Devils head coach Lindy Ruff fought back tears when speaking with reporters on Saturday morning.
Ruff, visibly emotional when asked about the passing of his friend and former teammate Clark Gillies, shared similar sentiments from the rest of the hockey world on the Islanders legend: Gillies was beloved on and off the ice, and his memory will live on forever.
“Probably one of the nicest, kindest men I’ve ever been around. Fortunate to play with and call him a good friend,” Ruff said. “He’s gonna be dearly missed.
“There’s nothing that anybody can say about that man, from the way he handled himself on the ice and off the ice to how well-liked he was. Just an incredible player. From the short amount of time I played with him, I became good friends with him. Just an incredible man. He’s gonna be sorely missed.”
Ruff played two seasons with Gillies while with the Sabres, when Gillies was winding down a Hall of Fame career that included four straight Stanley Cup victories with the Islanders. Still, it didn’t take long for Gillies to have an impact on Ruff, much like he did during his 12 years with the Islanders, representing the golden era of the franchise.
“He epitomized what it means to be a New York Islander,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement. “The pride he felt wearing the Islanders sweater on the ice was evident by his willingness to do anything to win. Off the ice, he was just as big of a presence, always taking the time to give back to the local community. The New York Islanders have four Stanley Cups because of the sacrifices he and the members of those dynasty teams made for the franchise.”
Of course, Gillies’ legacy lives far beyond those dynasty days, as he remained a fixture on Long Island and at Islanders games long after his career ended, long after he was elected into the Hall of Fame, and long after his No. 9 was retired by the Islanders in 1996.
“The one thing that I need you to just say is that he's one of the greatest human beings that I've ever met,” former Islanders teammate Bob Nystrom told Newsday.
The NHL world was stunned by the news of Gillies’ passing at the age of 67, while the current Islanders team learned of the tragic news after Friday night’s game. While New York’s win over the Coyotes was unfolding, hockey legends both past and present, and most importantly friends and family of Gillies, poured on the love that Gillies helped spread himself throughout the Islander community over more than four decades.
“To know Clark Gillies was to love him,” former teammate and current MSG TV analyst Butch Goring said during Friday night’s broadcast. “He was a fun guy, always joking, would sing and keep you going. We know all about how good of a player he was, but this is like losing a family member…we’re all in disbelief. It didn’t seem that long ago that Clarkie was hitting the golf ball and laughing and having a good time…yes, I’ve lost a teammate, but I’ve lost a great person and a great friend.”
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