In some ways Bob Bourne is a forgotten member of perhaps the greatest team of all time. But those who watched him closely in the early 1980s will never forget him.
Bourne played most of his career with the New York Islanders, including the dynasty years of 1980 through 1983. He definitely played in the shadows of the team's stars - players like Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Billy Smith and Clark Gillies. But on some nights, he was the best player on the ice.
Though he was not a prolific scorer like many of his teammates, Bourne was far from an offensive slouch. He scored 30 goals three times, and 20 goals three other times. In the Islanders last Stanley Cup run in 1983, he actually led all post-season scorers with 28 points. That helped the Islanders capture their 4th consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
But when people remember Bob Bourne it won't be for his scoring. It will be for his skating. Bourne was one of the fastest skaters of his day, perhaps the best in the immediate post-Yvan Cournoyer era and pre-Paul Coffey era.
Even scarier than his wheels were his hands. Unlike a lot of fast skating role players, Bourne could handle the puck at top speed. More than once he scored breathtaking goals on end-to-end rushes that fans who were in attendance that night would not forget anytime soon.
That sums up Bob Bourne fairly well. He was an incredibly fast support player who chimed in with timely goals. Every once in a while he would be the best player on the ice, but mostly he excelled as a great role player with a great team.
With his great speed and his long reach, Bourne emerged as a devastating penalty killer for the Isles. At even strength he was very valuable as a swing man. Capable of playing all three forward positions, he would often plug holes on lines decimated by injuries or penalties.
That was Bourne's great contribution to the Isles. And no one appreciated him more so than coach Al Arbour.
When Bourne dipped from 76 to 53 points in 1981-82, Arbour defended Bourne, saying:
"The thing is, though, Bob never really has a slump. He's too versatile for that. He skates well and checks so that the fellow opposite him never accomplishes much. So if his scoring tails off a bit, he's still doing you a lot of good.
"And for a real tip-off on Bourne, take a look at his playoff record. That'll tell you a lot."
Indeed it will. In the 74 playoff games Bourne played during the Isles 4 Cup wins, Bourne scored 33 goals and 43 assists for 76 points, incredible production given the time of year and the lack of power play time he received.
Clutch defines Bourne's offensive contributions. In fact, when the NHL re-introduced regular season overtime in 1983 after a 41 year absence, it was Bourne who scored the first OT goal in modern history.
Bob Bourne was born in Netherhill, Saskatchewan and played his junior hockey in Saskatoon. He was a natural athlete, excelling in baseball and football as well as hockey. In fact, Bourne once played a season of of minor-league baseball with the Houston Astros organization's Class A Appalachian League team in Covington, Virginia. He batted .257 and was a teammate of Clark Gillies. Of course Gillies, who actually played 3 years of minor pro ball, was Bourne's teammate with the Islanders, too!
The NHL's Kansas City Scouts actually drafted Bourne with the 38th overall draft pick in the 1974 NHL amateur draft. The especially shrewd Islanders GM Bill Torrey was determined to land the Saskatchewan speedster though, and a couple of months later traded the rights to Larry Hornung and Bart Crashley to get him.
Bourne was a regular with the Islanders from 1976 through 1986. He often played on a line with the hard hitting Bob Nystrom and a host of other wingers.
Bourne was not a noted hitter, and he had a very long fuse but look out when he did drop the gloves. He broke the North Stars Kevin Maxwell's nose in one memorable fight, and had a great tilt with a Washington rookie named Scott Stevens.
Injuries would eventually catch up with the usually durable Bourne. Late in his tenure on Long Island he missed significant time with serious shoulder and knee injuries. But it was severed tendons in his hand, courtesy of Los Angeles' Phil Sykes' skate, that nearly ended his career prematurely.
The Islanders left Bourne unprotected at the beginning of the 1986-87 season, and Bourne joined the Kings for 2 seasons before calling it a career.
In 964 career games Bob Bourne scored 258 goals, 582 points and killed countless penalties.
Bourne was a noted humanitarian as well. He was honored as a Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year in 1987 in the "Athletes Who Care" for their work in humanitarian causes. Bourne worked tirelessly with schools for handicapped children. Bourne's son Jeff was born with spina bifida in 1979.
In 1988 Bourne was given the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his dedication to the game of hockey.
Bourne went on to coach several minor league teams before settling in the hot Okanagan sun of the British Columbian city of Kelowna where he became a realtor.
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