Easter Sunday 2007. The Poke Check heard 'round the world.
I was 16, waiting on 17. Sitting on the floor in my bedroom alone, too afraid to watch the game with the rest of my family lurking around hors d'oeuvres downstairs.
It was so nice out.
I, like the rest of you, probably can remember every finicky detail of that game against the Devils. I remember where I was when it happened. I remember who I was with (nobody).
We remember this moment because here in Islander Country, we know not to take anything for granted.
We've been taught this lesson so many times, I often feel like one of those nostalgic ex-Catholic Schoolers recounting Sister Mary Margaret smacking them until they learned the right words to some prayer.
Instead of smacks of a yardstick, we got roughed up with political politicking, threats of abandonment, and terrible teams.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel, they said.
They just didn't say how long and strange the trip through the tunnel would be.
The Last Ride:
Then the wheels did everything but come off.
Chris Simon went into Utter Bat Mode, our young star in the pipes got hurt, and then a three game losing streak to close out the month of March pretty much ended things for us.
Except it didn't.
A quick four game winning streak coupled with Toronto and Montreal botching up a gift wrapped playoff berth, and we were in the playoffs. Albeit for a moment.
Buffalo made quick, somewhat controversial work of us and we were left to worry about what was going to happen to our team in the offseason.
I have no regrets about the 2006-2007 season. We had a rag-tag team with a coach who was a leader of men on the ice, if not on off the ice. There was character in that group and they were something to at least not be embarrassed by.
However, they weren't ours. Only a few of the last Islanders to make the playoffs were homegrown or had any connection to the team.
In fact, I believe the only Islander regulars on that team who were drafted and groomed here were DiPietro, Martinek, Chef Bruno, and Chris Campoli. (Our lovely, humble Dane featured in 15 games that year, too).
Sure Bates, Blake, and Hunter were for the most part all Islander.
And character guys like Sillinger, Witt, Hill*, and Smyth played for the front of the jersey.
But this was a team assembled of spare parts with no real future and no real identity.
That became evident in July.
From Mediocre to Bad:
Smyth to Colorado. Blake to Toronto. Kozlov and Poti to Washington. Alexei Yashin to pasture.
Oh, and the summer before, we had signed our young star in the making goalie to a subtle 15-year-deal.
At that point it was evident, this organization was in a terrible place. Somehow the team was pretty competitive up until the All-Star Break.
The Young, Brash, 15-year-contract wielding Goaltender was an All-Star. We were proud.
Then the Young, Brash, 15-year-contract wielding Goaltender hurt himself in the All-Star Skills Competition. We were worried.
That moment was the first domino to fall in a series of terrifying moments both for that goaltender and for this organization.
We tanked, finished 13th in the conference, traded off our captain so he could eventually win a cup with a hated (not so much then, but now) rival, and then fired our coach in the off-season.
Coach was replaced with minor league coach who apparently held all the secrets with his Go-Go System.
He did not.
Last Place, Finally:
The best moments of the 2008-2009 season bookended the actual playing of games. We had a terrific 2008 Draft. Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, and Matt Martin highlight an outfit that also includes David Ullstrom, Kevin Poulin, and Matt Donovan.
When actual hockey happened, it got ugly.
Here are some names of actual players who played in NHL games that season, Mitch Fritz, Joe Callahan, Mike Iggulden, Kurtis McLean, Thomas Pock, Joel Rechlicz, Ben Walter, Brett Skinner, Sean Bentivoglio, and Jamie Fraser.
The lack of organizational depth was startling. Rock bottom (on the ice at least) had finally been reached.
We struggled mightily. In fact we struggled the most of any team in the League. And that was the best thing that could have ever happened to this franchise.
Two paths. One of a young man. One of a once-proud franchise in shambles.
Not so fast.
The Islanders planned their disastrous season perfectly. They won the draft lottery and were able to ignore a handful of crazy people who thought they should pick Matt Duchene or Victor Hedman or trade the pick (!).
It was the first time the Islanders hadn't screwed up in a long time.
It was crystal clear from the day that Tavares became an Islander that he had it.
He was only 18. But he carried himself like he was about 10 years older. He was someone who's back we could leap on and he would carry us to that light everyone had told us about.
All The While:
We knew it would be at least a few seasons before Tavares would lead us out of the tunnel. We tried our best to hang on to the silver lining he provided as we endured more strife. This time most of it was off the ice.
Charles B. Wang saved this franchise. Nobody will argue that.
Since he played savior, he morphed into what can only be put as a "benevolent dictator."
He loves Long Island and he loves this team, but he is getting the raw end of the deal. He's lost more money on this team than any of us combined will ever see in our lifetime.
He is loyal, maybe to a fault. But his vision for this once proud franchise was simple and inspiring.
He wanted the Islanders to represent Long Island. He wanted this team to be the heart of this Island.
The best part was he was going to do it with his own freakin' dough.
Somehow, politicians must've thought that there was some sort of catch. Kate Murray and her NIMBY backed peoples decided that Wang's Grand Plan would stay just that.
They played the game, yo. Mindless and heartless people, the lot of you.
So now, not only were the Islanders still the butt of every joke on the ice, but they were also on the verge of extinction.
Teams have bad seasons. Teams miss the playoffs for decade long stretches. However, what was going on with the Islanders went so far beyond having a few terrible seasons. It was a dark time for the Islanders, not just the ones that play on the ice.
Many left us during this time. They thought just because we couldn't see the light that it had been extinguished.
We lost a lot of good men out there.
Oh, and then there was a lockout.
On September 15, 2012 the NHL and its owners thought they should be idiots and stop letting their players play.
The players responded by going to play elsewhere and acting like a bunch of fools.
So fools & idiots bickered and we were left to either watch basketball or take to the bottle to kill time. Which is worse for your health is left up to you to decide.
Islander fans had it especially hard during this time because we were watching precious time tick off the clock with nothing to show for it. 2015 was getting closer and hockey was not being played.
A month into the lockout came slivers of news out of Islander Country. An announcement was coming forth. It was to take place in Kings County aka Brooklyn.
This meant one thing, the Islanders relationship now had an expiration date.
It also meant that the Islanders were moving 30 miles west. Which also meant they would not be moving 1,500 miles West, or 1,000 miles North.
Islanders they shall remain.
Stupidity gave way and the NHL was a thing again.
The Media ignored us. Pretty much copying and pasting their predictions for the Isles in years past and gluing them to this year's. But that's okay, what do they know?
They all tabbed our crosstown rivals as the 'Sexy' Pick to win the Cup.
Even our former beat writer was now over at ESPN all caught up in the 'Sexy' Rangers. This was the Rangers time and they let everyone know it. OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
Heck even our current beat writer was mailing in the season and already looking ahead to the next one.
Then we played.
Familiar script: Fast start, some flirtation from the media, and poof! big time slide = SEASON OVER.
We've all read this script. We all LOATHE this script. We threw out this script.
We began to right the ship. Goaltending was not all there yet, defense was porous, and offense was coming from one man.
Our 2006 first round pick looked awful, our 2008 first round pick not far behind.
We couldn't win at home and we were about to play seven in a row there in front of indifferent and tiny crowds.
This team could win games. We saw it. They were losing games on bad bounces and mental mistakes. If we could just click and go on a run..
A few heartbreakers and then finally, a breakthrough.
That leads us to Tuesday April 9, 2013. The Flyers, a team that has owned us with no remorse during these dark years in town.
They are in the middle of suffering through a fraction of what we have felt. Crazy person in their net not stopping pucks, terrible defense, bad breaks, and no help for the top line.
They still scared the crap out of me. A win against us and they are three points back and the hex would still be unbroken.
But remember, we threw out that script.
Clean, hard, exciting win for us and Fort Neverlose cleared her throat.
I want you to think back on all that you've just read. Think about each of those moments, bottle them up.
Think of all the jokes that were mercilessly hurled our way. Bottle those up.
Think of what they said about the Coliseum and about our team. Bottle that up.
You've tried to make sense of it all, and through that you've stuck with it. You are one of the few, the proud few.
Now keep that lid sealed tight.
For we are so close to that light that we can feel its warm embrace waiting to greet us on the other side. The Media all of a sudden is there to support us, willing us on to that finish line.
Detractors are now sitting side by side on the bandwagon.
Remember that, keep that sealed up.
And IF we get into the playoffs blow the fucking lid off the place and hope to all that is holy that we never have to go through that again.
Let it all out. You deserve it. We all deserve it. And nobody can take that away from us.
I know you will remember where you are and what you're doing if we clinch a spot in the post-season. We've learned not to take that for granted. We've learned to accept the lowest of the lows, just so we can truly and finally embrace the highest of the highs.
As for that light, I see it.