His combination of offensive ability with a dose of toughness led to him being drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1972 Amateur Draft as a part of their first draft class.
The Islanders were newly created in an effort to stop the fledgling World Hockey Association from locating a team on Long Island. Even with a roster destined for a distant last place, Howatt spent the majority of the 1972-73 season with the New Haven Knighthawks of the American Hockey League. In 65 games, he scored 22 goals and 49 points as well as 157 penalty minutes. He did make his NHL debut with the Islanders that season, seeing action in 8 games with 1 assist and 18 penalty minutes.
Howatt would make the parent club out of training camp and never play another game in the minors for the remainder of his tenure with the Islanders. His first full season in the NHL saw him play in 78 games with a modest 6 goals and 17 points and 204 penalty minutes to lead the club helped in no small part by a league leading 29 fighting majors. The Islanders still finished in the basement of the NHL, ahead of only the moribund California Golden Seals.
that continued even as both went to their knees
For the 1974-75 season, his offensive game began to emerge, as he scored 18 goals and 48 points to finish fifth on the team. His 121 penalty minutes were third on the team, just one behind Bob Nystrom, a right winger who had great chemistry with Howatt to the point the two of them were dubbed "The Dynamic Duo" and even had their own fan club for just the two of them!
Meanwhile, the Islanders continued to improve, finishing with a winning record and 88 points to qualify for the playoffs for the first time, going on a run that included eliminating the New York Rangers in 3 and famously defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in 7 after falling behind 3 games to none before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers in seven after again falling behind 3 games to none before rallying to win the next three and force a deciding Game 7.
Howatt would then set a career high in goals in 1975-76 with 21, the only 20 goal season of his career. His 197 penalty minutes again led the Islanders for the season. The club topped the 100 point mark for first time with 101 and again made the third round of the playoffs, defeating the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres before falling to the eventual champions again, this time the Montreal Canadiens as Howatt had his finest postseason with 5 goals and 10 points in 13 games.
With the Islanders roster taking shape, with such players as Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Billy Harris and Nystrom, Howatt's role was not that of scorer for the remainder of his time with New York and his point totals began to reflect the change in his role. In 1976-77, he contributed 13 goals and 28 points with 182 penalty minutes, while no other Islander had more than Denis Potvin's 103.
The Islanders again set a new team high in points with 106 and once again made a deep playoff run, ousting the Blackhawks in 2 and the Sabres in 4 before falling to the Canadiens dynasty in progress in six.
While Howatt was limited to 61 games in 1977-78, his 146 penalty minutes far exceeded Gerry Hart's 94, which came in 17 more games played than Howatt. The Islanders won the Patrick Divison title with 111 points to earn a bye in Round 1. They were upset by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a hard fought seven game series, three of which required overtime including the final Game 7.
The 1978-79 season saw a bit of a resurgence in Howatt's offensive numbers, as he scored 16 goals, his highest in three seasons, and 28 points as well as 205 penalty minutes, far ahead of Nystrom's 113, the only other player with more than 80. The Islanders again won the Patrick Division with 116 points, their sixth consecutive season of setting a new team record for points in a season. They came up short in the postseason once again though, sweeping Chicago in 4 before being eliminated by the Rangers in six.
Howatt scored 8 goals and 19 points in 77 games of the 1979-80 season but set a new personal high with 219 penalty minutes. The team took a step back in the standings with 91 points, their lowest since 1974-75. In the postseason, the Los Angeles Kings fell first, 3 games to 1. The Boston Bruins were the next go, as the Islanders won in five before advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final when they beat Buffalo in six.
In the final against the Flyers, the Islanders took Game 1 in overtime before losing badly in Game 2, 8-3. They took Games 3 and 4 at home 6-2 and 5-2. Philadelphia stayed alive with a 6-3 win at home in Game 5 but the Islanders won their first Stanley Cup when Nystrom won it at 7:11 of overtime, completing a long journey for Howatt and the other four Islanders who were a part of their last place, 30 point expansion team of 1972-73 - Lorne Hennig, Jean Potvin, Nystrom and goaltender Billy Smith.
For the 1980-81 season, Howatt registered a new low of just 4 goals as he scored 19 points. His penalty minutes sank to 174, which was still enough to lead the team yet again. The Islanders rebounded to reach 110 points and win the President's Trophy for the most points in the NHL and marched through the playoffs, beating Toronto in three straight, the Edmonton Oilers in six, eliminated the rival Rangers in four straight and overpowered the Minnesota North Stars in five to win their second consecutive title. Howatt saw action in just 8 of New York's 18 playoff games, registering a pair of assists.
Just prior to the start of the 1981-82 season, Howatt was traded to the Hartford Whalers after nine seasons on Long Island after he requested a trade to a team that would give him more responsibility on the ice. The move elevated him from a third or fourth liner on the loaded Islanders roster to a more important role with the Whalers. His offensive numbers took a leap up to 18 goals and a career high 50 points as well as setting another career best with 242 penalty minutes, 95 more than his next closest teammate.
Despite being offered a long term contract and the team's captaincy by Hartford, Howatt instead requested a trade to the New Jersey Devils, which was granted in October of 1982.
Once in New Jersey, Howatt did not get along with the Devils management and only played 38 games with the Devils in 1982-83 plus another 11 with the Wichita Wind of the Central Hockey League. 1983-84 was even worse, as Howatt played just six scoreless games with the Devils and spent the majority of his season with the Maine Mariners of the AHL, scoring 12 goals and 32 points in 63 games to bring his career to an end in style, as he captained the Mariners to the Calder Cup as AHL champions.
Of note, on January 15, 1983, a snowstorm prevented the officials from reaching the arena in Hartford, and Howatt (of the Devils) and Mickey Volcan (of the Whalers) were pressed into service, becoming the only active players to ever officiate an NHL game!
Howatt's final NHL totals were 720 games played with 112 goals and 156 assists for 268 points and 1,836 penalty minutes and two Stanley Cup championships at the start of the Islanders dynasty. At the time he left the Islanders, he was the franchise leader in career regular season (1,466) and playoff (279) penalty minutes.
Today's featured jersey is a 1980-81 New York Islanders Garry Howatt jersey as worn during his final season with the Islanders, which concluded with Howatt and the Islanders second Stanley Cup victory.
The Islanders debuted with a very similar jersey to today's featured jersey, but with some differences, such as a lace-up collar, orange numbers and a different striping order. The numbers made the change to white with orange trim for 1973-74. Names on the back arrived in 1977-78 along with a change in the arm striping plus a change to a v-nick collar. Finally, the waist stripes changed to white on top over orange on the bottom with no blue showing in between, which was then repeated on the arms for the look that would carry the team through their Stanley Cup dynasty. This look would remain through 1994-95, when they were replaced by the controversial Fishsticks jerseys of the latter half of the 1990's.
Today's video section begins with Howatt getting the better of legendary tough guy Dave Schultz, something not many can claim to have done.
Next, Howatt and Mel Bridgman really throw some bombs at each other in a short, but very intense battle.
In this next fight, Howatt appears to take exception to the bigger Fred Arthur's Cooperalls, or perhaps it was getting slashed before getting slammed into the end boards.
Finally, a profile of Howatt during his season with the Whalers, which includes some actual goal scoring.