Uniondale, N.Y. — It was the new Mike Bossy at his new best. Hurrying back on defense, the New York Islanders' star right winger dived and slid to block a Montreal shot. Then, back on his skates going in the other direction, he collected the puck and penetrated toward the Canadiens' goal.
But 20 feet from his target, with a clear shot, Bossy left a clever backhand drop pass for defenseman Denis Potvin, who smashed it past the deceived goaltender to tie the score and set up a vital road victory for New York.
Last year, Bossy almost certainly would have taken the shot himself. He might well have scored, too, since he amassed more goals in his first three seasons than anyone else in National Hockey League history: 173.
But 23-year-old Mike bossy, the fastest gun in hockey, is obsessed with becoming the complete superstar. Always considered a great goal scorer but a mediocre all-round player, he is determined to impress people with his playmaking and checking.
So far this year he is succeeding -- and the harder he works to round out his game, the more he scores: Through 31 games he had a league-leading 30 goals, a start that put him ahead of Phil Esposito's record pace of 1970-71, when he finished with 76 goals for Boston.
Says Islander Coach Al Arbour, possibly the only man in the NHL who would goad a 69- goal scorer into playing more enthusiastic defense, "He's been playing real well in our end. Real well. That's why I'm leaving him on the ice now late in a close game. Before I wasn't."
Says Bossy, an angularly built young man with a soft-spoken but direct manner , "I feel I've improved enough defensively to be out there with our line all the way. I decided after last season I was going to concentrate on improving my defense and passing, so no one could say all I can do is put the puck in the net.
"It was the least I could do for my linemates, Trots (Bryan Trottier) and Clarkie (Clark Gillies). All those guys did last year was go into the corners for me and get the puck. They went through a lot for me, and I decided I was going to help them more this season.
"Offensively, I'm giving up shots that I used to take. I'm passing the puck more and taking the hit to distract the defense. I think it's added to my game -- and I'm still scoring goals."
Bossy scored the 200th goal of his still-budding NHL career the other night, the fastest anyone ever has reached that level. He did it in only 255 games, racking up a .784 "batting average" that surpasses the league record of .767 for players with 200 or more goals, by Cy Dennely, who pumped them in for Ottawa and Boston back in the Roaring Twenties.
The highlight this year was a four-goal spree against Minnesota, after which the North Stars' incisie coach, Glen Sonmor, allowed that "Bossy is the greatest goal scorer I've ever seen."
Bossy scored the four goals in only five shots.
Usually serious, he walked out of the arena that night wearing a flamboyant sombrero, one of the 20 pieces of headwear that sailed onto the ice to celebrate his 11th NHL hat trick.
"Everybody says I score because I have fast hands," he says. "I'm not sure I know what that means, but I've always believed a good shot is in the wrists. I've started to play racquetball, which should strengthen my wrists.
"To me, it's just natural to shoot the way I do. I usually shoot low, and I don't try to pinpoint the shot. I just seem to have a feel for where the opening is going to be, and I try to get the puck away quickly.
"I don't take many long shots. The wrist shot is the best shot there is -- I don't understand why more players don't use it. It's my staple, and it's hard to stop."
Opposing teams, intent on stopping Bossy, often are not above trying to rough him up illegally. Bossy is growing more outspoken against mindless violence that he fears could ruin the sport.
"I blame the system," he says. "If 75 percent of the players told he truth, they'd say they don't approve of the goon stuff, but the system lets the dirty players get away with it. If the officials started handing out 10- minute misconduct penalties for high-sticking, you wouldn't see much high-sticking, you wouldn't see much high-sticking.
About the only time Mike Bossy gets his stick up is to celebrate scoring a goal for the Stanley cup champion Islanders. And that is what the new Mike Bossy still does with the same old happy regularity.