To combat the rise of the World Hockey Association (WHA), in 1972 the NHL added two expansion teams. The NHL aimed to prevent the WHA from moving into the newly-built Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York and the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia. Thus, the New York metropolitan area received a second NHL team in the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames (relocated to become the Calgary Flames in 1980) became the first NHL team in the South.
As someone who has covered the Islanders since the beginning, Stan Fischler said the media then wondered about how the new teams would find enough high-level players considering the raiding by the WHA and having to compete against each other at the draft. Islanders manager Bill Torrey told Fischler, “The difference between Atlanta and Long Island was that in Atlanta they were going to have to sell hockey. On Long Island, they already knew about it. That gave us an edge.”
On October 7, 1972, the two newest teams played their first ever NHL regular-season game – against each other. Although the game drew 12,221 spectators, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum did not sell out. Still, NHL President Clarence Campbell found the venue “a magnificent place to watch hockey.” At 12:48 of the first period, Morris Stefaniw scored the first goal for the Flames franchise. The Islanders’ first goal came at 19:29 of the second period when Ed Westfall potted to tie. The third period saw three more goals with two of them being for the Flames and the final by the Islanders. The home team lost 3-2.
In their inaugural season, the Islanders continued to struggle more than the Flames. Torrey found that all the newspapers seemed to describe his team as “hapless.” “One story would say, ‘The Rangers play the hapless Islanders tonight.’ Or this one: ‘The Bruins get a breather against the hapless Isles.’ Even in Canada. ‘Les Canadiens rout hapless Islanders.'” In light of their 12-60-6 season, he said, “Cripes, I thought that ‘hapless’ was the only word in the English language!” Torrey stuck with the Islanders for twenty years before moving on to build another new expansion team, the Florida Panthers (with coach Roger Neilson). His efforts with these new franchises landed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder. Meanwhile, the Flames ended their first season 25-38-15.
Since then, the Islanders have won the Stanley Cup four times in a row, from the 1979-80 to 1982-83 seasons. The Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980 but closed out that decade with their only Stanley Cup win, in the 1988-89 season.