The night Mike Bossy so famously joined the 50-in-50 club, he was only the second player in National Hockey League history to accomplish the feat of scoring 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games of the season.
He had entered the game with 48 goals. He cored No. 49 with just five minutes to play, and then wired home No. 50 in typically dramatic fashion, beating Quebec’s Ron Grahame from just inside the left faceoff dot — with just 89 seconds to play.
Afterward, the only player to have ever accomplished the feat sent Bossy a telegram. He was fellow Montreal native Maurice “Rocket” Richard.
“I know what he’s going to say when I see him,” Bossy said that night. “He’ll claim he still holds the record because I scored my 50th in the last minute and he scored his with two minutes to go!”
“Boss,” as those who knew him called the Hockey Hall of Fame right winger, died Friday after a long battle with lung cancer. He had been a heavy smoker in his early years, in a time when players would step outside the dressing room for a between-periods cigarette.
Bossy was 65 years old.
“He was a good man, boy. A good man,” said former New York Islanders teammate Brent Sutter. “A phenomenal player, a phenomenal person.”
It’s been a difficult time for the alumni of those dynasty Islanders, where Bossy won four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-83) and an amazing 19 straight playoff series before bowing to the Edmonton Oilers dynasty in 1984.
Clark Gillies, the predominant left winger on Bossy’s line with centreman Bryan Trottier, died on Jan. 21. Jean Potvin, a long-time Islanders defenceman in the ‘70s who returned to win two Cups with brother Denis Potvin, died on March 15.
All the while, Bossy was fighting lung cancer. In October 2021, he stepped away from his TV role with the French-language network TVA.
“I texted him then,” said Sutter, whose older brother Duane “Dog” Sutter was also an Islanders teammate. “My nickname was Pup. And Boss said, ‘Yeah, Pup, I’m in the fight in my life right now.’”
Born on Jan. 22, 1957, Michael Dean Bossy was the fifth of 10 kids raised in a 4 ½ room apartment in Montreal. In typical Canadian fashion, his father Borden would rise early to flood a rink out back, affixing a piece of plywood to a post in lieu of a hockey net, a luxury that was deemed too pricey for the Bossy clan.
As a boy, Bossy would shoot at that plywood, aiming for the black marks left by previous pucks. Over the years his shot became as heavy as it was deadly accurate.
“You think of Mike Bossy,” said Hall of Fame Oilers defenceman Paul Coffey, “you think of just a pure, pure goal scorer. A great hockey player who always knew where the net was.
“On his stick, off his stick,” marvelled Coffey. “He didn’t have a piercing shot like a Brett Hull, or even Guy Lafleur. But I don’t think Mike ever missed the net.”
After a junior career in Laval where Bossy became the most prominent goal scorer in Canada with seasons of 70, 84, 79 and 75 goals, Bossy won the Calder Trophy in 1978 as the NHL’s rookie of the year. He scored 53 goals as a rookie, and would go on to record nine consecutive seasons of 50 goals or more.
Nobody — not Wayne Gretzky, not Phil Esposito, not Alex Ovechkin, not Guy Lafleur — would equal that run of nine straight 50-goal years.
Described as “The slender and sensitive right wing from St. Alphonse Parish,” by the great New York Times writer George Vecsey, Bossy would go on to win a Conn Smythe Trophy, three Lady Byngs as the NHL’s most sportsmanlike player, and become one of only two players to score consecutive Stanley Cup-winning goals.
He is the only player ever to score the game-winner in all four wins of a playoff series (’83 conference finals), as Bossy took over from the great Lafleur as the greatest right winger of his generation.
He became like a brother to Trottier, and vice versa, the centreman who Bossy flanked for an NHL career spent entirely on the Island. Trottier would earn an assist on 310 of Bossy’s 573 career goals, over a career that was shortened to 10 seasons and 752 games due to a back injury.
In a Players’ Tribune piece written in June 2017, Bossy notified his younger self that, “(Trottier) is the complete hockey player. You’re going to develop such an unbelievable chemistry with him that you guys won’t be able to keep a left winger.”
The Islanders’ four Cups in a row still stands as the last uninterrupted NHL dynasty. The fall after the Oilers had ended New York’s run, in 1984, it was an uncomfortable dressing room when many of the two teams’ stars came together for Team Canada at the 1984 Canada Cup.
“The only thing we wanted to be was like the Islanders,” said Coffey. “We had no interest in winning a Stanley Cup against anybody but the Islanders, because we had so much respect for them.
“On the other hand, they disliked us. And why wouldn’t they? We were taking what they had.”
The enduring goal from that tournament came in Canada’s 3-2 overtime win over Russia in a semi-final game. Coffey drifted a shot at the Russian net, which Bossy deflected home for the victory. Canada would go on to beat Sweden to win the tournament. Bossy’s five goals would leave him in a tie for the most on Team Canada.
“Mike was such a smart player. His hockey sense is off the charts,” admired Coffey. “He would stay just far enough away from the defenceman that you couldn’t go that high up into the deep slot to take him. He would get into that area where you were like, ‘Should I stay back and defend in front of my net?’ And then everything was on his stick, on the net.
“On his stick, on the net … ”
Bossy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
He leaves behind his beloved wife Lucie, who he met as a teenager when she was working the snack bar at his junior rink in Laval, daughters Josiane and Tanya, and two grandchildren.