Ed Westfall may have essentially been forgotten by hockey fans outside of Boston and Long Island, but he was essential to the 1970s NHL.
He kicked the decade off with Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972, making one very under-appreciated "hockey play" right outside the frame of one of the best-known goals of all time, Bobby Orr's "Flying Special" in the 1970 Cup Final: he rotated and took Orr's position on right defense; had Orr lost control of the puck or otherwise missed on actually scoring, the St. Louis Blues would not have been able to get more than a 3-on-2 on the Bs, because Westfall's defensive play - a given in 2017, but not so in 1970 - would have saved the day, positionally anyway.
He also scored the second goal in what stands as the fastest set of three goals in NHL history, a 20-second span that put the Vancouver Canucks in the record books for the wrong reasons.
Westfall was a defensive specialist. He never won a Selke trophy for the simple fact that it hadn't been invented yet, but his defensive play was so widely recognized that he made his way onto the 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 All-Star Games despite his most prolific offensive season netting him 25 goals, 34 assists and 59 points (all three being career-highs) in 1970-71.
He was also one of two very good players chosen by the New York Islanders in the 1972 expansion draft, along with a goalie by the name of Billy Smith. Westfall was named the team's very first captain, and he also scored its very first goal.
He helped coach Al Arbour shape the team's identity and work ethic, and although he relinquished the captaincy to Clark Gillies in 1977 and retired just one season before the Isles' first of four straight Cups, his fingerprints were all over it. As a matter of fact, so was his voice, as he was the team's TV analyst from his retirement until 1998.
The team has since then held many events where he and other former players took center stage, including when they first wore "retro" jerseys in 2007, an Ed Westfall Night when he was inducted to the team's Hall of Fame in 2011, and a few other occasions.
It was during one of my pilgrimages to Nassau (I have yet to visit Barclays Center, and I don't plan on doing so either) with the Nordiques Nation that I got him so sign this card of his in black sharpie:
I wasn't born in 1974, but I did buy a bunch of old cards as a kid in the late 1980s, at a flea market where my grandmother sold shoes; most cards were from 1977-1979, but there were a couple of older ones as well. Watching Patrick Roy win the Cup and Conn Smythe in 1986 got me interested in the sport (and wanting to be a goalie), but these couple of hundred cards from the flea market were probably what got me interested in the history of the game. Well, that and having a sportswriter/journalist grandfather who was friends with the 1960s and 1970s Montréal Canadiens, and having those legends show up at many family events and my own games sometimes. Yeah, I guess that helps, too.