To say that Butch Goring knows a little something about the National Hockey League, and the New York Islanders specifically, is not much of a stretch.
In addition to being a prolific defensive player and outstanding penalty killer, Butch Goring put together some fine offensive seasons as well, finishing with 375 goals, 513 assists and 888 points in 1,107 league games.
As an Islander, he collected 195 points in 332 career games over 4 1/2 seasons, standing out as a top performer on 4 straight Stanley Cup championship teams from 1980 through 1983.
After ‘The Trade’, as many have dubbed it, brought Butch to Long Island in the spring of that magical 1980 season in exchange for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis, he made his mark when it counted the most, in the playoffs.
Butch tallied 7-12-19 in 21 playoff games that year to help lead the team to their improbable six game series victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Over the course of the next three cups, he would finish with 20-40-68 in 99 career playoff games as an Islander, making him as much a part of the franchises historic past as anyone else.
In fact, another Islanders legend, Mike Bossy, has been quoted as saying Goring might even be responsible for the long honored tradition of beards in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After brief coaching stints with the Boston Bruins and Islanders, Butch retired for good from the game of hockey. But it would be forever entrenched in his heart and soul and that would lead him to the booth, where he serves as the color commentator for Islanders broadcasts on the MSG + Network, besides Howie Rose.
2013-14 will be Butch’s 4th season as analyst and he truly brings a level of nostalgia to each broadcast.
You can catch all your Islanders coverage on MSG + starting with ‘Visa’ Islanders gamenight featuring Peter Ruttgaizer and Stan Fischler, Islanders post game presented by ‘ANA’ for most games excluding Saturday evening and Hockey Night Live every Saturday night featuring Al Trautwig, Ken Daneyko, Dave Maloney and E.J. Hradek.
I had a chance to speak to the Islanders legend and asked him to share his thoughts on the upcoming New York Islanders season; ranging from the goaltending, rookies, coaching and much more…..
- Not much is known about broadcasting an entire Islanders season in terms of the intense preparation that you and Howie go through. Take us through a typical game day and season for someone in your position and how hard it is to remain objective as a former member of the dynasty teams of the early 1980s.
It’s not hard to be objective. Once the game gets started, your focus is to give the fans the best analytic view you can. You have to have credibility when doing your job, so if the Islanders are losing 6-0, I can’t sit there and keep saying they are playing well. It’s not all that difficult. Preparation starts the night before, I watch every game of the opposition the Islanders are playing and get a heads-up on all the players, memorize their names and numbers, which is not always easy. My tongue doesn’t work all that well sometimes, but we do our best. You try to get stories from the players the day before or game-day to work in. I don’t just walk to the microphone and start talking, but the communication between Howie and I is great. We both have a pretty good time during the broadcast.
- You have almost certainly heard and seen the excitement evident in Islanders country this off-season. What are your expectations for this team as we head into 2013-14 coming off the playoff appearance?
I think the Islanders players gained some tremendous respect around the NHL last season, with their run and the way they played in the playoffs. They got a taste of it, and all it’s done for them is give them the experience of how difficult it is to get there and win. They learned some pretty strong lessons last season. It’s a group that is hungry to learn. My gut feeling is it’s not about whether they are going to make the playoffs, but where they are going to finish.
- With John Tavares being anointed the captain this summer, do you see the added pressure being put on his shoulders to lead this team adversely affecting his play at all?
I think that’s natural. There are some people who become captains and it is too much pressure for them. With John Tavares, he has been involved and so much has been expected of him for so long, he has handled it every step of the way. From talking to John for four years and seeing his preparation, the ‘C’ is not going to make one difference to his game. He has a focus about him that makes him an elite hockey player and relishes the opportunity. He thinks it’s a tremendous opportunity to be captain of the Islanders. I do expect him to be better this year because that is what he does, gets better each year.
- What were your initial thoughts on the assignment of Ryan Strome, who seemed to have a strong camp, to Bridgeport and the inclusion of Griffin Reinhart on the 23 man roster? Which of the Islanders young stars has impressed you the most this training camp and why?
I thought the Islanders rookies had a tremendous training camp. That speaks volumes to the depth of the organization, something that was not there in the past. Garth Snow has done a tremendous job in re-stocking the team with some really good young talent. Griffin Reinhart played so well that he is still here. He is a very steady individual with good size and range. You can see that Ryan Strome has tremendous hockey sense and skills. He just has to mature as an individual, not just mentally but physically. In other years, Ryan might have made the team. Now, nobody is going to hand you a position, whether you are a first round pick or a fourth round pick. Now with this depth, you don’t have to rush a Ryan Strome. He will continue to learn and mature as an individual. Anders Lee was stronger, skated extremely well and Brock Nelson is still with the team and looks like he is in for a real fight but will put one up, not wanting to leave. The list goes on and on. It’s unbelievable when you look at the Islanders, with what has happened over the last four or five years with the change in talent level, it’s really special.
- Do you believe the choice of Andrew MacDonald for alternate captain over Travis Hamonic a sign of a change in philosophy for Capuano and Snow? In your opinion, Butch, is it a more of a motivating factor for Travis, rather than a promotion for Andrew?
I’m not sure what the process was, obviously Tavares was automatic and is the leader of that hockey club. When you look at your ‘As’, you have to look at maturity and you have to look at where everyone is at this point in time. When you look at Andrew MacDonald, you have to check out his character, and the way he has progressed throughout his career. This was a guy who was told he was not good enough to make the AHL, went down to the ECHL and didn’t complain and made it back. That determination to succeed and he has been around longer, I think that went into their thinking a little bit. I think that Jack or Garth will tell you there is a lot of leadership in that dressing room who will say the right thing at the right time. This is a team that has grown together over the last three or four years. When push comes to shove, its not three guys who are going to lead this team, it’s the whole bunch of them.
- The noise level at Nassau Coliseum that we saw in the Pittsburgh series last year. Was that as loud as then you played in the glory days of the early 1980s? And how truly important is the crowd factor as it relates to the play on the ice?
The atmosphere at the Coliseum was unbelievable, that’s the only way to describe it. I watched the reply of game four the other day and it gave me chills. I have not heard that in a awful long time. It was really incredible. The fans have been waiting a long time to get back into the playoffs and they let them know they were appreciative. There is no doubt the players did hear it, they appreciated it. The fans can play a part in the game. When the team is struggling a little bit, the fans get loud and encourage them to get going, the players hear it. A lot of times that can pick them up. Hockey is a game of emotions and when you have the emotion of the fans also, it can make it a little easier.
- Goaltending has become the topic of the summer for the majority of the fanbase. Some thinking Ryan Miller would have been a good option rather than relying solely on Evgeni Nabokov. What are your thoughts on the position as we get ready to drop the puck?
Nabokov played extremely well last season and without him, the team does not make the playoffs. His play fell off a little bit, the Islanders penalty kill was not good so there were a couple of situations that allowed the Penguins to squeak by. But Garth Snow has been pretty consistent with what he has done since he has taken over. He shows tremendous patience with all his players and it doesn’t surprise me that he is looking hard at Kevin Poulin. My sense is they want to give him this opportunity. He needs to shine. Poulin has to prove now that he can handle it, and if he can’t, it would not surprise me to see Snow go out and get someone else to play with Nabokov. At this point in time, he would like to see if Kevin is ready to take it on. We have all seen flashes of him playing very strong hockey.
- Comparisons are inevitable no matter what you are talking about in terms of the team. You were a gritty, hard-working center who clearly defined the Islanders identity back in the 80s, something the organization looks to have gotten back to. Which player on today’s team do you feel best represents those values and attributes that you brought to the hockey club?
I think you have to love the way Kyle Okposo plays. He reminds me a lot of John Tonelli, the way he gets into the corners and just never stops working. I think honestly John Tavares really embodies what the Islanders are all about. Nobody works harder on and off the ice, tenacious with and without the puck. You let up on him a little bit, he will blow by you. The Islanders are all about hard work, tenacity, second effort and that continual drive to find a way to win games. That is how you want your entire hockey team to play and why he is the captain.
- I want to talk about a topic that has become the subject of much debate the past couple of days in the wake of the gruesome injury suffered by Montreal forward George Parros. And that is fighting in hockey. We all heard the very outspoken comments made by Steve Yzerman, among others. What is your stance on the issue?
I’m a big fan of fighting, even though I never fought. I appreciate what it brings to the game. It keeps everyone honest. If you take away that ability to monitor or patrol what is going on out there, the lesser or smaller guys are not as comfortable. What makes hockey unique is that it is a physical game and there is inherent risk out there. People get hurt. You have to pick yourself up and play through adversity and intimidation. That is a part of the game a lot of players and fans like so yeah, once in a while, people are going to get hurt. I don’t want to see hockey become a game where anyone can play. There is a danger out there and makes it a different sport. I stand by it, hockey is fast and exciting but there is risk and danger involved.
- You played under legendary head coach Al Arbour. What admirable traits does Jack Capuano bring to the locker room and bench that make him seem like such a perfect fit for this hockey club? Does he share any with Al?
This is a very young group and watching Jack, although I don’t hear everything, his demeanor seems to fit in well with this group. They don’t need a John Tortorella, and I am not knocking Tortorella, but he is a very stern coach then Capuano presents and I don’t think that would work with this group. He has the right character and personality for these players. They understand what they need to do to win hockey games and for the most part, he is a players coach.
- Who is your offensive breakout player this season, and who the defensive?
I really think that Josh Bailey is going to have a tremendous year and set highs in scoring. What he did last year late in the season into the playoffs, he is ready. He has tremendous talent and hockey sense. I would expect him to really exceed anything he has done in the past. From a defensive side, I think Travis Hamonic is going to have a really good year but the outsider who could stand out is Matt Donovan. He is guy who had two strong years in Bridgeport and with Mark Streit being gone, gives him a chance to get involved in the power play. I think he will get a chance to show what kind of skills he has and the New York Islanders are going to give him a long hard look. If he can get over the rookie hurdle, I would expect him to show some pretty good numbers.
- Fans love to hear predictions…..where are you predicting the Islanders to finish in the Metropolitan division.
You still have to give the edge to Pittsburgh to win the division. If they stay injury free, the path says they stay at the top. I really believe the Islanders, if they get out the gate with a good start, can finish second. I am on record as saying they will finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. Columbus is better than most people give them credit for and it’s going to be a battle out there. I don’t think scoring goals will be a problem for the Islanders and Nabokov has looked strong in camp. They have a lot going for them and with a taste of the playoffs last year, they want more. It would not shock me for the Islanders to finish second.
Complete audio stream can be found below….
I would like to personally thank Butch Goring for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to speak with Eyes On Isles.
Also to the MSG and New York Islanders public relations staff for the extremely professional nature in which this all took place.