Haven't done a sports only blog in a while and this one starts off as a bit of a confession: I still am a huge fan of the New York Islanders.
I know, I know. I'm a Devils fan. I hate it when I meet someone and when the subject of sports comes up, I might sometimes get a "I root for all New York Teams" Grrrrr. If you root for the Rangers, there is no way, I mean no way you root for the Islanders. But, I digress. I'm being a bit hypocritical here. But you get what I'm saying. How can I root for one team if I root for another, especially if they are both in the same divison? Well, read on and maybe the question will be answered.
Let's hop in our Delorean, drive up to 88mph and visit the year 1980. I was 9 years old and really into baseball. The Yankees were the only sports team I followed religously at that point. I mean, with following the Yankees, reading about the Yankees and playing baseball, on top of reading comics and buying toys and playing superheroes, where would I have the time to watch any other sport?
Well, that winter, everyone at school was talking hockey. Hockey this and hockey that. I was beginning to wonder what this "hockey" was all about. I had a couple friends try to explain it to me. They also told me it was nothing like the Nock Hockey I played with them. This had more people, was played on ice and was pretty violent.
Woah, violent? You had me at hello.
Needless to say, after about 2 hours of trying to explain it to me, I was told to watch a game that would be on TV that night. It was a very important game and I should not miss it. So, like a good little trooper, I tuned into my very first hockey game. Oh, did I mention it was Team USA vs The Soviets for the Gold Medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics?
I don't remember much about that game. I do remember the final seconds and Al Michaels asking if I believed in miracles and me running around yelling USA, USA until my counsoler told me to knock it off.
After that, I knew I wanted to watch more hockey. It was a drug, Al Michaels was the dealer and I ecame addicted. I couldn't wait until Team USA's next game. Maybe I could attend a ga....wait, what do you mean they were not a real team?? I just saw them! Clearly, it took a while for me to comprehend that Team USA didn't play in the NHL. Now, I had to pick a team to follow.
My friends father, who was like a dad to me knew which team I should root for. If I was to be an honorary member of his family, I would root for the same team his faily rooted for: The New York Rangers.
Um, ok...So, I watched a game with them, but I didn't have that feeling I did when I watched Team USA. Don't ask me why, I just couldn't get into this team. Maybe my guardian angel, Harold, told me that this team would rival the Boston Red Sox for my hatred and venom. I don't know. All I know, I just didn't get up for this team like my buddy, his brother and his dad did.
One day, I was home from school, flipping through the channels when I found a hockey game on WOR-TV, Channel 9. I wasn't looking for a game, but there it was. They were showing this team had never heard of, The New York Islanders. I sat and watched that game. Afterward, I knew I found my team. I loved the Islanders logo from first view. Loved the blue, white and orange. They were Mets colors, but it was a diffrent sport. I was allowed to like them. When I found out a member of Team USA, Ken Morrow, was an Islander too, that pretty much sealed the deal.
I watched as many games as I could that year. I learned they were based out on Long Island which was awesome as my grandmom lived out in Centereach and I loved going over to her house.
This was the house where I used to watch games in the living room and play hockey by myself in her driveway. Unfortunately, My grandmom doesn't live here anymore, moving to Puerto Rico in the 90's. This was a picture of the house I found on line. As soon as I saw this pic, all the memories came flowing back. If I ever hit the lottery and this house is up for sale, it will be mine. I loved this place.
I even found a player to root for and developed my first "man crush". It was on one of the greatest snipers I ever saw play the game.
Number 22 on your scorecard, Mike Bossy. This guy was awesome! I watched him score 50 goals in 50 games, score 2 Stanley Cup winning goals in consecutive years, win the Lady Byng Trophy 3 times and the Conn Smythe Trophy once. The first hockey stick I had was a Mike Bossy model, which I wish I still had. I still collect Bossy cards to this day. I want to own a Bossy jersey and would love to meet him one day, just to tell him what huge part of my childhood he was.
I got to see them win their first Stanley Cup that year. I still remember watchng John Tonelli feed Bobby Nystrom the puck and watching Nystrom punch it past Flyers goalie Pete Peeters for the win and the Stanley Cup. I was jumping up and down and screaming at the top of my lungs. My mom, just closed the door to my room, letting me bask in the glory and the glow of the TV set.
The Islanders were a part of my teenage years as well. I watched them win 4 straight Stanley Cups, saw Pat LaFontaine score the winning goal in the 4th overtime of Game 7 of their first round matchup against the Washington Capitals which has now become known as the Easter Epic.
Unfortunately, I got to see Mike Bossy retire after that season at the age of 30 due to chronic backpain. Denis Potvin retired the following season and Billy Smith the following. It was not the same Islanders to me, My childhood heroes were retiring.
I still followed the team and got to enjoy one last memorable playoff run with them during the 92-93 season when they knocked out the Capitals in the first round. Dale Hunter nailed Pierre Turgeon with a cheap hit after Turgeon scored the series ending goal, injuring him and rendering him ineffective for the rest of the playoffs. They managed to knock off The Pittsburgh Penguins before bowing out to Montreal in the Wales Conference finals.
By then, I was in college and I wasn't watching with the regularity that I used to. I had started dating this girl who I really liked a lot. She was into hockey, but was a Devils fan. So, I watched a lot of Devils games with her and her brothers and really got into the Eastern Conference Finals which pitted the Devils against the Rangers. Even though The Devils lost that series, I was hooked. I also started folowing their young goalie, Martin Broduer and he became my favorite player.
But I still followed the Islanders. I watched their games and never, ever rooted against them when they played the Devils. I hated those "Gordon's Fisherman" Jerseys they wore for a couple of years and was glad when they bought back the classic logo and I'm thrilled that they are back to wearing the classic Islander uniforms.
My Islander collection is small, but I think I have some nice stuff. Here are some of my favorites in the collection:
Bryan Trottier signed puck
So, why the sudden trip through Nostalga Lane? And why did it take me so long to get this wrapping this blog up? I guess as you get older, you start to yearn for things that you loved as a kid so you can still feel young. Some go out and buy expensive cars and dress like a teenager. Me? I dress like a teenager regardless. But, I made a promise to myself that if there is a hockey season this year, I will get my Mike Bossy jersey and make my first trip to Nassau Coliseum. Can you believe I never watched an Islanders game there? But, come hell or high water, I will make it out there before they knock the old barn down and either get a new arena in nearby or in Brooklyn. I want to just look down, see the Islander logo in center ice and then look up and see the retired numbers of those I watched as a child, especially Mr. Bossy. Call me sentimental but I might even squirt a tear or 2 because I won't be 41 or whatever age I will be at that point. I will be a 9 year old kid without a care in the world, rooting hard for his Islanders.