Former Isles Travel From Far and Wide for Alumni Reunion

It’s a long way from Prague in the Czech Republic to Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, but Petr Mika made the trip for a rather extraordinary reason.

Although he played a grand total of only three NHL games, Mika was inspired to fly all the way to New York for some special days in his life; he — along with many others — was being hailed as an Islander.

Among Petr’s special moments was joining other alumni members at Saturday’s Islanders-San Jose game at Barclays Center.

Mika, a forward, was one of a legion of retired Nassaumen to attend a first-ever, three-day annual all-Islanders Alumni reunion. Hall of Famers Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier also were featured guests along with MSG Network’s Butch Goring.

Yet it was Mika who made heads turn because he was the Islanders attendee who had played the fewest games. He kept insisting it was worth the flight from Europe.

“I felt I had to come over,” said Mika, “because putting on an Islanders jersey for my first game was one of the greatest days of my life — hockey or otherwise.

“The fact that I only played three games hardly mattered. The important thing was that I made it to the NHL. Whether it was three or three hundred games, it was a thrill and that’s why I wanted to be with the boys.”

Ditto for assorted heroes, such as Jude Drouin, who in 1974-75 starred on a line with Ed Westfall and J.P. Parise. Drouin enthusiastically recalled the Isles’ first playoff series victory over the New York Rangers in 1975.

“We had never made the playoffs before,” Drouin remembered,” and the Rangers were a very strong team. When we beat them it was one of the greatest upsets in NHL history.”

Drouin remembered the series-winning moment. At the start of the first overtime, he was in the right corner of The Garden’s rink when he skimmed a pass to Parise who beat goalie Ed Giacomin at 11 seconds of the sudden death period.

“Usually,” Drouin went on, “it was Jeep who was in the corner and I was in front of the net. This time it was the reverse and the play won us the series.”

Hosted by Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky at the Andaz Wall Street Hotel in Downtown Manhattan, the fete began on Friday night and would end on Sunday. In between, the players regaled each other with heroics of yesteryear.

“At first, after Minnesota traded me to the Islanders, I didn’t want to leave the North Stars,” Drouin said.  “But Parise talked me into coming and playing for coach Al Arbour turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

“He taught me that there was such as thing as backchecking as well as forechecking and a few other things in between, as well.”

One of the retired Islanders came up with a story that even The Maven never knew. It was about the time in 1993 that the Red Wings began trying to lure Arbour to The Motor City.

According to the Islander who was on the scene at the time, the episode began during the 1993 Penguins-Isles series.

Apparently, then Detroit owner Mike Ilitch wanted to hire Mike Keenan as coach, but his high command was militantly against it.

To prevent the hiring of Keenan, one of Ilitch’s aides flew to Nassau to see if Arbour was interested in eventually moving to Detroit. Al rejected the idea out of hand. He and his wife, Claire, loved the Island.

With Al out of the picture, Ilitch’s rep then approached Scotty Bowman who then was coaching Pittsburgh. According to the Islander telling the story, that’s how Bowman eventually took over the Red Wings instead of Keenan.

In another corner of the room, the Isles’ original captain, Westfall, remembered leading his team to yet another incredible upset; this one over the 1975 Penguins after the Rangers had been defeated in the first playoff round that spring.

“We were down three games to none to Pittsburgh,” said Number 18, “and everyone figured we were out of it. But we won the next three games to tie the series.

“I’ll never forget that Game 7. There was no score going into the third period and everyone figured the next goal would be the winner.

“With less than six minutes left, I skated at (goalie) Gary Inness and beat him to put us ahead, 1-0. Our goalie, Chico Resch, held them off the rest of the way and we won the series.”

Bob Nystrom, who scored the 1980 Stanley Cup-winning goal, and Gillies, another star on the four-Cup dynasty were featured at the events along with defensive specialist Claude Loiselle.

“When we beat Pittsburgh in the 1993 playoffs it was one of the biggest upsets in NHL history,” said Loiselle. “The Penguins were two-time Stanley Cup champs and going for a third and we beat them in Game 7 in Pittsburgh.

“For some reason, the NHL made us start the next series in Montreal with only a days rest and we never quite recovered from that.”

To a man, the Isles spoke about four-Cup-winning coach Arbour with a special reverence although Al’s oft-discussed absent-mindedness inspired a few laughs.

“Once after a game, Al met the media and then drove to his home on the Island,” Westfall said. “After pulling into the driveway and getting out of the car, he realized he had forgotten something, his wife.

“The poor guy had to drive all the way back to the Coliseum to pick up Claire who was still waiting outside the dressing room door.”

Defenseman Jean Potvin got a few chuckles when he told about the time he and his brother, Hall of Famer, Denis Potvin, attended a dinner on Staten Island that was sprinkled with Rangers fans.

“One of the guys in the audience asked Denis how he felt about the chants that Rangers fans hurled at him at The Garden,” Jean laughed. “Well, Denis shot back, I don’t mind them at all; they’re just yelling, ‘POTVIN’S CUPS!, POTVIN’S CUPS!’

“And when they asked him about being nervous about playing at The World’s Most Famous Arena, my brother shot back: ‘Why should I be nervous, it just means another easy two points.'”

For many of the retired Islanders, it was like Old Home Week, greeting teammates they hadn’t seen in years. That especially was the case for the Czech, Mika who was there with his wife Petra.

I could tell that Mika was especially tickled to see Dave Scatchard and Goring.

“For those three games,” said Mika, “we played in Pittsburgh, Toronto and then back to the Island. Dave was my linemate and Butch was my coach.”

When I asked Butch why he only dressed Mika for three games, Goring had the perfect squelch.

“Two reasons: Number one, there were 19 other forwards on the team; Number two, Petr was on a lousy line!”

When Mika stopped laughing, he admitted that even had he played only one game for Butch, it would have been worth his flying from Prague to New York for the reunion.

“Once an Islander, always an Islander!”

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.