On Nov. 28, 1979, New York Islanders goalie Billy Smith became
the first netminder in NHL history to score a goal. That feat,
since duplicated five times, is most noteworthy now as one thing
Smith is known for that is neither accumulating penalty minutes
nor winning in the clutch.
For almost two decades Battlin' Billy treated opponents like no
goalie before him. The crease was his, and woe to the forward
who made the mistake of gliding through it--or of even getting
too close. Smith was notorious for viciously using his stick on
rival skaters, especially jabbing opponents with the butt end.
Because of his ferocious play, the NHL mandated in 1982 that
goalies had to tape that end of their sticks, and in '86 the
league began expanding the crease. "When I played we didn't have
the big crease, and a lot of goalies were getting run," Smith
says. "Players knew if they went in the crease, interference
wouldn't be called."
Smith's intimidating methods helped make him one of the best
postseason goaltenders of all time. With Mike Bossy, Denis
Potvin and Bryan Trottier, he led the Islanders to four straight
Stanley Cup championships, from 1980 to '83. In '83 he won the
Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP after he stymied Wayne
Gretzky--whom he called a "crybaby"--and the rest of the
high-scoring Edmonton Oilers in a four-game finals sweep. His 88
playoff wins and 489 penalty minutes for a goaltender ranked
first in NHL history when he retired in '89. Although he was
elected to the Hall of Fame in '93, the unsentimental Smith
says, "I really don't look back on my career much. What I did, I
Today Smith, 48, is in his first season as assistant head coach
of the Florida Panthers, for whom he'd been the goaltending
coach since the Panthers' first practice in 1993. As a player
Smith made no secret of his dislike for practice, occasionally
firing a puck at teammates who shot too high on him. Does he
find it ironic he's now responsible for running practice? "To
get better, of course you have to practice," he says. "I didn't
like practice then because of a lot of the drills. I really
didn't care for the one where guys teed it up from the slot."
The man once vilified in the Edmonton papers as Public Enemy No.
1, Samurai Billy and Jack the Ripper now lives in West Palm
Beach, Fla., with his wife of 25 years, Debbie, the mother of
his two adult sons. "There are other goalies who play
aggressively," says Smith of today's netminders. "Maybe not as
much as I did. I did what I had to do to win, and I was pretty
good under pressure."
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL BERESWILL (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT J. SCHECHTER
In the 1983 finals he stymied Wayne Gretzky's Oilers--and called
Gretzky a "crybaby."