I’m going to be completely honest and tell you, I’m exhausted.
It’s been a week since the epic nine-game road trip came to a close and I still feel like I’m trying to catch my breath. The reason I’m putting this all out there is because I don’t play hockey. I cover hockey for a living and feel blessed to do so. I travel with the team and mimic their schedule pretty closely for eight months of the year. But I don’t have to go out on the ice and skate fast, score goals and hit other people.
There are some fans who might be confused as to why the Islanders have had some sluggish periods since returning to New York. One fan even tweeted me, “They’ve been sleeping in their own beds for several days now, what’s the problem?”
After tying the game in the third period, the Islanders turned it over twice in overtime, costing them the game.
The problem is they played in three different time zones and had daylight savings time, all while traveling close to 10,000 miles during the course of a few weeks. The body can only do what it can do. The mind needs a rest sometimes too.
I’m actually really impressed with how these athletes keep it together on and off the ice throughout an entire NHL season. That franchise-long road trip was the toughest emotionally for me, in my entire career as a sports journalist. I’m not trying to make excuses for the Isles dropping their last two games. They wouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse either. But the facts are the facts, and being on the road that long does take a toll.
OK, now that I got that out there, I have to tip my cap to all the players. After a disappointing overtime loss to Columbus on Saturday, they all stuck around for Anders Lee’s Kancer Jam event. Yup, those same players who could have left right after the game to spend some quality time with their loved ones at home. Those same players who instead, invited their wives, girlfriends, and kids to Barclays Center for a cancer fundraiser on a Saturday night.
Every single Islander was there. In my 10 years in sports, I’ve never seen an entire team rally together to support a cause, event and a teammate like that. Yes, sometimes a few of the guys show up for an event. They’ll sign some autographs and take a few pictures, then head home. This team is different though. The Kancer Jam raised close to $100,000 and showed me more about the team than the game itself did.
These players are a family. Lee felt passionate about hosting this event. It was interactive and fans had to raise $2,000 for Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center to play with their favorite players. You could see clearly, with frisbees flying across the room, that the players actually like being together. They like supporting one another. They are committed to each other.
That’s why I believe the Isles will make the playoffs. The last few days have been great for practice and also some recovery. The Leafs and the Lightning are making a run too, but I believe the Isles will get it done. Wednesday is a big opportunity to get back to their winning ways.
As several of the players have told me over the years, “If you can’t get up for the Rangers game, you have bigger problems.”
I expect the Isles to be more than up for this rivalry matchup at The Garden. It’s not just another opportunity for two huge points, but a chance to play for each other as they keep their eyes straight ahead to the postseason.