TEN HILLS, NY — The sign revealed by Pamela Gillies shortly before noon ET Saturday is forever a daily reminder to generations before, during and after her late husband, Clark Gillies, became a giant on the ice and a gentle giant off it.
The renaming of Dix Hills Ice Rink to Clark Gillies Arena in Dix Hills Park honored the longtime resident of Greenlawn, New York, a tough forward who used a menacing 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame to help New York Islanders win the Stanley Cup for four consecutive seasons (1980-83). The Hockey Hall of Famer who died of cancer on January 21 at the age of 67 was celebrated in a public ceremony attended by fans and many dignitaries, showing the respect Gillies has sparked on Long Island and in the hockey community.
Other platitudes used include presence, humility and what Huntington City Councilor Joan Cergol called “a gravitational pull and used it for so much good” during the groundbreaking ceremony at the center of the ice. The occasion was bittersweet but proud, councilman Salvatore Ferro recalled a conversation with Pat LaFontaine, the Hall of Famer who started his NHL career with the Islanders in 1984, calling the rink and Clark Gillies the heart of Long Island.
“Charismatic is the word I use the most,” the Islanders forward said Matt Martin mentioned. “He just had a certain charisma about him. He really had the ability to make everyone in the room feel like his best friend. The number of people here today, former teammates, current players, fans , they all recognize the good he has done for the community during his life.”
Council members Ferro and Cergol introduced a resolution to rename the rink, which was unanimously approved at a March 15 city council meeting. The transition was completed with the unveiling of the center ice logo and a ceremonial face-off by Pamela Gillies and the Islanders players.
Pamela’s late husband was more than a player who skated on “The Trio Grande,” to the left of Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy during the Dynasty years. Despite being one of the toughest players of his time, Gillies never had 100 penalty minutes in a season; his NHL high was 99 in 1980-81. He started the Clark Gillies Foundation, a non-profit corporation created to help children who have physical, developmental, or financial challenges, which has awarded more than $3.5 million to the Clark Gillies Pediatric Unit at the Huntington Hospital and the Clark Gillies Foundation Pediatric Emergency Unit.
“It was almost like you knew him your whole life. He was this kind of giant personality,” LaFontaine said. “‘Clarkie’ was just larger than life and everyone who met him, they were there better for that. He’s a great example for all of us to try to live your life like Clark Gillies lived his. That’s the biggest compliment I can give him.”
Gillies’ legacy connects generations and inspires others for the greater good, such as Martin’s ongoing work with the Matt Martin Foundation which hosts fun events throughout the year and gives fans an outlet to help give back.
“He loved Long Island,” Martin said. “He loved the community, loved the people of Long Island. A day like these kind of shows.”
The day also brought more tears to Bobby Nystrom, another member of the dynasty who reflected on four difficult months which saw the deaths of Gillies, Jean Potvin (March 15), Bossy (April 14) and the icon of the Montreal Canadiens Guy LaFleur (April 22). Nystrom then allowed himself a smile a few minutes after the ceremony. Gillies’ favorite song was “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers and he sang it at each of his founding events.
The last time Nystrom saw Gillies perform “The Gambler” he was in the hospital, which prompted another round of tears. Months later, Nystrom and dozens of others flew from across the country to the heart of Long Island and paid homage to the heartbeat of the islanders on a day when grief, reflection and celebration were only ‘a.
“He was a giver,” Nystrom said. “He never said no to anyone. He was just selfless. Just an amazing guy.”
Photo courtesy: New York Islanders/Dennis DaSilva