The Isles are off to Florida to play the Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I could give you a preview of the matchup, but it’s better to tune into the Islanders Quest for The Cup show Tuesday at 7 PM on MSG+. Butch Goring and Rick DiPietro will be joining me to take a look at both teams before the puck drops on Thursday for Game 1.
Instead, I want to share a story about a new hockey fan I met on the subway this weekend. It happened on Saturday after the Isles fell to the Sabres in overtime. I got on the subway to head home and a family with four kids boarded the same train car.
Normally, I put my ear buds in and try to unwind from the game. But, this time I noticed a little boy about 11-years-old sitting right next to me with his siblings, a few years younger, on his other side. I couldn’t help but watch these little kids as they studied the game program they were taking home as a souvenir. They each had a card in hand, and the kid next to me was going up-and-down the lineup saying each player’s name. I eventually leaned over to ask if this was his first hockey game. He turned to me with a giant smile and said, “Yeah, and it was awesome!”
In that moment, I recognized the look in his eyes – it was the same feeling I had after watching my first NHL game – he was hooked.
I spent the next 30 minutes answering rapid-fire questions from my new little friend. He wanted to know why he didn’t get to see a shootout, or as he put it, “You know, when the guys get their chance one-on-one with the goalie.”
We talked about what players they liked to watch, and how fast they skated. I eventually told them about my job covering the team. That lead to more questions about, not only hockey players I’ve interviewed, but also NBA stars I’ve covered in my eight years of sports broadcasting. I’m pretty sure the entire train heard, “You know Andre Drummond? Wooahhhh! What about Steph Curry?!”
By the time I was getting off at my train stop, I had three new friends. I could also see they were the next generation of young hockey fans.
I couldn’t stop smiling on the walk home.
I think it’s important to share this story because I’ve heard the grumbling about the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn. I know it was a tough transition for the lifelong fans when the team moved to Barclays Center, but the new arena also brought new fans.
Every game, I meet dozens of people who are at their first Islanders game. Many of them are young families. When they come back for their second game – and trust me they come back – the kids are dressed head-to-toe in Isles gear.
If you’re looking for a visual of how the love of the game and support for the Islanders is growing, just pay attention to the arena when the team scores a goal.
The first time the puck hits the back of the net a good amount of the crowd jumps up to yell “YES! YES! YES!” But there are several people in the stands who don’t know the tradition. By the third period, a goal causes the entire arena to erupt in cheers. Those same people who were out of the loop to start the game are screaming “YES! YES! YES!” like the rest of Isles Nation.
Just like meeting my new little subway friends, it’s another sign of how the game is growing.
And that too makes me smile.