Mike Bossy, 1957-2022
by Andrew Podnieks|15 APR 2022
The New York Islanders’ Mike Bossy during the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals.
photo: Paul Bereswill / HHOF Images
Michel “Mike” Bossy, perhaps the purest goalscorer hockey has even known, died at his home in Montreal on Friday after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was 65 years old.

“It was an honour to play with you,” said Wayne Gretzky via Twitter, recognizing their accomplishments with Team Canada at the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cup tournaments. 

Born in Montreal, Bossy was a standout with the Laval Titan in the QMJHL, scoring an unprecedented 309 goals in 264 games between 1973 and 1977. Despite these extraordinary numbers, he was regarded by some as a middling prospect because he wasn’t particularly big, and he shunned physical play, refusing to fight the way so many other players of his generation embraced. He also wasn’t known for his defensive work. As a result, Bossy wasn’t selected until number 15 at the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, the New York Islanders’ general manager Bill Torrey believing his scoring ability trumped all perceived weaknesses.

No one could have predicted just how right the Torrey and the Islanders were. Bossy scored 53 goals as a rookie with the up-and-coming Islanders in his rookie season, 1977-78, incurring only three minor penalties the entire season and winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. It was the start of nine consecutive seasons of 50 or more goals, the only player before or since to perform so consistently in an NHL career. Bossy scored in his first career game and played on a newly-created line with Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies, and the threesome quickly became known as the Trio Grande.

In his second season, Bossy scored 69 goals, and his 100th career marker came in just his 129th game, the fastest ever to hit 100 to this day. In his third season, he had 51 goals and helped the Islanders win their first of what would be four straight Stanley Cup championships. But on January 4, 1981, in a game against Quebec, Bossy tied a record for scoring that had been solely owned by Maurice Richard for some 36 years—the vaunted achievement of scoring 50 goals in 50 games. 

Bossy entered his 50th goal of the season with 48 goals, and as the game progressed, he remained off the scoresheet and the possibilities looked bleak. But then he got number 49 with less than five minutes remaining and got number 50 with 1:29 left on the clock. He finished the year with 68 goals, including a record nine hat tricks. In the playoffs, he had 17 goals and 35 points in 18 games, leading the team to a second Cup victory.

In his fourth season, he scored 64 times and was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner for his outstanding playoffs, climaxed by a third Cup. But Bossy’s most amazing playoff performance came in the Wales Conference finals against Boston. He scored nine goals in the series including a record four game-winning goals (i.e., he scored the game winner in every Islanders victory of the series), and the team rolled to its fourth straight title to earn the designation of dynasty. 

In 1986-87, Bossy was limited to 68 games and scored just 38 goals. He had been beset by back problems, and over the summer nothing improved. He retired at age 30, but he had scored 573 goals and 1,126 points in just 752 games.

Because the Islanders made the playoffs every year of his too-brief career, Bossy never played at the World Championship, but he did represent Canada at the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cup tournaments. In 15 games, he scored 13 times, helping Canada win in 1984 in large part thanks to his overtime winning goal against the Soviets in the semi-finals of a 3-2 win.

Bossy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, and his number 22 was retired by the Islanders a year later.

In addition to his incredible skills as a scorer, Bossy was an advocate of fair play and violence-free hockey. He won the Lady Byng Trophy three times and never engaged in a one-on-one fight in his career. Later in life, he teamed with Cassie Campbell and Bobby Orr for many years with Hockey Canada’s Safe & Fun Hockey initiative, preaching the fun and joy of the game.

Mike Bossy played in the NHL between 1977 and 1987. In that decade, no one scored more goals than the Islanders’ number 22. No one. He scored 573 times, and second on the list, Wayne Gretzky, scored 543 (although recall Gretzky didn’t join the NHL until 1979). He was a gentleman and a sportsman, an athlete and a Hall of Famer. And as Gretzky said in closing out his tweet, “You will be missed.”