I will start out by saying that I have yet to see Kyle Okposo play a game with as much intensity, energy, and fire in his short time spent wearing an Islanders jersey as I did last night against the Wild. All it took was for him to see his linemate Blake Comeau get drilled by one of the Minnesota players and suddenly fans had flashes of Dan Cloutier challenging the Islander bench after pummeling a helpless Tommy Salo.
Only this time it was KO challenging the Minnesota bench and having to be wrestled to his end of the ice by the linesman.
The only time I can remember seeing Kyle play as if a fire had been lit from underneath him like that was when he scored his first goal of the season against the Rangers earlier this year. I know many discourage this type of behavior, but to see Kyle in the penalty box having words with one of the Wild skaters who was sitting in the opposing sin bin brings back that feel of ol'time hockey. And the best part is we didn't have to look to one of the veterans. We got it from a player in the core.
Head coach Jacques Lemaire thought the Isles played a dirty game; starting fights with players that don't typically fight or taking runs at other players when there was no need. Sure, Comeau did throw a hit after a whistle was blown for an icing, but did anyone forget about the late hit that sent him flying through the boards? Literally...although a security guard opened the door a little too early, Comeau was hit a little too late and went tumbling off the ice on to the exit ramp.
James Sheppard may not be noted for his fighting ability, and I can see where Lemaire was coming from with his assessment of players being forced to fight against their will. But if you watch the replay of their bout, Sheppard was the first to drop the gloves when Witt refused to let go of his stick. Witt didn't go skating after someone who was besides the play. It started with Sheppard backing up into Witt who was clearing the front of the net, and Sheppard got up and gave a bit of a retaliatory shove with his stick. I would've also - but that's hockey.
In addition to Witt's scruffle, Rechlicz had his hands full in the first period as well. Although I'm sure he would have liked to had done better in his fight with Scott, he stood his ground in a tough battle against a player who had a good four inches on him - mind you Joel is 6'4 himself.
The fact that the Isles played a hard hitting game, where we even saw Jeff Tambellini crush Marc-Andre Bergeron behind the Wild net as well as Nate Thompson's driller in the corner on Pierre-Marc Bouchard, is something to pay attention too. This team has emerged as a very young team since the trade deadline and is beginning to establish its nucleus of young players. Fans are no longer looking a team with a bunch of young guys thrown on a roster with the hopes of becoming NHL players. To the contrary, fans are getting to see a team of young NHL players who have begun to establish themselves with the league, and their teammates.
It's a sign of team unity, and being that these guys are going to be the future of this franchise, it is of the utmost importance to see them come together as a team which is what they are starting to do.