On the occasion of his first major thank-you speech, Goaltender Glenn (Chico) Resch of the New York Islanders hardly acted like an instant celebrity who has just been attacked by three dozen microphones, ten minicameras and a battalion of reporters armed with BIC Bananas. Or maybe in the confusion Resch simply overlooked thanking his coach, his fourth-grade arithmetic teacher, his hair weaver, the guys down at the Rub-A-Dub Pub back in Thunder Bay and, of course, all his dear teammates for their parts in what he had just done to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Instead, Resch told it like it was, Howard. No baloney. What he said, ever so humbly, was, "First of all, folks, I want to thank my best friends the goalposts for getting me here tonight."
No wonder. Thanks to Resch and his cold-steel buddies, the "amazin' Islanders" stunned the Penguins 1-0 in Pittsburgh Saturday night to become only the second team in Stanley Cup history—remember the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs?—to rally from three games down and win the last four games of a best-of-seven series. In that final game Captain Eddie Westfall, the one Islander who has guzzled champagne from the Stanley Cup, beat Gary Inness for the only goal at 14:42 of the third period, after Defenseman Bert Marshall had broken up a Pittsburgh clearing play inside the Penguin blue line. Marshall slipped the puck perfectly onto Westfall's stick and the old Bruin outwaited Inness, then flipped a backhander high between his shoulder and the near post.
If Resch had been hiding behind Inness' mask in the Pittsburgh goal, Westfall's backhand shot no doubt would have glanced off that post, and the Penguins—not the Islanders—might now be playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the cup semifinals. In the last four games the Penguins had fired the puck past Resch 13 times, and nine times the puck ricocheted off the posts. Ask Syl Apps Jr. Syl Apps Sr. played for the above mentioned 1942 Maple Leafs, while his son plays for the 1975 Penguins. Please don't remind Junior about the irony of it. Syl Apps Jr. hit the post four times against Resch.
"The way I look at it," Resch said, "the posts are part of my equipment." And he appreciates his equipment. When Ron Schock and Pierre Larouche rattled shots off the same post not more than 30 seconds apart in last Thursday's sixth game at the Nassau Coliseum, the grateful goaltender kissed the post through his mask. When Jean Pronovost dented the post shortly before Westfall's goal in the seventh game, Resch bowed his head and mumbled a quick prayer. "Those Islanders, they didn't play fair," complained Larouche. "They had two men playing the goal at the same time in those last games."
Resch had played spectator in the first three meetings when the Penguins, clearing the posts cleanly with their shots, poured 14 goals past Islander Goaltender Billy Smith and stormed to what seemed to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead. Staring at a wipe-out, New York Coach Al Arbour benched Smith for the fourth game and replaced him with Resch, or "Chico the Man" as the Islanders call their 5'9" backup goaltender. With his $1,000 hair weave, which he calls "the unit," and his thin mustache, Resch does bear a resemblance to Freddie Prinze.
A rookie, the 26-year-old Resch made all unrequired pit stops on the goaltenders' circuit before arriving on Long Island. He was a third-string goalie for a last place team in an outlaw junior league back in Saskatchewan, then spent four years playing goal at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. After graduation he attended Montreal's training camp, but the Canadiens labeled him "too small" and shipped him to Muskegon. "I had a good year there," he says, "but it was really weird. The manager, Jerry DeLise, fined us $100 if he caught us eating French fries or hot dogs or even pancakes. It was ridiculous. I was playing for $225 a week, doing them a favor, and they were fining me for eating pancakes for breakfast." The Islanders acquired Resch's NHL rights from the Canadiens in 1972, and he spent the next two years losing hair in New Haven and Fort Worth. "We hardly recognized him when he showed up wearing his unit this season," says an Islander official.
"I was like the apprentice goalie all year," Resch says. "I was the fill-in, a relief man, the guy who came out of the bullpen." Still, he played in 25 games, recorded three shutouts and compiled a strong 2.47 goals-against average. In the opening round of the playoffs Resch beat the Rangers in Game One at Madison Square Garden, but was bombed out of his cage early in the second game. Then he came back to face an apparently hopeless cause. "A goalie," he says, "must feel, really feel, the importance of his position. And let's face it, when you're down by three games and just one game away from a vacation, the goaltender's position is important."
The Islanders finally beat the Penguins in Game Four, 3-1, as Resch made 37 saves and the posts stopped another two. "We are looking to Philadelphia," Pittsburgh Defenseman Dave Burrows said after that loss, "and forgot to beat the Islanders today. So we'll get them back home." The Penguins usually get everyone at home. Before Tuesday night's game, they had lost only one of their last 33 games in the Civic Arena. Moreover, the Islanders had never won there in their three-year history. But in the fifth game Resch kicked out 36 shots, the posts deflected two more and the Islanders escaped with a 4-2 victory. Back on Long Island Thursday night, Resch stopped another 31 shots, while the posts turned aside three others and, presto, the series was tied as the Islanders won 4-1.
"The Islanders are like a disease," grumbled Pittsburgh's Bob (Battleship) Kelly. "You can't get rid of them. When they're down, they don't pull the rip cord and bail out. I like them but I don't like them. You know what I mean."
Resch began his long personal psych job for the seventh game with a smorgasbord Friday night at a Pittsburgh restaurant: salad, spaghetti and deep-fried scallops, topped off with ice cream and chocolate sauce, and several sodas. "No doctor would recommend that I eat this kind of food the night before a game," he said. "But I know what my stomach can take." After that type of meal Resch, like most goaltenders, sleeps fitfully, if at all, the night before a game. "I'll wake up in two or three hours," he said at midnight, "and just sit in my bed staring off at nothing. It's crazy. Then I'll think of something soothing, like lounging on a beach, and I'll doze off again. I never think of the game, not consciously. If I did I'd become a basket case."
At the Penguins' mandatory practice Saturday morning, Coach Marc Boileau ordered both his goaltenders-Inness and Bob Johnson—out of their nets and had his players shoot at the empty cages for almost 10 minutes. "Resch has them all psyched out," Boileau said. "We averaged more than four goals per game all year, but Resch has given us only four goals in three games. No goalie should be able to do that to us."
As the teams prepared to square away that night, Larouche set the situation in perfect perspective. "One team will choke," he said. "The other team will win." From the start it was a wild game, exactly the type of hockey that the deliberate Islanders wanted to avoid. Less than three minutes into the game, Bob Paradise of the Penguins and Clark Gilles of the Islanders, two genuine heavyweights, dropped their gloves and boxed three quick rounds. Then, late in the period, Kelly, responding to the organist's rendition of Anchors Aweigh, fought with Dave Lewis in another heavyweight matchup. But no one could beat Resch, although Apps hit the post and bounced a shot off his mask and over the net.
Resch was Larouche's particular target in the next two periods. Once Resch gloved a Larouche deflection at the goalmouth; another time he dived out of his net and poke-checked the puck off Larouche's stick just as the rookie was ready to roll it into the vacated net. And, oh yes, Jean Pronovost also hit the post. Then it happened. Marshall, one of the few Islander veterans, broke up the clearing play, wheeled to the inside, heard Westfall yelling "Bert! Bert!" and then slid the puck to him and watched Westfall toy with Inness. "What could I do," the goaltender said later. "He kept moving in from the side. I stayed as long as I could, then I had to move with him. The instant I did, he put it past me. Westfall's an old pro. He never panicked."
And he didn't hit the goalpost, either.