In a series of articles, called Isle Be There, my intention is to focus on the different social groups that support your New York Islanders team & its players. This will also include current events or situations in and around the team as it relates to its fan base and community.
As a follow up to an interview I was fortunate enough to do with the great Jiggs McDonald, I wanted to find another Islanders Icon who would have the stories to enthrall an entertain anyone who could call themselves a fan of our New York Islanders. Eric Hornick graciously granted my request to answer a few questions and give me his perspective on the upcoming Isles season at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Mr. Hornick gave me some thoughts on the team, stats and some of his favorite and most memorable moments over his storied career.
Mr. Hornick has been the statistician for the Islanders since 1982. Like Jiggs McDonald, he has been around for the greatest and the not so great times in team history. But more so than anyone else, his need to keep meticulous track of each and every vital team statistic was a necessary evil for both the organization, media and the fans throughout the ups and downs of the franchise. Statistics support both the legendary and the forgettable in snap-shots of the team throughout their history.
They remind us of Bossy’s 50 in 50, the 19 consecutive playoff series wins and even Al Arbour’s amazing 1,500 games coached. Before last season, we were reminded every single year of the Islanders inability to win a playoff series since 1993, a streak that extended through 23 NHL seasons under the guidance of 12 different coaches.
I jumped in and started by asking what he thought of the Islanders first season in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. Then, I just sat back to let the man do his thing.
Eric Hornick: “I think that it took a lot of getting used to, both by players and fans. However, by late in the season it started to feel like home and the place was really rocking in April…and in May. The ice seemed to get better as the season went along and quite frankly the off-center scoreboard is really a big nothing. Most importantly, the team played pretty well at home.”
Knight of Cups: How do you think the Isles 2016-17 team is shaping up?
Eric Hornick: “It will certainly be a different mix, with 3 key new faces (Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and PA Parenteau) replacing four departed free agents (Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin and Brian Strait).
Ladd was obviously the guy the Isles targeted; they had him on Long Island during the courting period and announced a deal with him just after the signing period started. Ladd got a 7-year deal, just like Okposo did in Buffalo. Like Kyle’s deal, Ladd’s deal is both lockout-proof and buyout-proof (almost all of Ladd’s money is structured as a bonus, not a salary). Ladd will be 31 just before Christmas; I’m sure there are some that are concerned what this deal will look like on the back end. Ladd’s won the Stanley Cup twice (with Carolina and with Chicago) so I’m sure his leadership will be valued come springtime. He has never scored 30 goals, but he has scored 23+ in each of the last 5 full seasons.
Jason Chimera was an interesting signing. Yes, he’s 37, but he did score 20 goals last season for the second time in his career. Only eight players from his 1997 draft class have played in 1,000 NHL games; Jason is 49 games shy.
And then there’s Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, although you can call him PA. Garth Snow got him for a great price ($1,250,000); ironically the same salary he had in his last season of his first stint with the Isles (2011-12). He went 18-49-67 playing mainly with Tavares that season and parlayed that into a big free agent deal; the Isles (and PA) are certainly hopeful that they can recapture some of that magic.
While it was nice to see that the Isles were at least being considered in the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes, there is plenty of young talent around. It will be interesting to see if any of the rookies can crack the lineup, and whether the young vets (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome) can have more consistent seasons.”
Knight of Cups: What was the most interesting stat for the Islanders last season.
Eric Hornick: “Well anytime you end a 23-season playoff win drought, that would seem to take the top spot.
I was surprised how far the Isles regressed from the previous season in terms of possession. They had the biggest shots on goal differential in their history the previous year; both the shots and the Corsi (shot attempts) were way down last season.
And while you didn’t ask, the most interesting stat for this season may just be the schedule. By February 19th, the Isles will have played 34 home games and only 24 on the road. It's the first time the Isles have ever played 34 home games in fewer than the first 63 games.
The Isles will then embark on a franchise-record nine-game road trip from February 21st to March 11th. The Isles will visit Detroit, Montreal and Columbus during President's Week before having four consecutive off days. The Isles will then play six Western Conference road games to end the stretch. Not only have the Isles never had a 9-game road trip before, they have never played eight straight away from home.”
Knight of Cups: What has been the strangest all-time Isles stat you have kept since 1982?
Eric Hornick: “One of the strangest was one of the first. In the early 80’s the Isles had a ridiculous streak where they went something in the neighborhood of 180-0-10 in games that they led with 10 minutes to play.”
Knight of Cups: What are your top 3 favorite all-time Islander stats and who holds them?
Erick Hornick: “Try these:
17 – Number of players that were the “Core of the Four”. It will never happen again in any sport.
207:57 -- Any guesses? That’s the amount of consecutive playoff overtime that the Isles played without allowing a goal. It’s actually a post-Cup era streak, starting with Pat LaFontaine’s Easter Epic in 1987 and ending on a Stephane LeBeau double-OT goal for Montreal. The Isles won eight consecutive OT games in that stretch.
50 - The most goals scored in the first 50 games, set by Mike Bossy in 1981. I wasn’t working on the telecasts yet; I was just screaming!
Knight of Cups: Who was your favorite Islander?
Eric Hornick: “When I did the “It Happened at the Coliseum” series (which you can still find on my blog, nyiskinny.com), I used to tweet each edition at 7:40am and 5:22pm. 7:40am was my salute to Al Arbour’s wins; 5:22 was my salute to my two favorite players of the Cup era (Potvin and Bossy).”
Knight of Cups: What was your favorite team moment?
Eric Hornick: “When you win four straight Cups, it makes it hard to choose just one. Personally, the come-from-behind OT win vs. Pittsburgh in 1982 and the overtime win vs. the Rangers in 1984 (both in game 5s of 5-game series) are among the most memorable.
In more recent years, how about a pair of Tavares overtime goals? I was fortunate to watch Game 3 vs. Washington in 2015 from the stands at the Coliseum (NBC did the game and used their own statistician) – it was the first time I watched a playoff game from the stands since Butch Goring won the Conn Smythe in 1981 vs. Minnesota. And then how about the series clincher last spring vs. Florida in what turned out to be Howie Rose’s final broadcast? What tremendous drama and finally the “curse” of 1993 being lifted.”
Knight of Cups: Did you know Al Arbour and if so, what was your favorite moment or encounter with Mr. Arbour?
Erick Hornick: “I talked with Al a number of times but I wouldn’t claim that I really knew him. I’ll give you two favorite moments – one shared with many, one that was just mine.
Back in 2004 a business trip brought me to Sunrise, Florida for an Islander game. (It was supposed to be Jiggs’ final broadcast of an Islander game, broadcasting for the Panthers; thankfully that turned out not to be the case). I rode up an elevator with Al and with Bill Torrey; it was just the three of us. I mentioned to them who I was and remember saying “thank you for my childhood” or something to that effect.
About 3 ½ years later, I was at my familiar perch for game #1500. When it was first announced that summer I really wasn’t sure it would work. It certainly did—truly a memorable night for all those that were fortunate to be there or watch our telecast. I wrote about it extensively here.”
Knight of Cups: Describe your relationship with the guys in the booth, in the truck and the people around you who you would call your broadcast team.
Eric Hornick: “For 34 ½ years, I’ve been fortunate to work regularly with just two play-by-play announcers. When Howie announced this May that he was leaving, it was certainly an end of an era. I started with Jiggs two days after my 18th birthday; I was the same age as his older daughter. Howie is about 10 years older than I; my kids followed his kids to the same public schools. And now I look forward to working with Brendan Burke, who wasn’t born when I debuted.
I’ve also worked with some great analysts, from Ed Westfall and Joe Micheletti to Billy Jaffe and now Butch Goring. One of the first weeks I worked with Eddie, I had him autograph his cover photo from a media guide a few years earlier – I figured if it ended that season, at least I had that!
But there are plenty of people you never hear enough about—JT Townsend has been our stage manager for well over two decades; he does so many things for our talent and for me both before and throughout the game. He is always by my side and along with Brendan and Butch, it is the four of us that will form the A Team in the “booth”.
I communicate by headset to our font coordinator; Mike Mancuso has been with us for the last three seasons and is always willing to incorporate my ideas. I also speak regularly with our “bug guy”; several people fill that role throughout the season – in TV parlance “the bug” is the graphic that shows time and score and also little bits of information.
Other than JT, the member of our production team I have worked with directly for the longest is our replay coordinator Charlie Cucchiara; he was once our graphics coordinator and has produced our broadcasts on occasion.
For the past two seasons, Islander hockey has been produced by Jim Gallagher and directed by Dave Hagen. I speak with Jim much more during the game than Dave, but they are both outstanding at what they do – maybe one day they will lend me one of their Emmys!
I have been extremely fortunate to work with such talented people, including the wonderful Shannon Hogan and the incomparable Stan Fischler over all these years.”
Stan "The Maven" Fischler and Eric Hornick
Knight of Cups: What are the four things that fans probably don’t know about you or your job?
Eric Hornick: “I generally only attend home games (and local road games). Thanks to texting and email, it just seems like I am at the road games.
Many of the Islander facts I remember off the top of my head; however, I would also make an excellent reference librarian.
My preparation for the next game usually starts with my writing of The Skinny after the previous one! You can find a tweet linking to it at exactly 7:11 the morning after every game.
Bill Torrey once called my mother, saying that he couldn’t hire me as the team’s statistician… because I was in high school!”
Knight of Cups: What was your most memorable interaction with Islanders fans over the years?
Eric Hornick: “Without question, #ItHappenedattheColiseum. Two summers ago, I thought that someone needed to commemorate the final Coliseum season. I also knew that person had to be me.
What was originally just a little 250-part series chronicling Coliseum events day-by-day became a major fundraiser. With the help of Isles Blog, we raised over $33,000 for Make-A-Wish ® Metro NY.
In addition to the great pride I felt seeing our t-shirts and sweatshirts at the Coliseum and throughout the area, knowing that this project was enough to fund four “Wishes” made this one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done. (Be warned: if I see you wearing a shirt, I will definitely come up to you and say thanks!)
Eric Hornick and his son Evan before game 1 vs Tampa
Outside of that, I hear from fans basically every day through Twitter. My wife jokes that I am a “mini-celebrity”. I certainly love to talk with fans before games or between periods!
Knight of Cups: What was the most interesting behind the scenes conversation or revelation you have experienced while keeping stats?
Eric Hornick: “This is one of my favorite stories – about 15 years ago I was rushing around the Coliseum press box during an intermission. The press box bathrooms were tucked behind a blind corner, and coming out of it, I ran into Flyer legend (and then General Manager) Bobby Clarke. Literally. We collided and I was actually a bit stunned.
When I looked up to apologize, I realized who I had hit. I apologized and then with a bit of a giggle said “Ten years ago I would have given anything to have done that.”
Clarke replied, “Ten years ago, I would have hit you back.” We both laughed.”
Knight of Cups: When did you know you wanted to be the resource for the team and keep meticulous track of all those growing numbers?
Eric Hornick: “I was 8 years old when the Isles played their first game; a long-deceased player named Bob Cook scored a hat trick in my first Coliseum game (Stick Night vs Vancouver in March 1973). I’ve always blamed (credited) Chico Resch for his 1975 playoff run turning me into a super fan. I’ve kept score of every game the team has played since 1978.
I met Jiggs in the 1980-81 season; over that summer I received a letter from him that the team was looking for a statistician – unfortunately they didn’t hire me because I was still in high school. Jiggs invited me to join the broadcasts in 1982 and the first game I worked started the 15-game winning streak. Butch doesn’t think I deserve much credit for that! I’ve never left.”
Butch Goring, Jiggs McDonald and Eric Hornick during a broadcast.
Knight of Cups: Was there anyone you could call an influence of yours in the field?
Eric Hornick: “When I was growing up, the Mets had a statistician named Arthur Friedman; I remember reading his book. I was probably more influenced by the broadcasters; as a teenager I complained to the Mets not when they traded Tom Seaver, but when Lindsay Nelson left to go to San Francisco.
Before you could find every game on Center Ice or on XM, I used to listen to NHL games from all over the place on radio. Isles and Rangers of course, but also teams like the Whalers (Chuck Kaiton) and Capitals (Ron Weber). Both Kaiton and Weber often worked alone, meaning they had plenty of need to interject stats. When I broadcast games at Union College (including the small college national championship game twice) I always included a lot of stats.”
Knight of Cups: What current NHL record would you most like to see broken?
Eric Hornick: “Nothing really comes to mind, but there’s a certain 19-series winning streak that expect will last forever!”
Knight of Cups: What’s the biggest statistical impact you have seen expansion bring to an NHL season?
Eric Hornick: “Scoring went way up after the expansion in 1979-80 (to include the 4 WHA teams). Adding Las Vegas, who because of the expansion draft rules will likely be a fairly competitive team right off the bat, won’t have the same impact.
Maybe the biggest impact is not on statistics but on scheduling. Once Vegas joins the league, every team in the East will play 28 games in their division, 24 teams against the other division and 30 games against the West. I’d like to see greater impact placed on divisional play. If it was up to me, I’d go back to 6 divisions and play your divisional rivals 6 or 8 times each. Consider this – after our opening night telecast at MSG, the Isles and Rangers will play 3 times in the final 81 games (In fact, opening night is our only telecast at The Garden; NBCSN has the other game). That’s just not enough.”
Knight of Cups: What is the most interesting and least known NHL stat?
Eric Hornick: “On March 22, 1984, Bryan Trottier scored a goal 5 seconds into an Isles game in Boston. (It was an unusual broadcast that night as Ed Westfall came down with laryngitis)
Trottier became the second player in modern NHL history to score :05 into play (Doug Smail did so for Winnipeg in 1981); Buffalo's Alex Mogilny would join them in the record book in 1991. For the past two decades, those three players have had the record book to themselves.
The NHL, however, is in the midst of digitizing old records and in 2014, they found a goal by a guy named Merlyn Phillips nearly 88 years after it happened. Phillips, playing for the Montreal Maroons, scored 5 seconds into a game in Chicago on December 29, 1926. Phillips played 278 games for the Maroons; he finished his NHL career with the NY Americans in the 1932-33 season.
The kicker on Phillips’ share of the record – the clock in Chicago only moved in 5 second increments at that time. Nobody really knows whether he deserves his share of the record.”
In-Game broadcast stat board
Knight of Cups: Who has supported you most over the course of your career?
Eric Hornick: “My family, particularly my VERY understanding wife, Diane. My two boys are both big fans as well; watching the Isles through their eyes is very special as well. I’ve worked with many really terrific people along the way as well!”
Knight of Cups: What do you like best about your job?
Eric Hornick: “For nearly 35 years, I’ve had one simple goal – to make our broadcasts just a little bit better. In all those years, no matter how bad (or good) the season was going, I can’t remember a single time I didn’t want to go to a game.
I love being in the building before a big game (I’m usually in the building before the gates open); there is an air of anticipation that’s hard to describe. I love to speak with our crew as well as with the writers and the people I know from the other team.
I really like the opportunity to share information, either on television or through my blog or twitter. Many broadcasters around the league get The Skinny before their games against the Islanders.
There’s an old saying that “Knowledge is Power”; to me it’s much more powerful when I can share it with others.”
I asked Mr. Hornick if he had anything to add about himself and the Islanders for the upcoming season. He spoke fondly of former Isles play-by-play man, Howie Rose.
“While I am really looking forward to work with Brendan Burke this season, it will be strange not to have Howie Rose sitting next to me. We’ve worked together since 1995 and I always felt that Howie was under-appreciated by a certain segment of the team’s fanbase. Part of it had to do with his previous experience with the Rangers, part of it was because he replaced Jiggs McDonald, but perhaps the bigger part had nothing to do with Howie at all – he broadcast a team that for many of those years just wasn’t very good.
The Islanders played over 1,650 regular season and post-season games in the years that Howie called their games; he called three remarkable Islander overtime wins in his last eight days on the job. They were the only Islander playoff overtime goals he ever called (Doc Emrick called John Tavares’ OT winner in 2014). When JT’s overtime goal in game six ended the Islanders 23-year playoff series drought, other than my kids, I was happiest for Howie finally getting the chance to call it.
Howie Rose, Eric Hornick and Butch Goring
Among the things I’ll remember most were some of his great on-the-fly commentaries, from “housebound agoraphobe” to “Nassau County aspiring to be minor league.” They were direct, and right on point.”
The Islanders are the last major North American pro sports franchise to win four league championships in a row. With the future of the team trending upwards, I’m glad the written history of the Islanders will be brought to us by Eric Hornick, whose passion and excitement for the team is evident in each and every team broadcast, personal twitter post (@ehornick) and blog entry he writes.
Sign from Pat the sign guy, Isles game super fan.
Chris Lamoriello has been hired by the team as Director of Player Personnel.
The Islanders are $4.3A under the cap.
Per Arthur Staple, “Strome hasn't signed yet, but he will. And if Barzal/MDC/JHS have a shot, even less incentive to sign a veteran middle-6 forward.”
College Free-Agent, Jimmy Vessey signed an ELC with the New York Rangers.
Sound Tigers Notes:
Josh Holmstrom returns to the BST on a one-year, AHL contract.