Hockey has been one of the greatest things to ever enter my life. In most generations, kids get into hockey when they're young, very young. Sometimes even at the ages of five or six. I know a lot of people that have played hockey up through the years of middle school and then drop it like a bad habit. But the ones who continue on and play for their high school, play college or junior hockey..those are the guys who really love and appreciate the game. Those are the ones who don't just play because their parents laced their skates since they were born and were unable to decide for themselves if hockey was worth the time - they play because they love it.
I was not one of those kids. I didn't come from a hockey family that had generations of players before me. Sure there were the few relatives that played street hockey back in the days of Brooklyn, but none to my knowledge had ever taken the ice. Never put on a shin pad or a set of gloves.
All it took for me to get into hockey was one Islanders game. Sure, I had been to a few here and there. Although it wasn't an Islanders game, I remember seeing Brett Hull at the Garden playing for the Blues back when I was in Elementary school but didn't think much of it besides it was a night out. I saw Eric Lindros as a Flyer get annihilated with a severe knee injury, by I think Scott Lachance (could be wrong). But these weren't the games that got my attention. When I was finally old enough to appreciate the game I was taken to sit fifth row in a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. It was stick night, and Mark Parrish scored a hat-trick along with his first NHL shorthanded goal. Plus the crowd did the wave for the first time in I think fifteen years. There was an abundance of good entertainment that had me hooked.
I have barely missed any Islander games since. I sat in those same seats for the Toronto-Isles Game 6 and saw Cairns pummel Corson at center ice with his famous index finger pointing to the crowd. But I've also sat in those seats to see us not make the playoffs. To hear our very own crowd chant in the playoffs, "We Suck!" during our home games vs the Tampa Bay Lightning. I've heard almost every coach in the past 5 years or so have his name called for a replacement, with the exception of Nolan.
There's been some bad times, and looking back I'm sorry to say it seems like there have been more bad than good. I know former Islander fans that say they lost all their love for the game after the lockout...just couldn't find a reason to care anymore. The Luongo trades and the Spezza could-have-beens still loom amongst the atmosphere of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Sometimes when I say that I'm not too disappointed that this team isn't making the playoffs because we'll have a top pick in the draft, I hear fans respond with, "that's when I stopped being a fan, when all I was excited about was a lousy first round pick!" It's not always fun being an Islanders fan.
The fact that our goaltender who is under contract at 4.5 million a year for the next 13 years is having hip surgery for a second year in a row just adds to that constant routine. When will the dark clouds part with a beam of light that give reasons for us to celebrate? The fact that this team doesn't have a shovel in the pavement to start the refurbishing of a new arena sure doesn't make anything better either. In fact, it just leads to speculation that the New York Islanders can be moved to Las Vegas or Kansas City when the lease runs its course. Sometimes it just feels like its insult to injury day by day.
But us die-hard fans still watch and hope that this team will start to win again. That the town of Hempstead will approve the Lighthouse Project and eventually attract bonafide all-stars that want to play here. We hope that Garth Snow will never turn into the notorious Mad Mike Milbury and trade away the likes of Okposo, Campoli, Gervais, and whoever else is under the age of 25 on this roster. Those young guys make up the thin thread of hope that continues to unravel year after year of failure.
We can be as optimistic as we come, and despite the bad years this will always be my team. Hopefully DP's right hip will recover just as well as the left did - and let's hope that's the last of any serious injury for a very long time.
For us optimistic fans, the draft this year is one of the deepest. There may not be another Crosby or Ovechkin, but that doesn't mean there isn't someone whose going to one day put fans in the seats in the hopefully near future.
Hopefully this constant routine of ups and downs..that sometime go way, way down...will bring us back to the surface for years to come. There have been a lot of brightspots through this current youth movement. This team has been gradually forming an identity, but still lacks the pieces to make it known league-wide. Wang & co. are working hard at getting the Lighthouse Project to pass, and all Isles fans are praying that it does.
But until then, they're here with some young talent and a rising (hopefully healthy) goaltender that may end this constant routine of an Isles fan. Hopefully they'll send us back to the days when hat tricks were scored on stick nights with a wave by the crowd for the record books.