Summer is over and the smell of fall has flooded the New York area. You know what that means my friends … hockey is back!
The Islanders open up their regular season against the Rangers Thursday. It seems a fitting way to kick things off. The Isles swept all four games last year against their rivals and they plan on dominating the season-series again, starting with Game No. 1 at The Garden.
I know the players are excited about the season and their matchup with the Rangers. And as we get ready for puck drop, I’d like to share a few things I’m really pumped about as well for the upcoming season.
1. Travis Hamonic
Much like many of the fans last year, I was crushed when I heard Hamonic requested a trade for personal reasons. I even approached him in the dressing room a few days after the news to thank him for always taking the time to do interviews with me. I wanted to wish him well with his personal and professional career before he was traded. Hamonic had to play through a personal situation last season and his game didn’t suffer one bit. He was a big part of the Isles’ success in the playoffs and I’m thrilled he’s back this season.
Hamonic is a team player and a leader. He told me during training camp that his family situation had eased a bit, and that allowed him to ask Garth Snow to stay after the season was over. When the team lost to Tampa, Hamonic shared with me how much wearing an Isles jersey meant to him. Well, Travis, Isles nation is glad your back this season in the jersey you love so much.
2. Jaroslav Halak
The goalie situation kept us all on our toes last season. For most of the year, they carried three goalies with Halak and Thomas Greiss both fighting to be the team’s No. 1. The concern with Halak throughout his career has been his ability to stay healthy. At the end of last season, he missed the final 17 regular season games and the playoffs with a groin injury. But anyone who watched the World Cup of Hockey knows that Jaro looked better than ever. The netminder was a key piece of Team Europe making a run all the way to the finals before losing to Team Canada. His teammates in the international tournament agreed, without his strong play between the pipes, they would not have made it as far as they did. Halak is a VERY competitive goalie and wants to be the Isles’ go-to guy in net. Now, the Isles need him to perform like he did the last two months AND stay healthy.
3. Andrew Ladd
Ladd impressed me in our first interview with his genuine excitement about playing here in New York. As one of the more coveted free agents this summer, it was a big get for the Isles to secure the forward. He has significant leadership experience as the former captain of the Winnipeg Jets, plus two Stanley Cup Championships. Hats off to Doug Weight, who was a big part in getting Ladd to New York. The two played together in Carolina and the Isles’ Assistant GM was instrumental in convincing Ladd to come for a visit. Now that he’s here, I’m anxious to see if he can help get the team to the next level.
4. The Kids
The Isles put P.A. Parenteau on waivers Monday morning. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see that coming. When the team signed P.A. over the summer, I thought it was a good move. Bring in a guy who’s had success playing with John Tavares, right? That makes sense. P.A. had one of his best offensive years of his NHL career playing with Tavares during the 2011-12 season. He’s bounced around since then, but had 20 goals last season in Toronto. So, what happened?
The kids. Gone are the days of calling Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson kids. They are middle-aged compared to 19 year-old Anthony Beauvillier and 19 year-old Mathew Barzal. The two 2015 first-round draft picks caught the attention of, not only the coaching staff and the front office, but pretty much everyone at preseason games over the last few weeks.
I had a great time watching Beauvillier in the matchup against the Rangers last Tuesday. He looked solid playing with poise beyond that of a 19 year-old. The Isles must believe in these two because they are keeping them both a part of the 23-man roster to start the season. They have nine games to continue to impress before the Isles have to send them back to juniors or use up the first year of their contracts. I have a strong feeling that Snow would not keep them around to kick off the year if he didn’t think they were ready for the NHL now.
5. Jon Ledecky
Isles fans, your new co-owner is a sports fan just like you. He is passionate about helping this team win a Cup and he has amazing energy. He’s already worked to make some improvements at Barclays for the fans and players. The team’s family room got a major facelift over the summer and the increased number of trains after games is just one of several things on Ledecky’s list to help out fans.
I’ve witnessed Ledecky over the past two years walking the concourse at arenas around the league. He’s excited about talking to fans and strong in his belief that the Isles should be the premier destination for free agents. Heck, he even told season-ticket holders that when (yes, not ‘if’) the Isles win the Cup, they will get rings too. I know it’s early into his co-ownership, but so far I’m buying into his vision for this organization and can’t wait to see what else he has in store for the fans this season.
Did you watch the Olympics? Ledecky’s niece stole the show. Katie Ledecky swam out of her mind and picked up four golds and a silver medal in Rio. The only thing more fun to watch than her dominating in the pool … was her uncle Jon cheering wildly in the stands! I’d love to see him this animated when the puck drops for Game 1 Thursday. We have you covered on MSG +2, starting at 6:30 PM. See you then!