August 31, 2015
Gordie Lane was not the biggest defenseman around, but he sure played as if he was.
Lane was an aggressive defensive defenseman who made quite the name for himself in junior with his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings, as well as in one season with the New Westminster Bruins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted him 134th overall in the 1973 Entry Draft, but he signed with the club. Instead, he became a minor-league brawler in the IHL with the Fort Wayne Comets and the Dayton Gems - not an enviable job in the 1970s. It was even less-enviable when the Fort Wayne fans took a disliking to him and created a "We Hate Gordie Lane" fan club. On top of it all, Lane had to deal with a stuttering speech impediment.
In 1976, he signed as a free agent with the lowly Washington Capitals. Amazingly he went from minor league nobody into a NHL regular, albeit on a very weak Capitals team. Over the next four seasons he introduced himself to every forward in the league with his hard hitting, abrasive play. He was not a true heavyweight but he was a no non-sense, hard hitting player.
Perhaps it was because the Capitals were so bad at this time but not too many people noticed that he was developing into more than a bruiser. If he stayed within his limitations he could provide solid minutes at the NHL level.
Bill Torrey, Al Arbour and the New York Islanders recognized this and traded Mike Kaszycki for him prior to Christmas 1979. Talk about a great early Christmas gift - Lane went from a bottom feeder to the exciting Islanders just in time to help them win four consecutive Stanley Cup championships. He transitioned into a solid depth defenseman and leader.
Forming an effective tandem with Ken Morrow in the early days allowed the Islanders to trade defenseman Dave Lewis and forward Billy Harris to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Butch Goring - the final piece of the championship puzzle in New York.
Lane played 540 games in the NHL, putting up 113 points in 10 seasons, while also serving 1,228 minutes in penalties.
The highlight of his career was, of course, winning that first Stanley Cup.
"For me, it’s stepping on the ice for the sixth game of the (Philadelphia) Flyers series, our first Stanley Cup," Lane said. "You could not hear anything because it was just so noisy. Nowadays you go into a building and they have the decibel meters to try and get the crowd going. They didn’t need that then."
Lane offered some insight into the keys to the Islanders' dynasty success.
"We had four guys who were the real core," he said. "We had Denis Potvin, (Mike) Bossy, (Bryan) Trottier and in nets, Billy Smith. He was maybe not the most talented goaltender of his era but nobody battled harder. The rest of us just did our jobs."
Lane was an interesting person off the ice, too. While playing attended Howard Community College and the University of Maryland's University College, piecing together an accounting degree. He worked in the off-seasons with Canadian National railroad and started a commercial honey form with his brother. Somehow he'd always find time to fish and hunt every summer, too.
After trying his hand at coaching at the junior and minor pro level, Lane settled in Columbia, Maryland and studied architecture at Montgomery College. He later founded Lane Building Services. He reconnected with the Washington Capitals and has served as the president of the alumni association and overseas their charitable endeavors.