Clark Gillies, who provided a physical presence and scoring touch for the New York Islanders during their dynasty of the early 1980s, died Friday. He was 67.
“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Clark Gillies, a tower of strength on the ice for the dynastic New York Islanders of the early 1980s and a pillar of the Long Island community ever since,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Gillies helped define the term ‘power forward’ during a 14-season, Hall of Fame career with the Islanders and Buffalo Sabres that was highlighted by winning four straight Stanley Cups with the Islanders.
“His 319 goals and 378 assists in 958 NHL games — and his 47 goals and 47 assists in 164 Stanley Cup Playoff games — reflected his talent. The adoration and admiration of his teammates reflected the heart and passion he brought to our game. We send our deepest condolences to his family and his countless friends and fans.”
The Islanders retired Gillies’ No. 9 at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 7, 1996. The forward was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.
“The entire Islanders community is devastated by the loss of Clark Gillies,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “He epitomized what it means to be a New York Islander. The pride he felt wearing the Islanders sweater on the ice was evident by his willingness to do anything to win. Off the ice, he was just as big of a presence, always taking the time to give back to the local community. The New York Islanders have four Stanley Cups because of the sacrifices he and the members of those dynasty teams made for the franchise. On behalf of the entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to the entire Gillies family.”
Gillies’ death was announced by the Islanders following a 4-0 home win against the Arizona Coyotes.
“I think when you talk about Clark, Clark has a relationship with so many guys that have cut their teeth with the Islanders,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “He was bigger than life. When you thought Clark Gillies, you thought Islander. There is no doubt, there is no gray area. Charismatic, he played the right way, part of the community. Everything that you think about an Islander, being a good teammate, fantastic person, all those things.
“My heart dropped when I was told coming off the ice. He’ll be missed, he really will.”
Gillies was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on April 7, 1954. He played for the Islanders from 1974-75 through 1985-86 after being selected in the first round (No. 4) of the 1974 NHL Draft.
Gillies played 872 games for New York (fifth in Islanders history) and scored 663 points (304 goals, 359 assists), fourth in their history.
Gillies was one of 17 Islanders players who won four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83. He also was a member of the group that set the NHL record of 19 straight playoff series wins.
“Those guys are the foundation of kind of what the team and the organization is all about,” Islanders forward Brock Nelson said. “Everybody remembers the four Cups, the runs they had, all those guys. A lot of those guys stuck around here and made this place their home, and the Island embraced them.”
He scored 47 points (25 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games as a rookie, and scored at least 30 goals in each of the following four seasons.
In the second half of the 1976-77 season, his third in the NHL, Gillies replaced Ed Westfall to become the second captain in Islanders history. He held the role until the start of the 1979-80 season, when defenseman Denis Potvin took over.
“Anytime you ran into ‘Clarkie’, it was a wonderful experience. Great conversation,” current Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “He lived and breathed Islander hockey, and my heart goes out to his family and all of his friends and the people he’s touched since he’s been here on the Island. It’s a sad day.”
Skating on the top line with Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, Gillies helped New York win its first of four straight championships in 1980, starting the run of winning playoff series that lasted until the 1984 Stanley Cup Final, which it lost to the Edmonton Oilers.
Despite being one of the toughest players of his time, Gillies never had 100 penalty minutes in a season; his NHL high was 99 in 1980-81, when he scored 78 points (33 goals, 45 assists). He scored an NHL career-high 38 goals the following season.
Gillies played his final two NHL seasons with the Sabres, who claimed him off waivers. He retired after the 1987-88 season.
“It’s tragic, to be honest with you,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. “Clarkie’s always gone out of his way to welcome players into the organization. I think he epitomizes everything that being a New York Islander is. He walks into a room, he’s charismatic, he carries a room.
“I remember when I met him for the first time, I always thought, ‘That’s who I want to be when I grow up.’ He’s just an amazing human being. Very sad and unfortunate, and I speak for the whole organization when I say that my hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to the family. He’s got a beautiful family and he’s done so much for the community with his foundation that we’ve been lucky enough to be a part of over the years, and he’ll forever live on inside this organization. He just represents everything being a New York Islander is.”
NHL.com deputy managing editor Brian Compton contributed to this report