Confession: I've only worn an Islanders jersey to one visiting arena: a Caps-Penguins playoff game in 2000. I'm extremely reluctant to wear a jersey to see the Islanders play some place because A. I'm basically the least-competitive person in the world and allergic to confrontation and B. I'm sometimes afraid to face the philosophical questions about why I still support this team.
In other words, I am a giant baby and there are actual children - like say, 11-year-old Jake Lotocki of Charleswood, Manitoba - who are much braver than I and who choose to wear Islanders gear in hostile environs. When attending the Islanders-Jets game at the MTS Centre on March 4th with his mom Sue, Jake was looking forward to finally seeing his favorite team live and in-person and wore his John Tavares jersey proudly around the arena.
After the Islanders won the game in overtime, a bunch of rowdy, disappointed (and probably inebriated) Jets fans harassed and insulted Jake and Sue on their way out of the arena and even into the elevator to where their car was parked. According to Sue's story, reported in the Winnipeg Sun on Monday, Jake was shaken up by the abuse and left with his Tavares jersey tucked under his arms to protect it and himself.
Like a superhero picking up the distant cries of people in need, Tavares heard Jake's story and wanted to act. He contacted Islanders director of communications Kimber Auerbach, who was in Vancouver with the team, and asked him to send a new, signed No. 91 jersey to Jake's home.
Auerbach reached out to the Lotockis and arranged to send the jersey. He also told Jake and Sue that when the Islanders return to Winnipeg next season, they'll be invited to enjoy a morning skate at the MTS Centre and meet Tavares and the team.
The Lotocki's neighbors have also offered to help in the form of interviews, support and hockey tickets.
Kudos to Tavares and the Islanders for stepping up and making a tough situation right again. We give them a lot of grief for their public persona, but seeing them extend a hand (and some swag) to a bullied fan should make us all smile. It's no surprise that Tavares, the guy on whose shoulders this whole team is built and who understands that role very well, was leading the way on the effort.
Another part of me would like to see the Islanders track down the knuckleheads that upset Jake and send Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton to have a "chat" with them. It's not right that a small group of morons out of the 15,000 and change at an arena can ruin the live game experience for an 11-year-old kid who just wants to see his hero play.
Fortunately, there are reminders that positive actions can negate the negative ones.
"It's amazing," Sue Lotocki said. "It's quite impressive that somebody who was just Jake's hockey hero turned out to be a true-life hero for him. He really appreciates him making the effort to reach out to Jake in that way. It means a lot to him."
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