I was driving home from the show last night following our interview with Islander legend Pat LaFontaine, and was trying to think about what to write about today at the same time. I replayed part of the interview in my head, and flashed back to the very beginning of my career, something I mentioned in the talk with Pat. I also realized at the same time that I claim to have seen a lot of weird things, and that first week at the Islanders would certainly qualify as strange. Here is what happened…
The interview process I had with the Islanders was very, very quick. It was October, 1991, and the season had started already, when someone in their PR Department had left. Through a mutual friend, I had met someone in the office earlier that summer while up for a similar job elsewhere, and when the spot opened, given the in-season timing, they needed someone in the job real fast.
I interview on Thursday, October 17. My second interview, plus handshake welcoming me to the organization, was Monday, October, 21. I started the next day. It happened that fast (and to all aspiring sports pros, plus out of work veterans like myself, that is always an important piece of info to remember…these things can happen that fast). All of these dates are important, as I brought up last night, and as you’ll see in a minute.
I showed up for work that day, which just happened to be a game day. There were also games scheduled for Thursday (an exhibition against the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team) and then another game that Saturday. Talk about being thrown right in the fire, right? I got to the office early, which turned out to be one of the few times in my career there where that was the case (one of my true failings while working there, by the way), and took a seat at what they told me the day before would be my desk. No one else was there yet, so I just looked around and started to try and get the butterflies out of my system.
And then someone came in and tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned around, not having any idea who this was. Obviously, I assumed it was another staff member. He introduced himself as Ken and asked who I was. I told him it was my first day there and who I was working for, and he broke into a big smile. He then told me he was looking for some pictures of himself to sign, and asked if he could grab some. He knew where they were kept, so he showed me the file, and took a handful for himself. At that point, I learned that the first person in the organization that I met was enforcer Ken Baumgartner, who was as nice a guy off the ice as imaginable, and certainly not like his tough guy on-ice persona (a trait that many hockey people will tell you is the case with the majority of “goons”). Moments later, my new boss walked in, did the informal introductions, and the day went along as normally as any first work day does.
That game was played, I met more people than I could remembered, then went through the same thing two days later, with a normal work day scheduled in between, plus again on Friday. Or so I thought.
When I got to the office on Friday, it was mayhem. Being the new guy, I had no idea why. I started doing the things I normally did the first three days, but the phones were ringing off the hook. I was at the copier, because that was my normal routine, when my boss, whose office bordered the copy room, started banging on the wall. “Get in here and answer the phones!!!” was the quote. When I did, he told me we had just scheduled a press conference for later in that morning.
Pat LaFontaine was being traded. And so was captain Brent Sutter, in a separate deal. My Islander career overlapped with theirs for a total of four days.
And so, my career at the Islanders was already in the first part of the roller coaster. There were tons more trades, a wild playoff run in 1993, a depressing playoff sweep in 1994, a GM that turned the organization on its ear (and I only saw the tip of that iceberg) and, happily, I got out before the ownership issues set in. But we’ll come back to all of that at a later date.
Yeah, I have seen a lot. And I think it will be a lot of fun telling more of these stories. If you have any special requests for weird stuff that happened in that organization from 1991-96, please let me know. I have no problem sharing.