At 6-foot, 186 pounds, Mike Bossy was a smaller player. He took hits as teams tried to test his ability to withstand physicality. He never fought, but he bounced right back up.
Now, he’s in a fight for his life.
Bossy, 64, announced Tuesday afternoon in an open letter that he has lung cancer, and will step away from his job as an analyst for TVA Sports, the French-language carrier for the NHL in Canada.
“Needless to say, it was a kick in the teeth,” his former Islanders teammate Bobby Nystrom said of the diagnosis.
He’s being careful about reaching out to Bossy, not wanting to contribute to what is presumably an overload of calls. He’ll leave him a note at some point, to say that Bossy will fight this and beat it.
“Mike’s not gonna lay down and die,” Nystrom said. “He’s gonna fight this big-time. That’s just his mentality.”
That mentality was reflected in his playing career, when even after being a high draft pick, winning the Calder Trophy and scoring 50 goals, Nystrom remembered Bossy working as hard as anyone on the team.
When Bossy first came to the Islanders, Nystrom had some doubts about his scoring ability. Yes, he had averaged 77 goals per year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but there were questions abound regarding whether that could translate.
“He was, needless to say, a slender hockey player,” Nystrom told The Post. “That’s for sure.”
The first few games of the 1977-78 season came and went. Bossy found himself with scoring chances. And seemed to hit the goalpost every time.
“He must have hit about 12 goalposts,” Nystrom said. “And so we kind of figured, well, what’s going on with this. He had golden opportunities.”
In time, Bossy would start to take advantage of those opportunities. He would soon be on his way to becoming one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history, winning the Calder Trophy behind a 53-goal, 38-assist record in 77-78, and scoring more than 50 goals every year until his last.
The questions Nystrom had about his scoring evaporated. The questions about his toughness, which played a role in him slipping to the Islanders at No. 15 in the draft, were solved by playing next to Clark Gillies – and by Bossy’s own attitude.
“He wasn’t satisfied,” Nystrom said. “Neither were we until we won the Cups. Mike would just stay out there with the goaltenders and just practice shooting.”
Bossy’s shot, with which he once scored 50 goals in 50 games, was uncanny. Goaltenders back then would, in essence, be standing. Bossy would pull it short-side, get them to cover that area. As soon as they did, he’d take it through the five-hole.
Years later, Nystrom marvels at his quickness.
“I really have never seen anyone get a shot away that fast,” he said. “The thing is that he disguised it so well. That was the big difference. And such accuracy.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz has only met Bossy in passing, he thinks on a night honoring one of his former teammates. Still, Bossy left an impression.
“He lives Islanders,” Trotz said, “and he’s obviously an Islander legend. … I’m kind of in awe of him. I used to watch him all the time.”
Bossy will always engender that sort of respect and reverence in the Islanders’ universe, and that’s why Tuesday’s announcement was such a blow.
“The best thing I can say about Mike is that there’s no such thing as perfection, in hockey or in any sport,” Nystrom said. “But the fact is that he was driven to be the best that he could be. And that’s the best compliment I could pay him.”