with the Minnesota Wild and left his team Tuesday to be with his father, who had stopped chemotherapy and gone into hospice care.
Former Islanders teammates had been in touch with the elder Parise over the past year, after his diagnosis (Parise had overcome prostate cancer in 1999). "Who doesn't like J.P.?" said Denis Potvin, the Hall of Fame defenseman who spent an hour on the phone with the former left winger in late November and said he was in good spirits.
The 1974-75 Islanders view Parise as much more than someone who was in the right place at the right time to score that goal. They see him as having created that moment, making the Islanders a contender by his skill and his bearing.
"The team always relied on the senior guys in tough situations," said Ed Westfall, the captain of that team and Parise's linemate who began the play that led to the famous goal. "J.P. was one of those guys who still had fuel in the tank, still had the desire to win and who could show the younger guys what kind of effort it takes."
At the time, the Islanders were a mere third-year franchise that, only two years earlier, posted the worst record in NHL history. But under Al Arbour in 1974-75, the team became respectable. Sensing an opportunity to push ahead, general manager Bill Torrey made a pair of trades, for Parise and then-Minnesota North Stars teammate Jude Drouin, that helped build his own Hall of Fame legacy. Parise was acquired on Jan. 5, 1975, for Doug Rombough and Ernie Hicke, which still ranks as one of Torrey's finest deals.
Right after finalizing it, Torrey told Newsday's Tim Moriarty: "J.P. is a hell of a fine hockey player. He can play left wing for anybody and I'm happy we were able to get him. He's got a lot of spirit and should give us direction and leadership."
After upending the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the finale of the opening three-game series, the Islanders made history by becoming only the second team to win a playoff series after having lost the first three games, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven. Then, after having dropped the first three against the Flyers, they won three in a row to force a seventh game and come within one win of the Stanley Cup Final.
Parise had 16 points in 17 playoff games that year, including the first playoff goal by an Islander at Nassau Coliseum.
"J.P. was one of my best mentors as a hockey player," said Glenn (Chico) Resch, the No. 1 goalie during most of that run. "He would always say funny things to loosen everybody up. One night I was having a rough night and he said, 'Chico, you appear very difficult to hit tonight.' I said, 'You're right, J.P.'
"Or he would say to the forwards, like Bobby Nystrom, 'Bobby, your shot sounds good tonight, hitting the glass and the boards.' He had a wicked sense of humor, but it was on the fine line of having a message."
Resch recalled Parise entertaining other players' children by making puppets out of hockey socks, and said that it was clear that J.P. and his wife, Donna, loved life and each other. "He brought that dimension to our locker room, too," the former goalie said.
Most of all, players respected him for having been a world-class player and member of Team Canada in 1972, considered one of the best squads ever assembled.
"We were a good team, but when we got those two guys, especially J.P., he brought a legitimacy," Resch said.
Although Parise was not part of the Isles' run of four straight Stanley Cups -- he was traded to the Cleveland Barons Jan. 10, 1978, with Jean Potvin for Wayne Merrick and Darcy Regier -- he was and is credited with helping to make the Islanders so formidable and popular on Long Island.
"The puck came and it hit my stick and my gosh, it was in the net. It was done so quickly," Parise said of his playoff-winning goal against the Rangers, years later.
Jean-Paul Parise was born Dec. 11, 1941, in Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario. He signed with the Bruins as a teenager and played briefly for them and the Maple Leafs before being dealt to the expansion Minnesota North Stars on Dec. 23, 1967. He became a fixture in Minnesota after that, ultimately rejoining the team in his final season, 1978-79.
He met Donna after she was honored as the North Stars' 2-millionth fan in 1971. Parise went on to become the director of hockey at one of the state's top prep schools, Shattuck-St. Mary's, where he coached many future pros, including current Islander Kyle Okposo.
After he was diagnosed with lung cancer, the Wild invited him to travel with Zach and the rest of the team on a long trip. In one of the games, the son scored two goals, including No. 239 of his career, passing his father's career total.
Along with his wife and Zach, Parise is survived by another son Jordan. All of them were with him at the time he died, a statement from the Wild said. He also is survived by two children, Colette and Marc, from his first marriage, and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.