Garry Howatt was a long time tough guy for the New York Islanders. From 1973 through to their second of 4 consecutive Stanley Cup championships Howatt patrolled the left wing, usually on the third or fourth line.
Like Bobby Nystrom, Howatt became a crowd favorite in New York before the likes of Bossy, Trottier and Potvin showed up. He was just 5'9" and 175 lbs but in that tiny frame was a bundle of pugnacious energy that jump started his teammates and excited his fans.
"Pound for pound, Garry Howatt is the toughest fighter in the NHL," once said Dave "The Hammer" Schultz - who was often considered to be the NHL's heavyweight champion during the goon era known as the 1970s.
"I'm not a goal scorer," admitted Garry. "I knew if I was going to make the NHL, I'd have to be giving 100 per cent all the time. I'm not big and they say hockey is a big man's game. All I can do is keep hustling. Besides, there are ways of cutting people down to your size. Hard work is one."
Garry was a fighter, in more ways than one. In his early teenage years it was discovered that he was suffering from epilepsy, but he was able to keep the ailment under control through medication.
This didn't stop Garry from chasing his dream. The Glendon, Alberta native headed off to junior hockey in 1971-72, where he played with three different teams but was best known as a Flin Flon Bomber.
He was drafted in the summer of 1972 and was looked upon as a sure long shot. The Islanders took him 144th overall. However Garry walked into training camp and showed the Islanders the zest and determination which would one day earn him an NHL paycheck. The Islanders were impressed, and signed Garry to a contract, although he spent most of the year apprenticing in the minor leagues, aside from an 8 game stint with the Isles.
By 1973-74 Garry was in the NHL to stay. He broke into the league and had 204 PIM, including a league leading 29 fighting majors. The man they dubbed Toy Tiger had arrived.
However Howatt managed to transform himself into more than just a goon. Maybe that was because he played with an expansion team in its early existence, which allowed Garry some more playing time than he would have gotten with a more established team. In 1974-75 Garry had 18 goals and 48 points and the following year he had 21 goals and 34 points, all while continuing his feisty play.
Garry's ice time and offensive contributions did decrease as the Islanders developed into a league power. But Garry stuck with the team in a role position, as well as as a leader. Whenever the Islanders needed a physical wake up call, Garry would hop over the boards and create 30 seconds of havoc before returning to the bench, often for long periods of time.
Garry was part of the Islanders first two Stanley Cup championships, but by the second championship in 1981 he had been reduced to a strictly 4th line player who was rarely used in the playoffs. Garry asked to be traded to a team that could give him more responsibility on the ice, and the Isles complied by sending Garry to Hartford in the summer of 1981.
Garry seemed rejuvenated in Connecticut as he got more ice time and more responsibility. He responded with 18 goals and a career 50 points, not to mention a career high 242 PIM! However Garry was traded from Hartford to the lowly New Jersey Devils prior to the 1982-83 season. The trade was a surprise as there was much speculation that Garry was being offered a new contract and was possibly going to be named captain of the team.
Garry never got untracked in New Jersey, and admittedly had problems with the organization . In two years he played in only 44 games and spent more time in the minor leagues than with the Devils.
Disappointed with the way his career was coming to an end, Garry decided to hang up the skates following the 1983-84 season. By this time he had accumulated 1836 minutes in the NHL penalty boxes, but also added 112 goals , 156 assists and 268 points in 720 hard fought NHL games. In the playoffs he earned 12 goals and 26 points in 87 games, as well as 289 PIM and 2 Stanley Cup rings.
Garry now owns Mount Freedom Golf in New Jersey.