An unavoidably slashy primer both because I tend to be most interested in friendships between the players... but also unavoidable because THESE GUYS ARE WEIRD ABOUT EACH OTHER. There are a lot of emotions flying around out there. So if that's not what you're interested in, don't expect an analysis of our stats or anything like that. (OK, there might be a little bit of that - but not much!)
The Islanders have to be one of the lovingest teams in hockey. They're always talking about how great the atmosphere in the room is, how close they are, and how much everyone enjoys each other's company. Their tweets are full of talk about going to movies together or getting meals at each other's houses.
We have a really solid, young core, many of them having played together the last few years, either at the Islanders or our AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. The guys have been through a lot together, having just made their first playoffs since 2007 in the spring of 2013. The Islanders have had a reputation as a pretty terrible team, and haven't been able to attract any big free agents - we're basically built from the draft and from claiming dudes off waivers. As a result, the guys really have each other's backs and have to look to each other for support, because the wider hockey world either ignores or mocks them most of the time.
You're probably already at least a little familiar with John Tavares. First overall pick at the 2009 draft, 2013 Hart Trophy nominee, loves lacrosse, loves winning, first player ever to enter the OHL draft a year early as an exceptional player. And also everything to the Islanders. Some might say I have an overabundance of feelings about young John, so don't expect any sort of dignified understatement here.
John Tavares is the absolute center of the Islanders. When Mark Streit didn't re-sign at the beginning of the summer, basically the entire universe spent the next few months giggling about the Islanders pretending they might not name Johnny captain. Is there anyone in the league right now who is as central to his team, their spirit, their image, and their success as Johnny is to the Islanders? To many outside observers, he is the only player on the team. (Not true, but he does bear the burden of being seen that way. And the rewards, I guess!)
Here is Johnny (and Travis Hamonic, see below <3) being utterly heartbroken after a bad loss. I used to know what game this was from but I blocked it from my memory.
There are a lot of different ways to view Johnny, I think, because he acts so differently with different people, and depending on his comfort level in any given situation (although he is always, always, ultra-competitive and driven and hardworking). On the one hand, he's a confident, serious competitor who's been leading his teams from a very young age and is one of the best forwards in the NHL at the tender age of 23. Other times, he's a giggly, goofy kid who still hadn't gotten his driver's license at 19, as in this incredible interview with PK Subban. He is the Islanders captain... but also one of the babies of the team. He's a leader, and by far our best player, but also gets mocked for sulking when he loses at video games and being bad at poker.
He's often been one of the youngest players on his teams, and he can be a little awkward bundle of cuteness. As when he was about a year younger than anyone else at the 2008 WJC. (That video kills me because it calls Johnny out on a deeply entrenched habit of interview blandness. As does Matt. Teammates chirping Johnny for being boring - best, or super best? Gabe Landeskog he is not!) His press conference when he signed a contract extension in 2009 remains one of my all-time favorite hockey videos. He starts reading from the top of a page he was done with. It's so painful to watch and yet it makes my heart swell. He's like a schoolboy reading a book report to the class. ::sobbing:: He's actually quite improved now, but it's still not his thing.
I am completely fascinated by Johnny in his early years as an Islander. He's such an amazing mix of young stud and awkward child. I love the way the Islanders organization, and members of the team, have tried to shelter Johnny as much as possible.
I need to keep myself from going too far down the Doug Weight/John Tavares rabbit hole, but Johnny lived with him for a bit before moving into his guest house (with Matt Moulson!!), and babysat his bbs, and they were adorable and Johnny is always crediting Doug for being a great mentor. And he's still at the club as an assistant coach, so huzzah!!
Johnny and the team - I could do an entire post just of Islanders saying nice things about Johnny, probably. They love him. They give him a hard time, but there doesn't seem to be any jealousy or awkwardness about the complete lopsidedness of attention. Even though it's not just that he gets more interviews and articles - it's that his name is the only one anyone even knows! But his teammates are always filled with warmth and admiration (and a little teasing). Honestly, my OTP is probably Islanders/John Tavares. I'll just throw in a few quotes that I could find easily:
“I think a huge quality in someone you want as a captain is someone with the determination and drive to be successful and win,” Bailey said. “I think those qualities can make you a great leader. When you throw into the mix him being a great guy and a good friend – I think he’ll do a great job as captain.” (x)
"To be honest, I think he's one of the best players just in terms of an overall skill set. When you look at points, that's one thing -- a lot of times, that's what people attribute it to, how many points you get. But I think it's the way you get them. That's the biggest thing." - 2013 linemate Brad Boyes (x)
"He is a very mature kid. He has been in the spotlight since he was probably 12 or 13, so it's nothing new to him," said Josh Bailey, the team's first-round pick last year who played against Tavares in junior hockey. "This is obviously on a bigger scale, but it's nothing new." (x)
"I think he's one of the best players in the world right now. I think he's shown that and continues to work on his game and continues to get better. Maybe he doesn't get the limelight some other people get, but I know him as a person and a player pretty well, and I think he's one of the best." - Matt Moulson (x)
"He is a gifted player who sees ice really well. If I am on his line with him my role is to bang bodies, get him the puck and go to the net. That will let him do the special things that he can." - Matt Martin (x)
And of course...
“My teammates are family to me,” Tavares said. “They have taught me what it’s like to become a professional on and off the ice for the past two years and have made those two years the best of my life. I’m looking forward to our future together and what is held in store for us.” (x)
I'm still in the phase where I'm reduced to making kitten noises at my screen every time I see the C on his chest. We knew it was coming, but I'm still so proud!!! (x)
So - the many sides of John Tavares! He's thrust into the spotlight and deals with it gracefully, but is actually terrible at media and being the center of attention. He's far and away our best player, but has relied heavily on his team for emotional support and guidance. He's a solid shell of impressiveness, skill and leadership; with a soft squishy inside of awkward, squeezable youth! But underneath that, the steely core of his absolute drive to be the best at what he does.
Following Mark Streit around Switzerland (aww, Streiter! I'd wish you good luck if you hadn't gone to the Flyers! The Switzerland excursion seems fun.)
New York Minute with John Tavares - including tales of being the godfather of Matt's baby girl
Tavares makes IIHF worlds a family trip
My Favorite Things
An inside source who went to Cornell around the same time tells me he was a total stud there and everyone loved him and they sung the Canadian National Anthem for him before games. <33333 (Thanks Mer!) (Here is an interview with him from 2005 that was in the Cornell newspaper but I couldn't find online in a satisfactory manner so I reposted it. He is presh.)
How could you not love such a great guy? With Frans Nielsen, Matt was one of the first players to participate in the You Can Play project.
But sadly, once he graduated, he struggled to make it to the NHL. Pittsburgh had drafted him in the 9th round but didn't sign him, so he mucked around in the LA Kings organization, ends up marrying Jonathan Quick's sister-in-law, gets called up, gets sent back down, is super sad... and then - free agency and the Islanders!!! :DDD
UGH AND HOW HE ENDED UP HERE. He and Johnny had known each other for years - Johnny played lacrosse with Matt's younger brother, and they'd started training together during summers when Johnny was only 13 or so! So Johnny gets drafted first overall, is supposed to save the franchise, loads of pressure...so when the big brother of his childhood friend and lacrosse buddy called him and said might sign with the Islanders, according to Matt, he said, "You gotta sign, you're gonna do great, you're a great player! You're gonna do well! We can play together on the Island, it'll be so fun." (This is a genuine quote of how Matt remembers this conversation. <33333)
Behold - the part about how much he and Johnny love and support each other starts at around 5:30.
They have such an amazing relationship, where they were at such different places in their lives but both had so much to offer the other. The press conference to welcome JT to Long Island was literally begun with, “Today feels like we are celebrating the rebirth of the New York Islanders Franchise.” NO PRESSURE! Matt provided Johnny with a familiar face and a lot of experience - especially as Johnny had to launch himself into adulthood at the same time. Johnny was used to pressure, but it's always nice to have someone to tell you it's ok if things don't go well. (Johnny has also said that he gets a lot of perspective about his own problems when he thinks about what Matt's gone through, haha.)
And because of Matt's great chemistry with Johnny (who is, lbr, one of the best players in the league), instead of being cut from another team, he's been playing on the top line for years and scoring 30 goals per season. Matt is a great goal-scorer, and as much as Johnny makes those around him better, you can't just pop anyone up there and have them thrive like Matt. But Matt might never have been given a chance if it weren't for Johnny and how well they clicked, and Johnny creates a lot of amazing chances for him.
No one loves and appreciates Johnny as much as Matt, and no one is a bigger fan of Matt than Johnny. They are constantly jumping on opportunities to compliment each other.
“He’s a special player and he works tremendously hard on improving his game, day in and day out, on the ice and off the ice,” linemate Matt Moulson said. “He wants to win and score and help this team get to where we want to be.” (x)
"I’m not going to lie, I do enjoy playing with him. He’s a great player and he’s going to be a great player for many years to come." (x) (highly recommend that source article.)
"He's really underrated in a lot of areas of the game," Tavares told NHL.com. "I think he's a good two-way player. He blocks a lot of shots. He's really good at getting the puck out of his own end. He's smart and he's a responsible player. It's not like he's cheating all over the ice to score 30 goals. I think that's just kind of the way Matt's career's gone. He's always had to overcome a lot, and it's always motivated him and pushed him. He's always been a guy that's under the radar." (x) (Johnny is a man on a mission to get Matt the respect he thinks Matt deserves!!)
They ended up living together in Doug Weight's guest house and are incredibly close friends now. I could write a million more words about them, or you could just watch their Know Your Bro video, in which they have to guess what answer the other will give to various questions. It's best if you watch Part 1 and Part 2 first, and they're delightful too, but if you're strapped for time, you can probably just launch into the third part, when they compare results. AND TRY TO KILL ME.
Matt/Johnny is canon:
Matt Martin and Travis Hamonic actually dressed up as Johnny and Matt for Halloween. The Matt costume involved WEARING A JT91 HAT. (The Johnny costume involved those funky barefoot-type running shoes with toes, because this is apparently what he wears around the rink on game days. I love him.) How is this real???
PS I know Matt is married to a lady but Lesha seems awesome too? js. (And I know, a lot of folks ship Johnny with Sam Gagner, to which I say - so do I! :D But Matt is a nice alternative because they don't have to spend as much time pining. But yeah I ship JT with everyone, so...)
He was indeed. Twice. (and just about the only smart choice on those lists...) (also: MATT OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU.)
Sometimes Johnny makes this face when Matt is introduced:
Moulson vs Tavares: The 10 Question Challenge
Mutual chirping at Barclay's, after JT was named captain
Matt Moulson, John Tavares continue to click for Islanders - see, Arthur Staple knows! <3
A collection of relevant tweets
Long shot Moulson determined for more
Five Lists of Five from Moulson and Quick’s visit to the NHL Offices
Kyle was the Islanders first round draft pick in 2006, 7th overall. We traded our 1st-round pick in 2007, so he's followed by Josh Bailey (9th in 2008) and then Johnny. So Kyle has a lot of potential and has faced a certain amount of pressure, but hasn't always lived up to what he's capable of. He's especially notorious for having slow starts. But he was amazing during the playoffs against Pittsburgh, and he trained with Johnny this summer (and Casey Cizikas and Ryan Strome) so... optimism!!!
Here is Kyle being a baby before we drafted anyone else. He's hanging out with Jeff Tambellini and Blake Comeau but it's mostly Kyle. BEING ADORABLE. Ugh dimples for hours. Although this is also true of him now. <3333 He was our first really high draft pick for a bit so you can see he's facing some expectations (you can also see him beasting for his university team).
Kyle is on twitter, as bookerT2116. He's not tweeting all the time or anything but he's always a sweetheart when he shows up. A small sample:
I've learned that Kyle is Matt Moulson's road roommate! Ugh adorable. According to twitter, they go see movies together all the time. And they tweet about golf a lot but I did not include any of that. XP Kyle also loves Johnny. <33333 Here he is giving him a little snuggle with 10 seconds left in the Islanders’ 6-4 playoff victory over the Penguins, May 7, 2013. (A game I was at btwwwwwwwww)
He also leapt into the fray to defend Johnny's honor against the Flyers, link complete with extremely helpful gif illustration from yours truly. Kyle is one of the only other players that could possibly have been considered for captaincy, as one of the players who's been at the Islanders the longest, and in fact was in the discussion when Mark Streit ended up being named. So Kyle could be huffy about Johnny showing up and getting all the attention and being treated as the face of the franchise when he was toughing it out for years before Johnny waltzed in, he could feel bad about playing second fiddle, or uncomfortable about taking a new roles. But instead he's super fond of the kid. He's not really a mentor, Matt and Doug Weight had that covered, but instead he's all protective and proud! :)))
Anyway, I'm a big Kyle enthusiast, so more people should come love on him with me.
He seems so supportive, so lovely, so sweet! And when he's on, he's such an amazing player. ALSO LOOK:
On being the first African-American to play hockey for the University of Minnesota
Okposo Heads to Brooklyn
Isleography: Kyle Okposo
Don't worry, the profiles do get a bit shorter from here!
However!! On the "all the Islanders adore Johnny" front, he was interviewed on Toronto sports radio over the summer while Johnny had all that Hart Trophy buzz, and was asked about playing with him, and he launched into a little gushing rant: "Can't say enough good things about Johnny... I think he's a great leader for our team... He's like a bull out there on the ice when he gets the puck, he's so determined, he makes everyone around him better and our team a lot better. I certainly can't say enough good things about him and we're obviously incredibly happy to have him." (starts at around 5:15)
Anyway, I've been surfing videos of him and he seems completely lovely. Feel free to go get real enthused about him and then come back and tell me more, because I am certainly intrigued by the prettiness. According to Andrew MacDonald, he and "Bails" are pretty close friends, which is fab because they both seem kind of chill and pleasant.
Sweaty, naked, covered in chains - the Islanders organization made these commercials. There's one for AMac too, see below. What happens there??
Clean-up Day: Josh Bailey
No words for this one - no wonder Josh never does anything remotely fluff-piece-ish. Our PR production was even worse in 2008!!
Peter Regin (right, in orange) joins second-line center Frans Nielsen (the other one) this year to make the Islanders the first NHL team to have two Danish players! I plan to use this fact to wander around Copenhagen in an Islanders shirt and make loads of friends.
I don't know too much else about them except they're childhood friends and Frans seems super pumped about having Peter come on board! Here's a cute video of the two of them talking about how pumped they are to play together again. :333 Peter said joining the Islanders felt like coming home rather than to a new team, because he was so comfortable with Frans!
Also, Frans was part of the very early efforts of the You Can Play Project, and he was drafted by the Islanders in 2002, which is basically the drawn of time for a team this young, and we love him. He's a very defensively responsible forward and also the all-time shootout percentage leader in NHL history! :OOOO And his teammates call him the Danish Prince:
They all seem very fond of him, as you can tell from this nice article about his contract extension:
“It’ll be nice to keep growing with this core group of guys,” Okposo said. “He’s a great person first and foremost.” They've skated together since they were both in Bridgeport back in 07-08 holy crap!
Frans returns the favor:
“Of course Okposo and those guys get a lot of attention, but they deserve it,” said Nielsen, the Islanders’ third round pick (87th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. “I’ve been here since they started the rebuild and hopefully I’ll be here for a lot of years to come, so I feel like a big part of it.”
(Article also includes him and Andrew MacDonald saying nice things about each other - see below for more on AMac!)
Stumbled upon another nice quote about Fransie in this (very long) Doug Weight interview:
"Fransie is one of the most versatile players you'll find in this league. And one of the most positive. So there's nothing I can do wrong with him, he'll just look at me and smile and go 'OK Dougie' and then he'll go do a great job... everything I tell him, the next shift it's done."
Flying Under the Radar - with some nice quotes from Josh Bailey
Nystrom Award Presented to Nielsen
We're all very excited for Cal, who seems like a gritty, character player who will fit well in our locker room and our style of play when his leg heals. He held the NHL record for hits for a few years before it was broken by Matt Martin so... this should be fun! But I'm most excited because he played juniors with John Tavares in Oshawa when Johnny was a bb who got drafted a year early. And then when they met in the NHL, he gave interviews like this, where he says stuff like:
• "I used to make fun of him being so young. I called him, ‘My little pigeon, my little puppet,’" Clutterbuck said.
• "I know too many things about him, so it’ll be easy. Some of them I probably won’t even use because I’d probably break his heart if I did. I’ll make sure to tell him I still run his show."
• "Johnny was the franchise guy and my job was to make sure nothing too crazy happened to him."
Hmmm yes, thank you Cal. That was very edifying.
The Clutterbuck Chronicles - aka my headcanon
The rest of my favorite forwards had to bleed onto page 2 (oh yes, there's another page) but there is a small collection of defenders that I care about!
It's a bit tough for AMac because he's in the last year of his contract and generally doesn't generate as much buzz as Hammer (although Hammer seems to be more passionate about their relationship, bless). AMac seems ok about training a new bb, though. He's definitely a very important leader for the team and our defense in particular, and is always working with kids in the community and stuff. For most of his junior career, people didn't really think he'd make it to the NHL, but here he is! <3 He also roomed with Michael Grabner, which is a vitally important service for the rest of the team. (PS watch that video to learn the technical term used by NHLers for the dominant one in a relationship. And then look at the following gif. Them Islanders, eh?)
This whole endeavor could have catered more to people who are into tattoos, probably. Well, more pictures here. I believe this one is of some sort of... combine harvester in a wheat field?
Hammer is from the middle of friggin nowhere, 60 km south of Winnipeg. Which I guess is better than being 60 km north of Winnipeg? (AMac is from a teeny town in Nova Scotia, they are mfeo.) He's the youngest of four and was raised in part by his older siblings after his father passed away when he was 10. Now, he invites bereaved children to be his special guests at every Islanders home game, and calls them his "D-partner of the game." Awww, Hammer!!
Hammer was on twitter briefly, but has since deleted it!! DDD: So all I've been able to glean is that Matt Martin used to give him a hard time a lot - I guess since Colin and Zeeker didn't really show up to keep Marty company until January this year, he was broing around with wee Travis quite a bit. Apparently:
Road to the Coliseum
Hamonic Recounts Gruesome Night (gross, but also sweet)
Travis Hamonic est un joueur francophone méconnu - as far as I can tell, this is the French media going "WHOAAAA he's been francophone this whole time?? I guess you guys should know who he is!" but it also features Hammer speaking French which is AWESOME. And him checking the fuck out of Taylor Hall in juniors.
I think this is from before he was an Islander but i'm just excited I didn't have to use a pic of the Assassin's Creed character. (x)
The great thing about Thomas Hickey for me is that he's phase 2 of the Islanders plan to surround Johnny with his childhood friends. He and Thomas were teammates on the World Junior team two years in a row, winning gold each time. Thomas was captain in 2009, and this gives me an excuse to share this video of the four returning players in 2009. Featuring Johnny's epic baby bromance with PK Subban. <3333
Our regular third and fourth liners love each other so much and get up to so many antics that I had to split this whole thing in two pieces. Click through for height differences, jealousy, the occasional nudity, and the astonishingly likely possibility that John Tavares and Colin McDonald are in some sort of D/s puppy play relationship that Michael Grabner may or may not be involved with.