So I write this the morning of the Islanders last game of the season, onto the offseason...oh wait there's playoffs this year! Finally there’s something new to spice up Islanders Nation.
Most of the people on here are probably just as big a fan as I. With that I know we all share a sense of pity for those who take the Islanders lightly. Sure we can get frustrated at our team, but for them to throw us aside for so long. We just knew it would go our way and now finally when we get something good, we can smile. We can say to them "look who’s back" and say it with confidence that it will be back not only this year, but for years to come.
I've questioned myself on why I'd write this fan post here. To express my feelings? To share a bit of insight? To brag a little that OUR team has accomplished something? Maybe it's a little bit of everything. I've come to hopefully give you an enjoyable piece to read. One that includes personal history and team history.
First I feel I should go over some history of myself before I talk about the team. I grew up playing hockey, being a part of the sport and learning from the sport. It was customary for the kids in my town to play hockey as all of the families were members of our local rink. It's there that I learned the fundamentals and I soon loved the sport. How I came to love the Islanders, I’m not quite sure, but it started at a very early age, probably around 4 or 5 years old.
Fast forwarding to 2002 when I was 9 years old, eager to go to games at the coliseum and experience the sport live. I was thrilled to see the Cup Crazy ads on TV and even more excited to see the Islanders reach the playoffs. As we all know this was the year of the great series versus the Maple Leafs. Quite possibly one of the greatest playoff series the Islanders have ever been a part of. Physical, fast, mean, and a historic penalty shot to put the cherry on top. It was that game, the Shawn Bates penalty shot winner, that I attended and it was something I will never forget.
The Shawn Bates penalty shot proved to be the game winner in Game 4 of the Islanders series against the Maple Leafs.
Although we lost the series there's not a memory I regret from that series. It was really the first time I experienced such a quick and hard-checking hockey game and I loved it. It fueled my desire to watch more hockey and eventually attend the next three playoff series the islanders appeared in. Unfortunately the teams were not built to last and fell in the first round each time; 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007. Disappointing results were only a result of how the team was run and was a major repercussion of building a team with parts, and not as a whole.
Anyone who didn't enjoy the Islanders Leafs series in '02 is crazy. Anyone who didn't enjoy the ways we built the team has more of an argument. The one thing I've learned with sports is that you cannot rush success. Take Josh Bailey as a microcosm of the islanders franchise the past few decades. It was all rushed. These teams in the early 2000s were patched up teams. No real foundation was used to build these teams and it showed when playoffs came around. This lack of support will prove detrimental to a team that plays top talent in a 7-game series.
From left to right: Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Andrew MacDonald. Sure it has taken a while for Bailey to come alive, but now place on a line with Okposo and Nielsen he is producing and showing some of that playmaker skills he has. Plus he's only 23 years old.
With a team that has a foundation, you earn a sense of brotherhood... camaraderie. These traits may not differentiate teams during the regular season, but come playoff time, they are some of the most important factors to a team. These early 2000s teams didn't have a chance to earn that camaraderie, they were just thrown together and although they may have been talented, none of them grew together.
Today we see the camaraderie, we see the grit and the perseverance the team has. This team was built from the ground up and to create a dynasty (one similar to the 1980 Islanders) you need to. It started with the devotion to keep prospects and build from the inside producing a young core. This does not include trading away prospects (Luongo, Isbister, Torres, Osgood, Chara, and Spezza) for practically nothing.
The Islanders succeeded finally in 2006 by drafting Okposo (7th overall), Joensuu (60th Overall) and Andrew MacDonald (160th Overall). Although Joensuu has yet to make a full impact we see him today as a solid depth player, something the team has lacked for quite a bit. Okposo, as we are seeing this season, has found his style of play and is becoming one of the more productive fore-checkers on the team. 2007 was a lost year in the draft when the Isles traded their top pick (15th Overall) for Ryan Smyth to bring the playoffs back to New York. This move, although defies the method I preached earlier, was something done in Snow’s first years and he wanted to make a statement. The trade along with a couple others threw away the 2007 draft, but resulting in a run to the playoffs and Snow’s election for NHL Executive of the year.
Kyle Okposo (selected 7th Overall) has been hampered by injuries, but is now showing his true potential as a 2nd-line forward. Also lets be happy he changed his hairstyle!
Onto 2008 where the islanders may have had their most well rounded draft in recent times. Bailey (9th Overall), Hamonic (53rd Overall), Donovan (96th Overall), Ullstrom (103rd Overall), Poulin (126th Overall), and Martin (148th Overall). These two drafts alone have given the Islanders a top D-pairing, future goalie (maybe), and six quality players, three of which are crucial pieces to the team now, they still lacked that scoring touch!
Then there’s 2009...the draft that changed the Islanders forever. John Tavares (1st Overall), Casey Cizikas (92nd Overall), and Anders Lee (152nd Overall). I don't think I need to explain this draft too much...it rocked. With this draft the Islanders found a young leader who could lead a team to multiple championships for years to come. From here on the drafts have yet to bring their talents to the pro level, but that doesn't mean the islanders haven't drafted well. Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Kirill Kabanov, Scott Mayfield, Griffin Reinhart. All of these names are sure to make the NHL roster one day and contribute to the team’s success (After we give them time to develop!!).
Grabner has been a crucial pickup. Traded to Florida from Vancouver then waived by Florida, Grabner was picked up by the Islanders and has opened the ice giving a special pace to the game.
So now what do we have? Well we have 10 solid contributors from the last 4 drafts that have made this team what it is now. In addition to the picks that produced a strong core Garth Snow went out and made some savvy pickups. Moulson, Grabner, Aucoin, Strait, Hickey, McDonald, Boyes, Nabokov. All of these coming at the cheapest of prices. These players were cut, waived, unsigned. Snow signed them and really succeeded this past offseason in filling any holes for a while, NOT just a year rental like moves in the past. Now we have a core, a team, young and ready to grow together.
With this team the Islanders will take on the 2013 NHL Playoffs. They've been through the rough times together, they've been doubted and booed. They've see how good they can be, and they know how good they can be. Going through all of these things has given them that camaraderie. All it takes is time. Time that was never given in previous years. Time has built a team, the team has built a playoff run, and the playoff run has opened the doors to the next Islanders franchises’ dynasty. Now let’s all be at the coliseum to cheer on (in the announcers voice) "your New York Islanders!"
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Hopefully if this post is well received I will write some more. Glad to be a part of Lighthouse Hockey!
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