Billy Smith has always held a bit of a place in my heart. Growing up in Perth, Ontario and starting his hockey career with my hometown (and now defunct) Cornwall Royals, it was a no brainer to see why many of the local folk held him in such high regard. (He also bought furniture from a store that I once ran the office for but that’s another story all together!). A local goaltending talent who made it to the big time and became a part of one of the most storied dynasties in NHL history is no small feat.
As such, here is the tale of “Battlin” Billy Smith.
After Smith’s 55 game career with Cornwall, he was picked up in the 5th round of the 1970 Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. Having no place for him in L.A., Smith played with Springfield in the AHL where he earned himself a Calder Trophy; the first to notch into his resume. When the New York Islanders became a team in 1972 as an attempt to keep the struggling World Hockey Association out of the area, Smith was chosen in the second round of the 1972 Expansion Draft.
And we know that Long Island is where Legends are made.
Smith secured the starting goaltender position in the 1974-75 season. The end of the 1970’s saw his performance reach unmatched heights and in 1980, his playoff performances were nothing shy of extraordinary. Smith was instrumental to the 4 Stanley Cups wins by the Islanders and also to the record of consecutive playoff series wins with 19. A feat that has not been broken to this day. In 1982, he was award his first and only Vezina Trophy. The 1983 Stanley Cup finals also saw him capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as he had a helping hand in sweeping the star-studded Edmonton Oilers. Shutting out the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Mark Messier in Game 1 was no easy task.
In 680 games played, Smith is one of the few goaltenders with over 300 wins with 305. Retiring in 1989 as the last original New York Islander, Smith stayed on as the goaltending coach for another 4 years. In 1993, his number 31 was retired and raised to the rafters of Nassau Coliseum and in the same year was inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame. It’s funny how things work out. A young player from the AHL’s Springfield Kings gets drafted by a new expansion team; the New York Islanders. Nobody expected “Battlin” Billy Smith to become a Legend Of Long Island.