Islanders mourn passing of Clark Gillies, a vital cog to their dynasty years

Clark Gillies, a Hall of Fame left winger who provided a physical presence and a scoring touch for the New York Islanders during their dynasty in the early 1980s, died, the team announced Friday. He was 67.

“The entire Islanders community is devastated by the loss of Clark Gillies,” Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement. “He epitomized what it means to be a New York Islander. 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 local community.”

Gillies was the ultimate power forward

Gillies kept opponents from taking liberties with teammates due to his strength, but he also scored at least 33 goals six times in a span of seven seasons from 1975-82 and was a two-time NHL first-team All-Star.

He was “a tower of strength on the ice for the dynastic New York Islanders of the 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.”

Gillies was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on April 7, 1954. He starred for Regina of the Western Canada Hockey League, finishing with 46 goals, 112 points and 179 penalty minutes in 1973-74.

The Islanders chose Gillies with the fourth pick in the 1974 NHL Draft and he scored 25 goals as a rookie, helping New York qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time and get within one victory of the Final.

He also established himself as one of the NHL’s toughest players by pummeling Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Dave Schultz, then one of the league’s top heavyweights.

A goal scorer to be reckoned with

Gillies scored at least 30 goals in each of the next four seasons. He slumped to 19 goals and 54 points in 1979-80, but was at his best in the playoffs, when his physical presence played a major role in the Islanders’ run to their first of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

He rebounded with 33 and 38 goals in the next two seasons but dropped to 21 in 1982-83 and 12 in 1983-84, a total he then matched in 21 playoff games.

After Gillies managed just four goals and 14 points in 1985-86, the Islanders left him unprotected in the 1986 waiver draft, and he was claimed by the Sabres.

Gillies played two seasons in Buffalo before retiring, finishing his career with 697 points (319 goals, 378 assists) in 958 games, as well as 94 points (47 goals, 47 assists) in 164 playoff games.

Gillies returned to Long Island after his career was over, becoming a successful businessman and remaining active in charitable work. The Islanders retired his No. 9 on Dec. 7, 1992, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Islanders mourn his passing

The Islanders learned of his passing after they defeated the Coyotes on Friday night. It was a lot to process as Butch Goring was in a state of disbelief processing the news on air.

“This is a tough night for all of us former players and teammates,” Butch Goring said. “To know Clark Gillies is to love him. A fun guy– always joking.”

Gillies was a fixture around the Isles and was often seen in the stands and parking lot with fans chugging a beer.

“He was bigger than life. When you saw Clark Gillies, you thought Islander. There was no doubt,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the Islanders win. “He played the right way, he was part of the community. Everything you think about being an Islander. My heart dropped when I was told. He will be missed. He really will.”

“Clarkie always went out of his way to welcome players into the organization,” Current Islanders tough guy Matt Martin said. “I think he epitomizes what it means to be an Islander. I remember when I met him for the first time, I always thought ‘that’s who I want to be when I grow up.’ He’s an amazing human being.”

Rest in peace.

–Field Level Media contributed to this article