The big boys are coming Posted by IceCaps on
Tavares, Islanders big guns expected for St. John’s exhibition game
By Chris Ballard
It appears as if the New York Islanders will be bringing some excitement to St. John’s for their exhibition game in September.
The Islanders and the Ottawa Senators are set to clash in an NHL preseason game at Mile One Centre on September 22 and Islanders general manager Garth Snow is looking forward to bringing his squad to Canada’s east coast.
“It was something we were excited about, to have the opportunity to play in a market like St. John’s,” Snow said.
“They have a tremendous fan base and a great following. For us, our lineup is mostly made up of Canadian players and they enjoy going back and playing in front of the fans in their home country.”
The Islanders are coming off a disappointing 2013-14 season in which they finished out of the playoffs in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with 79 points. New York finished the season without its captain John Tavares after he suffered a season-ending injury at the Olympics in Sochi but Snow had some good news regarding his health and possible appearance in St. John’s.
“He’s 100% now,” Snow said of Tavares.
“He’s been skating and there’s no issues with him starting on time for training camp. Right now, he’s scheduled to be playing on September 22 in that game. We will have close to our regular lineup, along with John playing in St. John’s.”
This exhibition game won’t be the first time the Islanders and Snow have visited the Rock. The Islanders have a history of taking their exhibition games on the road and last visited St. John’s in 2007 when they played the Boston Bruins in front of a packed house at Mile One Centre.
Diehard fans may even remember that Snow himself took to the ice in St. John’s many moons ago as a member of the Quebec Nordiques’ farm club.
“I’ve been there before,” Snow said of St. John’s.
“I actually played in the old arena (Memorial Stadium) when it was the St. John’s Maple Leafs team. I was with the Cornwall Aces, Quebec’s farm team as a player and it was always a great environment to go there and play.”
The great environment and fan support is what attracted Snow and the Islanders to come and play another neutral-site exhibition game in St. John’s.
“I think that market and the following and attendance speaks for itself in how the fan base has embraced the American Hockey League,” Snow said.
“For us, it’s a great hockey market with a tremendous fan base and we’re excited to play a preseason game there.”
The motivation for bringing a near-full squad to St. John’s for the preseason game is simple for Snow and company. Give your top players time to work well together in an effort to get back into the NHL playoff picture.
“We want to be in the playoffs,” Snow said of the upcoming season.
“Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen, as you saw this year. We obviously have a young nucleus of players that are coming into their own. We are excited about the season and looking forward to taking that next step.”
The Islanders have already taken steps to plug the holes from last year’s team and are looking forward to testing out this year’s brand of Islanders hockey in St. John’s. Snow admitted that two of the big reasons the Islanders weren’t able to find success last season was a sub-par penalty kill and underachieving goaltending and Snow believes fans will see improvement in those areas.
“We addressed one issue by trading for the rights to Jaroslav Halak and got him signed within a few weeks after that trade,” Snow said.
“He’s a great addition to our team and obviously an area we wanted to improve upon. We just hired Greg Cronin as an assistant coach who has a great history of running great penalty killing units.”
Many Islanders players may have already skated on Mile One Centre ice as members of their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who played a pair of games in St. John’s this past March.
Fans and media have speculated that the reason the Islanders are interested in coming to St. John’s is to scout the city as a possible home for their AHL affiliate once the St. John’s IceCaps are moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario after the 2014-15 season but Snow is satisfied with his team’s affiliate situation, for now at least.
“We have a long-term contract with Bridgeport and it’s always been a very convenient place to have our American Hockey League affiliate,” he said.
“It’s an hour and ten minutes without traffic right up the road. If you get into a situation where you have to call up a player, it’s very convenient in that regard.
“For us, we’re just focused on playing a preseason game there. We have our affiliate in Bridgeport for next season. It’s an opportunity to play in front of a great crowd in St. John’s. And who knows what the future brings?”