Monday

Battlin' Billy Smith

Perhaps the best clutch goaltender of all time, Battlin' Billy Smith was a major reason for 4 consecutive Stanley Cup championships on Long Island with the N.Y. Islanders.

His most celebrated Stanley Cup championships might have come in 1983. His 2-0 performance in game 1 of the 1983 finals against Edmonton is considered one of the greatest classics of all time. He would go on to shut out Wayne Gretzky during the entire series and was named playoff MVP.

The Los Angeles Kings selected the young goaltender with their third round draft pick in 1970. He starred in the American Hockey League in 1970-71, his first pro season. His strong play and 2.56 goals against average helped the Springfield Kings win the 1971 Calder Cup championship. He was named the team's most valuable player.

The following season he topped the AHL with four regular season shutouts. That same season, Smith was called up to the NHL, appearing in five regular season games with Los Angeles.

At the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft, the New York Islanders claimed him from the Kings system. He supplied reliable goaltending as the Islanders' struggled in 1973 and 1974. During the next five seasons he was a part of one of the league's top netminding tandems along with Glenn "Chico" Resch. Or perhaps we should say competition more than tandem, as the two battled it out for the starting job on a weekly basis, seemingly forever.

In 1978, Smith was rewarded with an appearance in that year's NHL All-Star game. He went on to be named the game's Most Valuable Player. Surprisingly, it was his only appearance in an NHL all star game.

On November 28, 1979 he became the first NHL goaltender to be credited with scoring a goal. With his goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Colorado Rockies' defenseman Rob Ramage accidentally sent a pass, originally intended for a teammate, the length of the ice into his own net. It was Smith who was the last Islander to touch the puck and was identified as the official goal scorer.

In 1979-80, Smith became the undisputed first string goalie for the Islanders and went on to be a pillar of strength during the Islanders' domination of the Stanley Cup. In 1981-82 he enjoyed his greatest individual season. That year the cagey puck stopper registered 32 wins, was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender and was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In 1982-83, Smith shared the William Jennings Trophy with Roland Melanson after recording the lowest goals against average in the NHL. Later that season "Battlin' Billy" (he was as notorious for physically defending his crease from opposing players as he was for protecting his goal from opposing pucks) was the key to the Islanders' defeat of the Edmonton Oilers to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. He had been brilliant in the post-season and was presented the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' Most Valuable Player.

Although the Islanders soon went into a rebuilding period, Smith continued to perform at a high level until his retirement after the 1988-89 campaign. He finished with a career goals against average of 3.17 and 22 shutouts, very respectable numbers for someone who played the entire decade of the high scoring 1980s.

More importantly than numbers, Smith is considered to be one of the NHL's greatest playoff goaltenders of all time. Smith twice posted 15 post season wins and recorded a stingy 2.73 goals against average and five shutouts in 132 NHL playoff games. For 5 straight playoffs he led the entire NHL in appearances and wins, and three of those years he led in shutouts and GAA.

Billy didn't always see eye to eye with his coach Al Arbour. Arbour liked to split his goaltending among Smith with first Resch and later Melanson. Smith, like any goalie, wanted to play more during the regular season, and his post season play certainly proves he deserved it. But in almost every season Smith played with the Isles he hovered around the 40 games played mark.

Perhaps if he had been given a chance to play more in the regular season he would have won more individual honors and bolstered his all time numbers so that he would be hailed even more so as one of the all time greats. But his playoff performances alone have cemented his place among the immortals.

The Islanders recognized his tremendous contributions to their franchise by retiring his number "31" on February 20, 1993.

In retirement Billy has gotten into the coaching and goaltending consultant business. From 1989 through 1993 he was behind the Islanders bench, but left to join the Florida Panthers for 8 years in 1993. For the 2001-02 season he has returned to the New York Islanders where he once again works with their goalies, specifically Rick DiPietro.

7 comments:

Shnide said...

I hated this guy. He was so damn good in the playoffs, and such a mean-spirited jerk during the rest of the season.

Great goalie!

OpposedRoy said...

The best of all time. Billy played his position with passion and a attitude. Love Him or hate him Billy delieverd and backed it up. Billy you are my N.H.L idol good luck Billy "OPPOSEDROY"

Pd said...

Billy Smith Greatest Goaltender ever. Great agressive "don't take sh*t from nobody"attitude. Long Island hero and legend

Kristen said...

Hands down the greatest goaltender of all time! As a a toddler I used to watch the Isles practice at Cantiague Park in Hicksville. I'd patiently wait for Billy to come off the ice at the far end by himself and offer to share my Oreos with him! The same guy who axed anyone who approached his crease taught me everything I know about the game of hockey while licking the center of Oreos! Billy even taught me how to ice-skate! His skills were superior and his passion for the great game of hockey is unmatched! #31!!!

dbourk said...

Nowhere near the greatest goaltender of all time, the stats don't support it, however he was a great playoff goaltender and one mean SOB, if a foward tried to screen him Billy would crack him on the ankles or back of the legs, I used to hate the guy when he played.

Michael said...

best goalie ever.Had great knowledge of all opposing players around him .Always knew where the puck was ,and who was around his crease.Off the ice one of the warmest guys, and a true gentlemen, and friend

Anonymous said...

I was playing college hockey during the Islanders "drive for five" and Billy Smith was my hero. He taught me a lot about defending "My" crease. Billy would take an opposing player out if they got in his crease. He was a joy to watch and missed by many hockey fans.

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