The Islanders retired a jersey for the first time in 19 years Friday night at the Coliseum.
John Tonelli’s No. 27 was raised into the rafters, honoring the former left winger’s seven seasons with the franchise and contribution to its historic four-year Stanley Cup run.
“Ever since I got the call from [general manager Lou Lamoriello], I’ve been in a different mood,” Tonelli said Friday before the Islanders beat the Red Wings 4-1. “All upbeat. Nothing stresses me out, it’s just been a constant excitement and a great feeling.”
The Islanders won 60 of 78 postseason games during those four trips to their Stanley Cup titles, going 12-1 in overtime and proving to be one of the most dominant teams in NHL history. Tonelli played a major role in the team’s prolonged success, coming up clutch in nearly every big moment he was given.
From assisting on Bobby Nystrom’s series-winning overtime goal in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup finals against the Flyers, to keeping the dynasty alive with a game-tying goal in regulation and the game-winner in overtime against the Penguins in the preliminary round of the 1982 playoffs, Tonelli solidified himself as one of the Islanders greats.
Tonelli deflected the individual spotlight, crediting his teammates for all the success he was able to have.
“It’s an individual honor but I don’t have it without my center icemen Wayne Merrick, Bob Nystrom, my right winger, and the rest of my teammates,” he said. “I don’t have anything without those guys.”
Tonelli said none of the Islanders’ success from 1979 to 1983 would’ve been possible without then-head coach Al Arbour, who died on Aug. 28, 2015 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Struggling to find the words through tears in his eyes, Tonelli saluted Arbour for his leadership.
“Al for me is — he was an unbelievable leader, mentor,” Tonelli said before pausing to find his words. “I get emotional when I talk about Al because he was that important to me. He just said all the right things and he was good to all of us. He got the best out of every one of us.”
Nevertheless, No. 27 won’t officially be retired considering Islanders captain Anders Lee has worn the number since joining the club in 2013. But Tonelli wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Ever since he put on 27, I’ve been watching him like a hawk,” he said with a smile. “But I am so impressed, I am so honored that he is going to continue to wear our number. I can just tell he’s got character, he’s a great leader and I want him to wear that and hopefully one day we’ll be up there together. I’m cheering big time for that.”
Cal Clutterbuck, who has been sidelined since wrist surgery on Dec. 21, was placed on long-term injury reserve and assigned to AHL Bridgeport on a conditioning assignment.
Coach Barry Trotz said Clutterbuck told Lamoriello that he wouldn’t mind going down to the team’s AHL affiliate to put in some work before he’s able to rejoin the Islanders.
“That says a lot about Clutter’, trying to get prepared to help us out,” Trotz said. “Some guys feel too big that they can’t go down there. He’s preparing to help us and by doing that he’s going to get some game action and come and join us, hopefully, if everything goes well.”
Kieffer Bellows was assigned to Bridgeport, and Otto Koivula and Andrew Ladd were recalled from the Sound Tigers.