Status: Former president and GM of the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers.
DOB: June 23, 1934 In: Montreal, Que.
First Hockey Memory: “Do you know how old I am? Do you know how long ago that was (laughs)?! Off the cuff, I was born and raised in Montreal. We had cold winters and there was a hockey rink the city put up a block and a half from my house. Then later my best friend Richie Thompson and I would go to the Forum to watch the Canadiens and the junior teams that played there.”
Nickname: “Bow-tie Bill.”
Last Book Read: “Laura Hillenbrand’s book about the Olympic sprinter Louis Zamperini – Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, Redemption.”
Favorite Movies: “I haven’t seen a movie in the theater in years. I used to go a lot with my four sons, but they’re all grown up and married with kids of their own. I like movies, I don’t have a favorite. I used to like all the westerns. They don’t make them any more.”
Current Car: “2002 Lexus hardtop Coupe.”
First Job: “My old buddy Richie and I got a job at de Lorimier ballpark in 1946 selling plastic seat squares for 25 cents apiece and we got a nickel. I do remember watching Jackie Robinson play that year, what a thrill that was. He was every bit as popular and more as Maurice Richard was in Montreal that year.”
Greatest Sports Moment: “Oh God, I’ve been at this for over 40 years. As far as the NHL is concerned, I’ve been a part of this league since 1967-68. There’s been a lot of great moments. Obviously, one is winning the Stanley Cup, particularly, winning the Stanley Cup with an expansion team. Putting that together is as much as I can generalize it.”
Most Painful Moment: “I’m going through that in South Florida. We’ve missed the playoffs now for what seems like forever. The team had so much promise, we went to the Stanley Cup final in our third year (1996). To think where this franchise has ended up the last few years, I hate to see it struggle here. If we had a more competitive team, hockey would be very successful here.”
Favorite Uniforms: “The original Panthers uniforms I thought were as good as any uniform in the league. I’ve always liked the Chicago Blackhawks. The Original Six are all special uniforms. The modern uniforms I’m not crazy about. Hopefully, we’re going to go back to our original red uniforms in the next year or so.”
Most Memorable Goal: “Gotta be…I started in Oakland…there’s been an awful lot of them. But certainly two come to mind – ‘Bobby Ny’s’ goal to win the Stanley Cup which was so important for our franchise. But equally so in 1975. Only in our third year. We met the Rangers in the playoffs. We weren’t expected to be in the playoffs. J.P Parise scored 11 seconds in overtime to upset the Rangers. That was so big for our franchise. Us beating them and beating them in that way. It was a huge goal.”
Closest NHL Friend(s): “You can’t have any close friends in hockey, a lot of acquaintances. Within 10 minutes of me in West Palm Beach I have Bob Pulford, Lou Nanne, Emile Francis, Harry Sinden – we’re all members of the same golf club. For guys that had a lot of fun knocking heads with each other for many years, we have a lot of fun lying to each other now.”
Funniest Hockey People Encountered: “Lou Nanne is probably one. Certainly he’s a unique character, whenever you’re around him you’re laughing. So many players were a lot of fun to be around. Pat Flatley has a great sense of humor. If I had more time, I’m sure I’d think of a lot more.”
Toughest Competitors Encountered: “One of the reasons Al Arbour was a great coach was because he was an unbelievable competitor. But he masked it. A lot of guys did. He was as competitive as any guy I’ve known. Scotty Bowman is very, very competitive. Harry Sinden. No one’s more competitive than Harry. Of players…it would be unfair to say so-and-so is more competitive. I’ve been blessed in my managerial career in scouting players I’ve always looked for players who were very competitive. I’ve had a couple guys who were on poor teams that were ultra-competitive. It’s easier to be competitive with a winning team than when your asses are being handed to you.”
Embarrassing Hockey Memory: “I had one whole year that was embarrassing – the first year with the Islanders. We won 12 games. That’s as embarrassing as it gets. It seemed like everywhere we went, we’d open up the newspaper and the headline said, ‘Hapless Islanders…’ It bothered me a lot.”
Funny Hockey Memory: “Oh, I’ve had a million laughs. A million of them. Let me think…on a western road trip we played L.A. and then flew up to Vancouver. We played horribly in L.A. and lost 5- or 6-1. And Al (Arbour) was furious. To make a long story short, we flew to Vancouver, got in late, slept. We didn’t have a practice the next morning. I used to wait for Al to call me. Finally I called him. Al wasn’t in his room. In those days Al used to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day. He was outside the hotel. He said, ‘I gotta get more cigarettes.’ We walked down to the little store down by the water, disgusted by our team. We went into the store, at the counter Al looked over and saw they also sold a big box of dog biscuits. He said to the person working the register, ‘Give me the box of dog biscuits.’ We proceeded to the hotel and went to eat. All the players in the room are having lunch and it’s very quiet. Al goes into the kitchen and tells the guys serving the food to get two plates. He puts half of the dog biscuits on one plate and half on the other. He told them when they serve dessert to take these out and put them on the table. He went out and then all the sudden Clark Gillies starts barking like a dog, ARF! ARF! Al had a message to give to the guys and they got the message and they beat Vancouver that night. Stefan Persson, one of our defensemen, tried to eat the biscuit thinking it was a cookie, then had to spit it out.”
Strangest Game: “Another time in Vancouver we were playing the Canucks and halfway through the game, all of a sudden three girl streakers somehow got down and ran across the ice right in front of our bench. Stark naked except for what they were wearing on their feet. There was a black and white picture of it, I think Al might have it, of the girls going by and the look on Al’s face was classic. I accused him of knowing the girls, but he denied it. I can’t think of anything to top that.”
Favorite Arenas: “The Montreal Forum. I lived a few blocks away. I loved the old Boston Garden, but it was a terrible place to play. We had some great playoff series there. Of the newer arenas, I’m very partial to the one our owner Mr. Huizenga built, it’s very special and unique.”
Favorite Sport Outside Hockey: “I play golf. The most difficult game in the world. Something you can still play at my age.”
People/Personality Qualities Most Admired: “Just be honest. No matter what. The best policy. And it saves a lot of heartache and eventual misery. If it’s bad news, you gotta own up to it. Honesty, to me, is the most important.”
Career Accomplishments: Won four Stanley Cups with New York Islanders as GM; Reached Stanley final with Florida as GM; Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1995; Won Lester Patrick Award in 1983.