SEE IT: Islanders Retire John Tonelli's Jersey

Captain Anders Lee Will Continue To Wear No. 27

Alec Gearty
February 21, 2020 - 7:34 pm

Former New York Islanders forward John Tonelli stood near center ice and watched his banner rise to the Nassau Coliseum rafters. 

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Tonelli's No. 27, which he wore for eight seasons in New York, took its place among the other six iconic numbers in Islanders history. Thirty-four years after he was last an Islander, New York formally retired Tonelli's jersey in a pregame ceremony Friday night. 

"(Islanders co-owners) Jon (Ledecky) and Scott (Malkin), thanks for bringing me back home," Tonelli said fighting back tears. "This barn is the place where I came prepared to play the game with the responsibility to play it hard for my family, my teammates, for my coaches, for my training staff and most of all my extended family all of you, the fans."

The 62-year-old was a member of the Islanders' historic dynasty from 1980-1983. His 338 assists are the sixth-most among all-time Islanders' skaters. He tallied 544 points, eighth all time, through 594 games in New York. The four-time Stanley Cup winner revealed he brought "quite a few" people to the ceremony. 

The Islanders hadn't retired a jersey in nearly two decades, where they retired Bryan Trottier's No. 19 in 2001. Trottier was present for the ceremony alongside fellow retirees Bobby Nystrom, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith and Clark Gillies.

Tonnelli, however, won't be the last Islanders skater to wear his No. 27. Islanders captain Anders Lee wore the number for the past eight seasons since he made his NHL debut in 2012. Lee, reiterating '27' is "John's number," received a blessing from the two-time All Star to continue wearing the jersey. 

"When you have John Tonelli telling you he really wanted me to continue to wear it and how we can share it a little bit, but really I wear it in his honor," Lee told reporters. "The number means a lot to me too. I've worn it for a long time but he's the one that made (No.) 27 "27" for the New York Islanders. I'll try to live up to that as much as I can, representing him and his name."

Tonelli praised the current captain's leadership in his address to the Coliseum crowd. 

"My heart jumped when I first saw you wearing No. 27," Tonelli said. "I was so impressed with how hard you worked in the corners, came out with the puck and made great play after great play. It has been wonderful and exciting watching you grow as a player and now as our leader. I'm so proud and so honored that you will continue to wear our number: 27. And I also look forward to the day we can share it all the way to the top of the rafters."