When healthy, Pat Flatley was a robust, effective right winger for almost 800 NHL games. The 6'2" 200lb right winger excelled doing the dirty work for loose pucks along the boards and in the corners. Such physical play often lead to serious injuries, which somewhat curtailed his promising career.
Born in Toronto, Flatley had a typical Canadian childhood as a hockey mad kid. He played street hockey endlessly and skated at the local arenas whenever he could. But once it became obvious he was a player with promise and the potential to move on to junior hockey, Flatley opted to stay at the high school level and later with the University of Wisconsin, majoring in journalism.
"I had set my goals one step at a time," Flately told Total Hockey: Second Edition. "When I was playing in high school, my goal was to get a scholarship at a U.S. college. I was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves in the first round, but I told them I was going to go to college."
Pat achieved his goal when he accepted a full hockey scholarship to the University of Wisconsin and joined the team as a 17 year old freshman. He played in 17 games under the tutelage of now famous head coach "Badger" Bob Johnson, and the team finished second in the nation in the NCAA championships.
Flatley attended the University of Wisconsin from 1981 through 1983. Among his Badger teammates in college were future NHLers Chris Chelios, Bruce Driver and Brian Mullen. Pat definitely favoured the US College hockey season over the junior hockey schedule. There was only half the amount of games in college hockey as there is in the juniors, which means lots of time to practice and develop skills and fundamentals. Pat credits that for helping him in his hockey career.
All the practice paid off on June 9, 1982 when "Flats" was drafted in the first round, 21st overall by the Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.
"Pat is a big, strong boy. He's also a good hockey player. He's a Bobby Nystrom, John Tonelli-type of player. He likes to knock people off of the puck" said Jim Devellano, then a New York Islanders scout who heavily recruited Flatley.
Flatley's old coach Johnson was definitely a fan of his by the time the two departed the college ranks.
"Pat is a winner. When the puck goes into the corner, he's going in to get it. He's not Mike Bossy. He's not lightning coming off his wing, Pat is more like (Bob) Nystrom. He could play in the league tomorrow" said Johnson that summer.
But it wasn't until he was drafted that he took his shot at the NHL seriously. Before the draft he was just happy to be part of a great thing in Wisconsin, although he knew scouts were watching him. But once he was drafted he almost immediately quit his summer job driving an airport shuttle for a hotel and he dedicated his entire summer to making the New York Islanders.
Despite all the on and off ice training, Flatley was returned to the Badgers for more apprenticeship for the 1982-83 season. The move was a good one in hindsight, as Flatley led the Badgers to their 4th NCAA championship
It was during the 1982-1983 season that Flatley first got a taste of international hockey when he was part of the Canadian entry at the World Junior Championships. He scored 4 goals in 7 games and thoroughly enjoyed his time there. He would gladly jump at the opportunity to again represent his country following the conclusion of this school year as he played in the World Championships.
With 1984 being an Olympic year, Flats dropped out of college to join the Canadian National team for the full year to get the chance to play in the Olympic Games. He scored 31 times in 57 games and was perhaps Canada's best player. In the Olympics in Sarajevo, he led the Canadians with 3 goals and 6 points in 7 Olympic games.
"After the World Juniors, I wanted to play in the Olympics. When I got drafted I started to feel that I was good enough to play in the NHL, but I knew I wanted to play in the Olympics first. I managed to make the national team and toured the world for the 1983-84 season before playing in the Olympics," he remembers fondly.
Flatley was not the typical Canadian player employed by coach Dave King. He was heart and soul winger, the ultimate grinder. But he was not the usual skillful speedster on King's teams.
"If you were looking for a player to play European hockey, you might say 's skating would be a problem," King said. "This is a good level for him to work on that. He's really improved on his skating and he's been working very hard on it. Of course, he has to compensate for his lack of speed. He has to make sure he hangs on to the puck and makes good plays."
Flatley dedicated himself to the Olympic cause, only to see it end in controversy. He was ejected from the bronze medal game - a 2-0 loss to Sweden - after making inadvertent contact with a lineseman. Flatley was directed the linesman's way on an offside play and couldn't avoid all contact.
The linesman - Bernd Schneider of Germany - complained to the Soviet referee Yuri Karandin who mysteriously gave Flatley a game misconduct.
''I don't know what was wrong with him, what he did or why he did it. It hurt me a lot and it hurt our team. . . . It's stupid. ''I didn't know what to do or how to react. I knew he took a dive, but I've never heard of that with an official. I felt horrible. Six months of preparation for the biggest game of my life. . . . It's just terrible.''
Flatley immediately joined the New York Islanders following his Olympic adventure. Flatley joined American Olympian Pat Lafontaine as late season reinforcements for the Isles. The Isles were at the time 4 time defending Cup champions and were on their "Drive for Five." Despite a good playoff by Flats (9 goals, 15 points in 21 games) the Isles fell just short of a fifth consecutive Cup as they lost the Finals to the Edmonton Oilers. Too bad for Flatley - he would never go on to win the Cup.
Flatley would go on to be a mainstay on Long Island, playing 12 more seasons there, the last 4 of which he served as the team's captain. Despite several seasons shortened by serious injury, Flatley played every game exactly the same - full out, crashing and banging, knocking down anything that is in his way and leading by example.
Perhaps there was some undue expectations on Flatley which effected his career. He had the unfortunate task of entering the NHL with fellow Olympian Pat Lafontaine, and the two were compared early, even though they were clearly different types of players. Also, Flatley (and for that matter Lafontaine) came to Long Island as the dynasty was just ending. They were looked up on as the next generation of Islanders that needed to make a big impact in order for the winning to continue on Long Island. Unfortunately for the Isles, there were very few other players to come along who contributed as much Flatley and Lafontaine.
While Lafontaine went on to become a flashy star, Flatley was also a key player. His contributions weren't as noticeable as say Nystrom's or Tonelli's during the dynasty years, as Flatley didn't have the luxury of playing on such a strong team. Had Flatley been a bit older he would have fit nicely into those championship teams and made similar contributions as did Nystrom. Of course winning allows for recognition.
Pat played on Long Island until 1995-96 when his contract was not renewed. Somewhat ironically, Flatley extended his career by one year by signing for one season with the city rival New York Rangers. Flatley appear in 66 games with the Rangers, scoring 10 goals.
Flatley retired after the 1996-97 seasons with 170 goals in 780 games. Most of those goals were probably scored in the same, typically-Flatley style - crashing the net looking for loose pucks, rebounds and/or tip-ins. He added 340 assists for 510 points. He scored 18 goals and 15 assists in 70 playoff games.