Jean Potvin, a defenseman who played on the first two of the New York Islanders’ four Stanley Cup championships in the 1980s, died on Tuesday in Westin, Fla. He was 72.
His brother Denis confirmed the death, at a hospital. He said the cause was not yet known, pending an autopsy.
Potvin spent 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, eight with the Islanders. He joined the team from the Philadelphia Flyers in a trade during the 1972-73 season, when the Islanders, then in their first year as an expansion team, were awful.
But Potvin felt that he would get more playing time on a bad team. He also anticipated, correctly, that the Islanders would choose his brother Denis, who was four years younger, as the top overall pick in the forthcoming N.H.L. amateur draft.
Denis, also a defenseman, became a star in the league and was inducted into the Hockey Fall of Fame in 1991.
“Many people think of him as one of the top five defenseman,” Jean Potvin told Psyched, a sports psychology magazine, in 2007. “I was not in that class. I was a better-than-average player, but lucky enough to play with some great teams with the Islanders.”
During Potvin’s first training camp, he developed a skin condition that kept him off the ice for three days. That angered Coach Al Arbour.
“Al was screaming at me when he found out the doctor said I couldn’t perspire for three days,” he told The New York Times in 2016. Potvin sat in the stands, yelling at teammates for not giving their full effort. They responded by firing pucks at him.
“My teammates even honored me by starting the Jean Potvin Training Camp Award,” he said, “for the guy missing time with the most idiotic, unknown or unheard-of injury or disease, those you couldn’t trace.”
The Islanders improved quickly under Arbour and with players like Clark Gillies (who died in January), Bryan Trottier, Bob Nystrom and Glenn Resch. Potvin had his best year during the 1975-76 season, when the Islanders finished in second place in the Patrick Division, with 72 points, third best on the team to Trottier’s 95 and his brother’s 98.
In one game that season, Jean scored three goals in the second period and his brother scored two more in a rout of the Detroit Red Wings. Jean gave some of the credit for his performance to his new mouthpiece.
“I told the doctor, ‘Keep making them as fast as you can,’” he said after the game. “I’m gonna wear a new one every period.’”
Potvin was traded to the Cleveland Barons in January 1978. He was with Cleveland for the rest of that season and with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1978-79 season, after the Barons had been absorbed into the Minnesota franchise. He returned to the Islanders as a free agent in 1979 and played part time during the next two seasons, when they won the Stanley Cup, but did not participate in the playoffs.
Shortly after they won the Cup in 1980, with Nystrom scoring an overtime goal against the Flyers, Jean and Denis Potvin embraced in the Islanders’ locker room.
“They hugged and cried and spoke to each other softly in French,” Howie Rose, who was then the sports director of WHN radio and later became the Islanders’ television play-by-play announcer, said in a phone interview. “They had won the Cup and realized the dream they had had as youths, and to see the tears flowing as they spoke in a foreign language was very poignant.”
Jean René Potvin was born on March 25, 1949, in Ottawa. His father, Armand, was a civil servant; his mother, Lucille (St-Louis) Potvin, was a homemaker and a caterer.
Jean played junior hockey for the Ottawa 67’s (as did Denis) and for the Springfield Kings of the American Hockey League before joining the parent club, the Los Angeles Kings for four games in the 1970-71 season. He was with the Kings again during the 1971-72 season during which he was traded to the Flyers.
Once he and Denis were reunited on the Islanders, they became roommates on the road and were paired on the ice during power plays.
“He was a brother, coach, supporter; he would listen to my beefs and played the intermediary role with Al Arbour, who was tough on everybody,” Denis said in a phone interview. “Hockey News once had us on their cover as ‘the Dynamic Duo.’”
For his 11-year career, Jean Potvin accumulated 46 goals and 167 assists.
In addition to his brother Denis, he is survived by his wife, Lorraine (Pollock) Potvin; his daughters, Kim Lomasney and Leslie Moreau; his son, Justin; four grandchildren, and another brother, Robert.
After he retired, Potvin was the radio analyst for the Islanders until 1989. But he had already begun a long career as a stockbroker and salesman for various investment firms. Most recently he was a senior vice president of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn & Queens, specializing in fund-raising.
Sales and fund-raising suited his gregarious personality, Denis Potvin said.
“You can have a room full of people,” he said, “but when Potsy walks in, the party starts.”