Hands down, this was the best Islander game I’ve been to since the game 6 2002 playoff game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe even better.
Usually you don’t open with the closer, but in this case, it could be a description of the pre-game atmosphere. In case you were living under an internet free rock or were in a sports avoidance coma, on February 28, 2019 the Toronto Maple Leafs were supposed to roll into the Barclays Center to face the New York Islanders.
In a rare moment of customer service, the NHL decided to move the game to Long Island at the Nassau Coliseum. This guaranteed a sell out on a Thursday night, which is a rarity in Brooklyn. More importantly, it meant that John Tavares would have to face a crowd of people he promised that he would play his entire career for, include asking not to be traded, only to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs by lunchtime of the first day of free agency.
The details are clear. $77 million reasons to go back home to his Mommy. Tavares put up his picture of himself in Maple Leafs pajamas as a child to defend his decision.
Maple Leaf fans were so happy that they couldn’t understand how a fan base could feel betrayed by lies. But boy, did JT lie. As I likened it, JT had a public Twitter- the one where you can read what he says, but also a private Twitter- the one you use to be sneaky and dishonest and hook up on the sly.
Here’s some catch up reading for you, if you’re not too familiar with the situation:
I added those links for ignorant Toronto Maple Leaf fans who are like “you’re all just salty he went home to Mommy.” Hey guys, he already lied to you as well. He said you were going to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Not only did he lie, but on the way out he insulted future former teammate Mathew Barzal by not mentioning by name “the kid that won the Calder.” Think Tavares was a little envious that HE didn’t win a Calder? HE LOST TO TYLER MYERS. Tyler Myers SUCKSSSSSS.
Not only did he lie, but it’s widely speculated that he moved back to Toronto because his wife wanted to. She had even taken a job in early 2018 in Toronto. Umm, if my wife made $80K a year and I made $11m? We’d live where I want. And if she had an issue it’d have already been covered in the pre-nup.
The Islanders had previously played the Maple Leafs in Toronto on December 29, 2018 and handed them a complete ass whipping. Before the game Islanders coach Barry Trotz told his players (I’m paraphrasing here) “John Tavares looked around this locker room and decided that he didn’t want to be teammates with any of you.” Final score? 4-0 Islanders. And the kid that won the Calder dropped 3 goals on JT and his crew.
But this game was different. Debates raged on line as what would be an appropriate response. Sports writers and talking heads wondered how classless would Islander fans be, or what would be acceptable dissent. Islanders management made pleas to be respectful. But in the long run, none of that mattered.
What mattered was that John Tavares had made himself a heel. He was the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff from the 1980’s. He was the 2000’s New York Rangers. Shit, he was the 1994 Rangers.
There would be a pound of flesh. Or in the case of that robotic cuck, a pound of pride.
50 years from now, this accounting will be a primary source of Islander history for future fans sitting in traffic as they leave a run down Belmont Arena headed towards home while the MTA is on year 32 of the renovations at Belmont train station. It’s a modern Anne Franks diary, where Islander fans are Anne Frank and the last 30 years of ownership and management were the Germans.
Upon arrival, fans were taking pictures of themselves tearing apart a Toronto John Tavares jersey at the area in front of the box office/main entrance. There was a different than usual air to the atmosphere. Normally people will have their beers in plastic cups to avoid justifiable police harassment. Nah. 12 packs sitting out in plain sight. People drinking from cans right in front of 4four police cars. Not one or two people. Hundreds. If cops started to ticket people, they would have gotten carpel tunnel syndrome. The attitude was clear.
It was safe to assume that there would be no fucks given tonight.
After some milling around, my crew headed in. And this is where the carnival kicked into full gear.
Understand that for the past 9 seasons, John Tavares was our bright spot. In some of those years he was our ONLY bright spot. You can only do so much with Matt Moulson and Mark Streit and Garth Snow. So there were fans buying Tavares jerseys for nine years. Kids. Youth. Teens. Young adults. Adults. Seniors. Tens of thousands of jerseys. And what did that create?
Tens of thousands of canvases.
Some of them looked like this:
Others looked like this:
But that’s not all. Expression can be written a well.
And of course, expression can be verbal.
The booing started with the scoreboard doing something as audacious as merely listing the game roster submitted by Toronto. The booing continued when the Maple Leafs came out for a warm up skate. And so did the signs. As did the rubber snakes.
One of my favorite chants broke out before any anthem was even suggested. As the teams sat in their respective locker rooms, 13900 voices (give or take) warmed themselves up with a unified chant of “ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE!” Some people were chopping their arms karate style as they did such, to my wonderment. Why are we chopping assholes? Is there a firewood shortage?
Next on the agenda was the national anthem. The first on the table was “O Canada.” I enjoy that anthem. It’s patriotic, it’s easier to sing than the Star Spangled Banner, and it’s subtle. People were afraid that Islander fans would shit on “O Canada.” Instead? We sang along with it. Someone asked me if I was Canadian because I don’t even need to read the words, I’ve heard it so many times.
Next up was the more rambunctious “Star Spangled Banner.” First off, there are not many other national anthems- if any- that let you know that if you come and fuck with us, ROCKETS AND BOMBS WILL REIGN ON YOU. Also, it’s a hard song to sing well. And yet, 13,900 were all in.
Finally, gametime. The Islanders send out their 4th line against Toronto’s first line- a line without an $11 million player. The fans wait like the calm just before the storm. Finally, out steps 91. The booing begins.
I’ve never been booed by 14000 people. Yes, there were less than 14000 fans, but I’m sure the concession people were booing, ushers were booing, vendors were booing, and outside of the arena a police horse took a noisy shit that sounded like a boo.
More to the point, I wonder if after that shift Tavares returned to the Maple Leafs bench and thought “well, they got that out of their system. Now I can focus on playing some hockey.” IF that went through his mind, he learned nothing in his nine years here, part of the infamous “12 Years of Failure” of Garth Snow’s design.
It wasn’t just his first shift. It was every shift. Booing with the puck, “JT sucks” without it. After a long run came the first TV time out. Usually a red light goes on to let you know you have a moment to get up and take a leak or grab a snack. For this game they kept the camera rolling for the video tribute of John Tavares.
Tavares was a good guy in his time on Long Island. He showed up to every promotional event they programmed him for. He went to hospitals to try to learn what humanity was like. He looked at little kids and wondered how they upgrade. The video tribute I’m sure had some kind of “thank you” song to along with it.
I have no idea because I couldn’t hear shit over all of the booing. EVERY SINGLE SECOND WAS BOOED. The booing was supported by chants of “JT Sucks” and “We don’t need you!” Tavares, as his programming dictates, can do no harm to humans, so he raised his stick to the crowd. Some players would be moved to tears to see their 18 year old self score a goal in his first NHL game, to break a 25 year playoff drought with a game winning goal, to…well, that’s about it for his highlights. But does A.I. cry?
Something else interesting happened at this point. As the video tribute ran, Islanders players tapped their sticks out of respect to Tavares. Except Mathew Barzal. He kept his in his hands. As did Ryan Pulock. I sense there was a caste system in the Doug Weight locker room, and JT was on top, like Skynet.
Toronto drew first blood in the game, as Zach Hyman scored for Toronto. I find it very ironic that just like in nature, Toronto placed a Hyman with a vagina. There was an uneasy silence from the crowd, considering that the last time the Isles played Toronto the Leafs failed to score at all. Maybe they caught some video? Maybe they’re better prepared?
Those doubts went away 3 minutes later as Anthony Beauvillier tied the game. Fans booed lustily for the rest of the period as the teams exited as they entered: tied.
During the first intermission, I felt emotionally exhausted. I hadn’t had a stake in an Islanders game this big in years. I was out of shape, fanwise. Fortunately my resolve was fortified by fans asking to take pictures of my customized Tavares jersey.
The second period came and delivered the first non-obvious chant. Anders Lee scored and the roof blew off of the building. First off, it was a lead. Secondly, who scored it? THE CAPTAIN. Well, there was now a need for a new chant! “That’s our captain!” Another dig at JT. Oh, so tasty.
That pesky Hyman scored again, but a review showed it was 2 or 3 strides offsides. I’m not sure why they don’t allow replays in arena of the play, but the arena waited in suspense for the results. Fortunately for us, the NHL sent superstar referee Wes McCauley to officiate, and he did not disappoint.
The arena blows up again!
The next goal decided the game long before the score was decided. Casey Cizikas singlehandedly forced his will upon a Toronto power play that was completely buzzing. Cizikas and Valtteri Flippula pinned the Leafs into their own zone. Seriously, Toronto looked defenseless against their will. The crowd was already cheering the effort when Cizikas took a Cal Clutterbuck pass and came in to score a shorthanded goal, something the Islanders rarely do.
Oh, the “We don’t need you” chants reigned down. What made it worse if you’re a Toronto fan is that Filppula scored soon after on a strong pay by of all people Andrew Ladd, who looked energized, and there was joy in Mudville. There was booing. There was JT sucks. There was “We don’t need you.” There was “Barzy’s better.” But the best was yet to come.
After the second period, I had a headache. My voice was on life support. My crew was well lubricated, but I wanted to experience this moment and truly savor it without any filters. No, this was beer free hockey for the first time since our star player was Mariuz Czerkawski and going to Islander games forced you to drink.
I stood at the stairwell for the start of the beginning of period 3, because I have hockey manners, when I watched the Islanders scored another one. 5-1. I think there’s a stat that says if the Barry Trotz Islanders score 3 goals in a game then they can’t be beat. They were most certainly not getting beat.
As I returned to my seat, an older gentleman behind us started chanting “We want chili.” For those too young to know what that means, the dynasty Islanders had a promotion tied in with the local Wendy’s establishments in which if the Islanders scored 6 goals in a game and your brought your ticket stub to Wendy’s, you got a free bowl of chili. As an aside, one night in 1979 against the Rangers, your ticket stub got you double chili. Try to figure out the score there. Hint- it was more than nine.
At this point, the chanting lasted for the entire rest of the game. I kept a list. “Who’s your Daddy?” was lustily chanted. “You can’t beat us!” “Our team’s better!” “First Place!” “Barry!” When Ryan Pulock manhandled JT in the offensive zone, the place went nuts. When Mathew Barzal drove JT in to the boards as best as he could, the place went nuts. Even fan favorites like the chicken dance went rogue.
Halfway through the third period, the “Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey Goodbye” chant started. With ten minutes to go, that’s normally tempting fate. Just not on that night.
The fans then started to get personal. More personal than asshole? Yup. “You’re a liar!” and “Please don’t trade me!” were in reference to Tavares asking not to be traded at the deadline last year, and his constant assurances that he was an Islander for life.
“Past your bedtime” and “Where’s your jammies” were just fantastic references to his lame attempts at justifying his turning his back on a fanbase that did nothing but accept him, circuits and all.
There was a moment where Johnny Boychuk took a skate to the face and had to leave the game, but he returned for the third period because he’s a tough S.O.B. If he played for Toronto? They may have had a national day of mourning, but more on that later.
“Thanks for leaving” and “It’s your mistake” are references to the Islanders being in first place and having more points now without Tavares than they had in all of last season. To be honest, I predicted 82 points in the preseason with this roster, so this game was my reminder to serve me up some crow as well.
Brock Nelson closed the scoring with his 20th of the season, and gave a nifty little hand spin to celebrate what would have been chili, much to the dismay of Mr. Taggart. At that point it was a party. The booing was countered by standing ovations for every Islander shift change. It was an atmosphere that quite frankly you’re not going to find in most modern giant NHL arenas, and probably with fanbases nowhere near as rabid and betrayed.
Even the post game was awesome. The players gave a shortened “Yes” chant to the fans, probably figuring that we were exhausted. Fans weren’t exactly filing out, however. We needed to praise our heroes. The 3rd star of the game, goalie Robert Lehner came out pumping up the crowd by raising the roof, then threw a puck and his stick to the crowd. If anyone thinks Lehner doesn’t want to return here next season, they’re crazy. If he doesn’t its all on his agent, rest assured. Fans love him, and he loves them back.
The first star of the game was Casey Cizikas. He came out and was interviewed but I have no idea what he said, because the crowd was overpowering the PA system. This happens often at the Coliseum with a packed house.
On the way out I ran into a few more deliriously happy fans dressed appropriately.
As we sat in 25 or so minutes of Coliseum exiting traffic, we fans got to engage in a Long Island tradition that we are deprived of in Brooklyn- HONK HONK HONKHONKHONK.
Tavares was not his usual soulless self in his post game presser. He voice synth sounded agitated. He was defensive. He let down the guard for a second and said the equivalent of what an out of control teen says on the Maury Povich Show: “You can’t judge me! You don’t know me!”
Um, I don’t know you but I do know this: You’re going to make $100 million and more in your life playing a kids game. Grow a pair, Nancy.
Granted, for me the night wasn’t perfect. I tried and failed repeatedly to get a chant of “Snake! Snake!” going, but alas.
But the best was yet to come.
The Mayor of Toronto was so concerned for the Hectoring of Tavares by his former fans that he wanted to declare a John Tavares Day in Toronto. The next home game ScotiaBank Arena set aside a “John Tavares Appreciation” Moment.
Can you believe that shit?
I’m not a hockey expert by any means, but I do know this: if your psyche is so frail that you cave in and need social and emotional support from an entire city just to bounce back and beat on a bottom half NHL team? I don’t foresee you doing all that well in the playoffs. And for Toronto, your window is NOW. You think Tavares will be faster in 3 years? That Mitch Marner isn’t going to want his $10 million RFA payday, too? That a rebuilding team with cap space like the New York Rangers wouldn’t mind giving up a few late first round picks to shore up 7 years of Marner? That if the Leafs lose repeatedly in the first round for the next few seasons that Austin Matthews isn’t leaving after his shorter than need be taken deal is up? That you won’t be “salty” if Matthews leaves in the exact same way? That the salary cap is going to double?
No, Toronto, your window is now. As is Tampa Bays. Never mind those guys, because you can’t get through the Boston Bruins. And do you want to know why? Because your prize possession can’t take being booed. Imagine what every arena will sound like for the postseason? And the worst case scenario? You get the Islanders in the playoffs. In that case, my prediction- another early offseason.
Hands down, this was the best Islander game I’ve been to since the game 6 2002 playoff game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe even better.
On Friday, March 1 2019 I was wearing my Islanders swag around town like a proud peacock, complete with my awful scratchy voice still not close to recovered from the lusty boos and the joyous chanting. I completely random person stops me and says “Hey Islander fan, did you see that game last night?”
She goes on “I’m a Rangers fan, but I enjoyed the shit out of that game. You gave him what he deserves for what he did. I’m glad you kicked his ass and rubbed it in. Our season is over, but I hope you guys go a long way.”
Normally I’d say Ranger fans are classless douchebags. But that lady in the supermarket had more class in her pinky than John Tavares had in his whole chassis.