Clark Gillies' dream: Someday, Islanders will return to Nassau Coliseum

The Isles are headed to Brooklyn. Clark Gillies (center) hopes they'll eventually head back. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Shortly after participating in the New York Islanders' optional skate Saturday, former Islanders great Clark Gillies was sharing some of his favorite memories with the assembled media when his daughter, Brianna, called.

"I'm doing a press conference. I'll have to call you back," Gillies said. "I've got a bunch of my favorite reporters here. I feel like the President right now."

It was a perfect moment of levity just a few hours before Gillies gets his own presidential welcome as he's honored Saturday at Nassau Coliseum before the Islanders face the Chicago Blackhawks. With the Islanders closing out their final year on Long Island before moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season, other recent honorees have included Denis Potvin and Billy Smith.

For younger Islanders fans, it's an introduction to the dynasty that won the Stanley Cup four straight times in the early 1980s. For longtime fans, it's a prolonged farewell to one of the NHL's oldest arenas.

The honor is particularly special for Gillies, who remained in the area long after he hung up his skates. Still a Long Island resident to this day, the product of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, currently serves as a senior vice president at Hilton Capital Management, a local boutique investment firm.

"For me, this has been home since 1974, other than a couple of years I played in Buffalo," Gillies said. "We've developed some really good friendships with a lot of different people, which has helped me stay here."

As a member of the Islanders for 12 seasons, Gillies' combination of scoring and toughness made him a fan favorite. He still ranks fourth in franchise history in goals, points and shots.

But those Islanders teams didn't just dominate on the ice. They also established indelible roots in the local community. Gillies estimates that during the offseason, Islanders players competed in as many as 40 charity softball games during a two-month span. It's a major reason the current Islanders, who sit second in the Metropolitan Division with a 19-10-0 record, have Gillies excited more than 30 years after his last Stanley Cup win.

"I'm going to grow a playoff beard this year," he joked. "It's been awhile since I had a playoff beard, but I'm looking forward to growing one this year."

Excited as he was to be honored one more time at the Coliseum, Gillies admitted to being concerned that fans on Long Island might not make the trip to Brooklyn next year. Concerned enough to share a recurring dream he's been having that involves real estate developer Bruce Ratner, who owns a majority share of Barclays Center and submitted a winning bid last year to renovate Nassau Coliseum.

"I keep having this dream that when Ratner redoes the Coliseum he'll say, 'What the hell is the difference?' and move them back out here [to Long Island]," Gillies said. "It's a stretch, but wouldn't it be kind of neat if that happened?"