Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 1986: Nine times 50

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - It was well past the glory days for the New York Islanders. The Islanders were three years removed from the last of their four straight Stanley Cups, and age and injuries had started to tap the skills of their stars. It seemed their dynasty had already been pushed to the back-burners of hockey fans' minds, as the Edmonton Oilers were in the middle of a championship run of their own.

Mike Bossy was also in decline in 1986, but his fall wasn't as sharp as the Islanders' was. Though he never won an MVP trophy nor received the recognition he deserved as one of the best scorers in the NHL - usually ceding the limelight to Wayne Gretzky - Bossy was still a force to be reckoned with in the league.

After being the first NHL player in 32 years to score 50 goals in 50 games earlier in his career, Bossy added another line to his resume in 1986 that nobody in NHL history has been able to claim, before or since. He became the first player to score at least 50 goals in nine straight seasons, reaching the mark in an 8-4 win over Calgary on March 11, 1986.

It's impressive in itself that Bossy set the record for consecutive 50-goal seasons. But this record stands out, as it's the only record Bossy set that wasn't immediately eclipsed by the great Gretzky. Gretzky seemed poised to equal the mark in the 1987-88 season, but injuries held him to only 64 games, forcing him to come up short. Gretzky scored 50 goals the next season, making him only the second player after Bossy to have nine 50-goal seasons at all, but Bossy stands alone in consecutive seasons reaching that mark.

Bossy played every game in the 1985-86 season, ending with 61 goals. At the age of 29, he seemed destined to make a run at all sorts of career scoring records, or at least to end up number 2 behind Gretzky in everything. But the next year, injuries held him to 63 games, and then he was done, retired from the game at age 30.

It seems unfair that Bossy had to retire as young as he did, as hockey fans were deprived of the chance to see how many goals he could score in his career. But in another way, it was a good thing for his reputation. Unlike most other stars in virtually every sport, nobody saw Bossy as his skills started to wane. There were no seasons where he was a shell of his former self, simply hanging on and clouding everybody's memory of him. It wasn't by his choice, but Bossy retired at the perfect time for his legacy. He will now always be remembered as the high-scoring right wing for hockey's forgotten dynasty.

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