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Islanders Community Reacts to Loss of Clark Gillies

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New York Islanders, Clark gillies
Former New York Islanders and Hockey Hall of Famer Clark Gillies waves to fans before he drops a ceremonial puck prior to the NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

“When I left Moose Jaw Saskatchewan some 22 years ago to come to Long Island and become a part of the New York Islander organization, little did I know at that time that I’d be standing up here before you, getting ready to have my jersey raised to the ceiling. It is a great, great honor to be going up there with the likes of Denny and Boss and Smitty, and my great friend Bobby Nystrom. I am truly, truly honored…”

Those were the words of New York Islanders legend Clark Gillies back on Dec. 7, 1996, when his no. 9 was immortalized by the franchise and sent to the rafters of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

On Friday, Gillies tragically passed away at the age of 67.  New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello released the following statement:

“The entire Islanders community is devastated by the loss of Clark Gillies. 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.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a statement as well:

“To know Clark Gillies is to love him,” former teammate and New York Islanders broadcaster Butch Goring shared on-air following the tragic news. “He was a fun guy, always joking, would sing and keep you going.”

“Yes, I’ve lost a teammate, but I lost a really good person and I’ve lost a great friend.”

Butch Goring told NYI Hockey Now: “Clark was a special guy. He was a great hockey player and a wonderful teammate. The thought of not seeing him again is a harsh reality. I will miss him but never forget him.”

As he shared his memory of Clarke Gillies, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz could not help but smile.

“He was bigger than life,” Trotz said. “When you saw Clark Gillies, you thought Islander.”

“There was no doubt. He played the right way, he was part of the community. Everything you think about being an Islander. My heart dropped when I was told. He will be missed. He really will.”

In an emotional press conference with current Islanders Matt Martin and Anders Lee, they each shared what Clark meant to them.

“Clark always went out of his way to welcome players into the organization. I think he epitomizes what it means to be an Islander,” Martin said. “I remember when I met him for the first time, I always thought ‘that’s who I want to be when I grow up.’”

“Any time you ran into Clark, he was a wonderful experience, a great conversation,” Lee said. “He lived and breathed Islander hockey and my heart goes out to him and his family, all of his friends, and the people he’s touched since he’s been here on the island.”

“It’s a sad day.”

Both Martin and Lee shared personal stories of Gillies (2:00):

Clark Gillies was the fourth overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 1974 NHL Entry Level Draft. He donned the blue and orange from 1974-1986, and served as captain for two seasons (1977-7879, 1978-79).

Over his career on the island, Gillies appeared in 872 games (fifth-most in team history), as he scored 304 goals (fourth-most) and recorded 359 assists for 663 points (fourth-most).

Gillies helped the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups from 1978-1982, the only franchise to ever accomplish that feat in NHL history. Gillies never missed the playoffs once in his 12-year Islander tenure. He appeared in 159 playoff games with 47 goals and 56 assists (93 points).

In addition to all that, “Jethro” as he was known, was one of the most feared power forwards in NHL history. Hall of Fame referee Kerry Fraser had this to say on hearing the news of his passing.

“My heart is broken on the passing of Big Jethro. What an amazing player,” Fraser said.  “A big teddy bear who protected his cubs with a mama bear’s vengeance. Never really liked to fight but man could he ever. So many fond memories with the big man. I will miss you friend. Save me a seat in the box!”

On Nov. 4, 2002, Clark Gillies was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Fans Remember Clark Gillies

Many of you shared your memories of Clark Gillies and that made writing this piece so special.

My father grew up on Long Island. He got to witness all four Stanley Cups. He watched the parades from Hempstead Turnpike and told me that he looked up to Clarke, to all of them. The players on those Islander teams were his heroes and hearing my father get choked up talking about Clark once I got home from the game on Friday, illustrated the connection to the highest level a player can have with a fanbase.

Thank you to everyone who shared their kind words on Twitter.

Jack Callahan (@Cal915121Jack): Met him in 2019 at the Coliseum. Watched the entire game with him. Signed my hat and jersey. Absolute class act and a true gentleman. Such a legend and will be dearly missed.

Thomas Demko (@thomasdemko): Will never forget his toughness in 1980 vs the B’s. His battles against Terry O’Reilly set the tone that the Islanders would not be denied.

Isle in Dixie (@isleindixie): I was age 8-11 during the dynasty. Clark Gilles was a hero of mine growing up. I was fortunate to meet him multiple times. He was a gentleman. 

James Harding (@WaiverWireJames): First time I met him at the PGA golf store when I worked there; I met him for literally 2 minutes… ran into him 5 months later at Isles game at the Coli and I said Mr. Gillies I don’t know if you remember me and he said “James from the PGA store? How can I forget you?

Cheech (@_rizzo825_): Heartbroken… the only reason I’m an islanders fan is because of my uncle and my father. They both grew up idolizing Clarke.

Colby Guy, Reporter, Florida Hockey Now (@ColbyDGuy): Walked up to him at the Coliseum and pretty much challenged the guy to a fight knowing how good he was at fighting. He laughed his butt off, signed my jersey, and we had a pretty lengthy conversation about me and his early hockey days. Ever since then, he always remembered me when I saw him and he’d give me pointers and he was generally a very kind and caring person. He basically watched me grow for the most part, so that was really cool.

Ty McLaughlin (@IamTyMac):  Back in the day, my mother worked for a limo company the isles used and Clark always treated her like family. On my parents’ wedding day, he let them use his #9 limousine. He gave her a used stick and game puck. I’m still trying to find those items to this day.

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