Billy Smith Gear – Hockey Hall of Fame: Flickr Creative Commons: Neil R
#10 October 7th, 1972: New York Islanders play their first game in team history
The New York Islanders played their first game on October 7th, 1972. That loss to the Atlanta Flames featured Islanders captain Ed Westfall scoring the first goal in club history.
The Islanders franchise was a culmination of a joint effort between the NHL and Brooklyn-born clothing manufacturer Roy Boe which brought hockey to Long Island. Boe was the owner of the American Basketball Associations New York Nets who also played at the new arena; Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “The Coli”, as it is affectionately called, sits on Hempstead Turnpike-one of the main thoroughfares in Nassau County-and was built on 63 acres of land that once served as a military base. A club was granted to Long Island to stave off the World Hockey Association from establishing a team at the Coliseum, which would threaten the profitability of the NHL.
Boe hired Bill Torrey to build the team’s roster, and Torrey selected Westfall from the Boston Bruins with the first overall expansion draft pick. The team was rounded out with young talent such as Billy Harris, Billy Smith, Lorne Henning, and Bobby Nystrom. Torrey believed in building through the draft and by making smart trades, which meant it would take a while to be successful. As expected, the Islanders finished last in 1972-72 going 12-60-8 in their inaugural season. Not many expected the Islanders to win as early as they did.
Finishing last in 72-73 enabled the Islanders to draft defenseman Denis Potvin (regarded as “the next Bobby Orr”), and he became the foundation on which the Islanders would build around. The Islanders defeat of the hated New York Rangers in the 1975 playoffs solidified them as a legitimate contender and would prove to be a huge stepping-stone en route to becoming a true dynasty.