Retro Rangers: How the WHA New York Raiders begat the NHL Islanders

by | Sep 23, 2022

The New York Islanders were born in 1972 in an attempt to keep the WHA’s New York Raiders from setting up shop in the brand new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. Nassau County officials wanted nothing to do with the WHA, which they considered to be a minor league operation, but the only way to legally deny the Raiders’ bid would be to get an NHL team to play there instead. So William Shea, who was instrumental in getting the Mets a National League franchise in 1962, was enlisted to lobby the NHL for an expansion team.

Shea quickly found allies in NHL President Clarence Campbell and Ranger President William Jennings. Campbell didn’t want a WHA team in New York, while Jennings, more of a pragmatist knew that if the Raiders were blocked from the Coliseum but still wanted to play in New York it would have to be at Madison Square Garden where he would be happy to charge them exorbitant rental fees while in effect controlling their destiny by offering them bad dates and times for their home games. A true “win-win” situation for Jennings.

Apparently, Rangers General Manager Emile Francis also had his eye on the site as a home for a Blueshirt farm club. “I had made a deal, when they were building that Coliseum, recalled “The Cat.”  “I was gonna move our farm team there. It would have been ideal for us, but then the WHA came along and I was told that they were gonna get an NHL team, so forget about a minor league team.”

Clothing manufacturer Roy Boe, who also owned the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association organized a group of 19 investors to buy the franchise for $6 million. He also had to pay the Rangers a territorial indemnification fee of $4 million. Another “win” for Jennings and the Garden.

And so with the financial backing of Boe the Islanders were added to the 1972 expansion along with the Atlanta Flames.

Boe’s wife, Deon, designed the team’s original uniforms with a green and black color scheme that was soon changed to the now familiar royal blue and orange. Designer John Alogna was given only a weekend to produce a logo before the team’s initial press conference. He came up with a simple but effective design featuring a silhouette of Long Island and a large NY with a hockey stick, all within a circle.

Bill Torrey who had worked for the California Seals was named General Manager. Torrey would ultimately become one of the most respected GM’s in NHL history but his choice of a coach for the fledgling team was former Ranger Phil Goyette and unfortunately that didn’t work out so well. Goyette posted a 6-38-4 record and was let go after 48 games. He was replaced by another former Ranger, Earl Ingarfield who didn’t fare much better.

Phil Goyette: “When I look back on it today I should never have gone there. I should have waited and learned the trade a little bit more in an organization and then worked up to that point. But I wasn’t there for the draft meetings, they only hired me after the draft and then three quarters of those guys jumped to the WHA. The only NHL player I had of any consequence was Eddie Westfall, the others were all out of juniors.

So I told them ‘what do you want? You don’t have any players.’ They even had to look for players for training camp. But that’s a team that got in the league too fast and wasn’t organized from the base up. They said ‘don’t worry, you’re gonna be with us for a long time’. But if you don’t win you can’t get rid of the players, they didn’t have any. So they got rid of the coach.

They wanted me to stick around and be an assistant to Bill Torrey, but that meant that I would be running around all over the league, scouting and whatnot. So I said that’s not for me. Just give me whatever you owe me and we’ll just say good bye. Unfortunately I would have loved to have what they had after, I mean the following year they started to get guys like Bossy and Trottier and Potvin and they started getting a team. So Al Arbour came in and had some good hockey players and they won four cups in a row.”

Earl Ingarfield: “I was scouting for the Islanders when they let Phil go and Bill Torrey asked me to come in and take over for that first season. He actually asked me to stay on for the next season, but I didn’t think I was ready for it. And we had just retired in 1971 from playing in Oakland and we had a young daughter and I just didn’t want to move again at that time. And then they got Al Arbour which turned out to be great for the Islanders. I thought it worked out quite well. The sad part of it was that back then in expansion they certainly didn’t leave many players available that you could build a team around. It was difficult, but I certainly enjoyed the time there. It was a great experience for me and I thought the players we had worked hard for me but we just didn’t have the skill.”

The undermanned and overmatched Islanders finished with the worst record in the league at 12-60-6 that first season. They also lost all six meetings with the Rangers being outscored 25-5 in those games. But for the first time since the New York / Brooklyn Americans folded in 1942, the Rangers had local competition and a great rivalry was born.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, the Raiders barely made it through the season in New York as their original owners defaulted and they were eventually taken over by the league.  They were replaced the next year by the Golden Blades who also ran out of money early in the season and wound up finishing the campaign as the New Jersey Knights and playing their home games in a tiny arena in Cherry Hill, NJ. that only had one dressing room and a slope at center ice that forced the visiting team to skate uphill for two periods.  The franchise was eventually sold and moved to San Diego, California where they were renamed the Mariners. The Mariners played for three seasons in the San Diego Sports Arena and folded in 1977.

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