Monday, December 31, 2007

He played another 22 minutes tonight, and blocked at least 3 shots

With the New Year just one hour away and the latest Islanders victory just 30 minutes old, let me leave you with one last story for 2007.

A few minutes into the game Saturday (you may have seen this) Brendan Witt was directing traffic in front of the Islanders' goal when an opponent's slap shot got him somewhere on the hand.

Now, as Dubie noted last week, Witt is the guy who says he's okay with pain because - in Witt's words - pain lets you know you're alive. But the veteran dman doesn't usually let you see the pain on his face.

Or hear it. I was standing by beat writers row with Greg Logan and Pete Botte when the puck smashed into Witt's hand. Brendan let out a stream of audio-anguish easily heard upstairs. He even took his glove off in the middle of play to inspect the damage, before growling some more and skating to the bench to tell trainer Garrett Timms he was going directly to the trainer's table in the locker room.

It looked so bad, I immediately called my PR associate Corey Witt (no relation) and told him to go down to the room and wait for an intermission report from Garrett because I didn't think Brendan was going to return to the game.

Of course, Witt was back on the ice with five minutes left in the first period.

After the game, I sat with Brendan in the locker room. He was taking his time, soaking in the old-school victory in front of a Coli-shaking crowd and especially enjoying some rare and deserved media attention centered on fellow defenseman Andy Sutton, who had the Howe hat trick.

Witt was enjoying the show so much he didn't even seem to notice the blood-smeared part of his hand that took the blow. Folks, it was nasty, gross, a bit scary.

"A mere flesh wound," said Witt, subtly trying to see if I got the "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" reference.

This guy is really something else. I always thought he was a good player with the Caps, but he's so much more than that. Turns out the "mere flesh wound" was a major inconvenience to him, but not because it affected his stickhandling.

"I couldn't get my legs going when I got back on the ice," he grumbled. Seems from the moment Witt left the game to the moment he returned to it, his rump was on the trainer's table as the doctors treated him. "I get back out there late in the first all charged up, and I've got nothing in my legs. Then it takes me all of the second period to get going. I was all right in the third."

He doesn't get on the stat sheet much, wasn't on the All-Star ballot, doesn't get a lot of pub, but Brendan Witt is never just all right.

Happy New Year to Brendan, Salima and their family. Happy New Year to all of the Islanders fans out there. 2008 is going to be fun.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why it's always a privilege

I'm just about to leave the Coliseum tonight when something just hit me that I had to get out.

On Saturday night, the Islanders went above-and-beyond in acknowledging my 20th anniversary with the franchise. Thank you to Charles, Garth, Chris Dey, Art McCarthy, Tim Beach, Corey Witt and everyone involved in what was an incredible surprise. Even as I look at the Rolex on my left wrist and the No. 20 jersey in my office, I still can't believe it happened.

Since Saturday I've received a lot of lovely congratulations followed by the inevitable, "How do you do it"? and "What keeps you going?" and "Does it ever get ho-hum"?

The answers to those questions are easy. Then you have a moment like the last three minutes of tonight's game.

How about the heroic shot-blocking on that 4-on-3 penalty kill? Dubie's miraculous play with a giant standing in front of him? Richard Park's determination and Mike Comrie's finish?

From now on when I'm asked those questions, I'll just show them the tape of the final moments of Islanders 4 Leafs 3 (OT) on December 26, 2007.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stand up for Blakey

With the Islanders out of playoff contention in the 2000-01 season, the team acquired a pair of sparkplugs in separate deals. "If we're gonna stink," a hockey staffer told me on the day of the trades, "let's do it with guys who are gonna play their hearts out every night." One of the new players was Steve Martins, a five-foot-9-yeah-right, fiery fourth-liner who made it into 269 NHL games on sheer will. At age 35, Steve's a point-a-game player today with Chicago of the American Hockey League.

The other guy acquired that day was a fifth-liner from the Los Angeles Kings named Jason Blake.

Let me put it this way: I have never, ever seen a professional hockey player get more out of what God gave him than Jason Blake. If it's possible that someone tried harder in an Islanders uniform than John Tonelli, it was Blakey.

The Islanders picked up Jason for a mid-round draft pick. At the time he was 27 and had played games over his past few seasons not just in LA, but in Orlando, Lowell and Long Beach, California. Soon after he arrived on the Island his wife, Sarah, was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their first child. Thankfully, everything turned out beautifully and Jason and Sarah now have three children.

Who knows if that experience brought something out of Jason? Who knows if he was also determined to give everything he had to the Islanders because Charles Wang gave him the time and support to take care of his family first?

All we do know is Jason Blake climbed a line on the depth chart with each season, literally. I remember Peter Laviolette saying to the press, "It gets to a point where the guy keeps on out-working everyone, keeps on producing, and maybe you have to think that he IS a top-six forward."

At age 33, Jason Blake emerged as a 40-goal scorer and NHL All-Star.

Early in the game on Wednesday night, fans can expect a classy scoreboard presentation welcoming Jason back to Long Island.

Jason can expect a rousing, well-deserved standing ovation. He might wear a different uniform now but to all of us he's Jason Blake...and he's an Islander.

Friday, December 21, 2007


There are so many layers to both the Chris Simon and Kyle Okposo issues that, to be honest, I've been all over the place deciding what I want to say on this blog. I've decided to leave the Okposo case for a few more days.

As for the events surrounding Chris Simon, I'll address one issue. There is no point rambling on about Colin Campbell (an honest slip of the tongue that was not race-related), the suspension (10-15 games would have been my call) and what Simon did (troubling, inexcusable).

What did amaze me - although I guess it shouldn't have - was that any fan, reporter or anyone around the league could be cynical about what transpired at Iceworks on Monday. To recap: Charles Wang took charge. Instead of taking the easy way out, he proactively sought to help Chris Simon. Garth Snow and Ted Nolan got on board. There were a series of meetings with Simon, and later the captains and the whole team. The Islanders acted as a family. They stuck together. They backed each other up.

Whether you worked at Dairy Barn, Morgan Stanley, the New York Post, wherever, isn't this how you would like to be respected? Coincidentally, I ran into a neighbor of mine on the flight home from Toronto after the Simon hearing on Tuesday. Turns out he worked at Computer Associates during the 1980s. My neighbor hasn't been associated in any way with Charles Wang for 20 years. Even when he was at CA as a young employee, he didn't work closely with Charles. In other words, he has no dog in the hunt. But do you know what he said to me? This:

"I read about how Charles went to your practice rink and kind of led the charge in doing the right thing for Chris Simon. I know a lot of fans who thought you guys would distance yourselves from Simon, maybe even release him. But I wasn't surprised. When I was at CA, no matter who it was, Charles got involved and was always there to help. You never forget that."

How a few experienced hockey writers - including some that have reported on hockey mismanagement for decades - or even some of the fans on the message boards could view Monday's events as anything but impressive, inspirational...well, that's sad.

On Wednesday, the Islanders lost a close hockey game. On Monday, they won big.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Richards and DP, growing older together

I just got the following release from the Flyers:

"The Philadelphia Flyers announced today that they have signed center Mike Richards to a 12-year contract extension, according to club General Manager Paul Holmgren. Richards’ new contract will start next season and run through the 2019-2020 season."

Good for Mike and the Flyers, good for the Flyers fans.

We saw the reaction to the Islanders' signing of Rick DiPietro to a landmark 15-year deal. Rick is the face, heart and soul of the franchise. My friends at the Flyers say similar things about Mike Richards.

Will the hockey media, especially the experts in Canada, have as much fun with the Flyers' long-long-long-term deal as they did with the Islanders' deal?

We'll see. That's another thing about the sports press: when they do not know how to react - or don't have the guts to take a stand - they resort to bad jokes.

Just over a year later, the DiPietro deal can be considered revolutionary, the door-opener for lengthy deals all over sports. It was also brilliant for the Islanders and their fans. Call it the deal of the decade and a half.

Quiet Riot

The PR/media lesson from the Mitchell Report: if people in sports truly want to keep something out of the media, they can.

Some of our best sports journalists were trying to track down the names on the list for weeks. When it was announced earlier this week that the list would be made public today, the search intensified. The New York Yankess are covered like no other sports team in the world. Turns out Senator Mitchell's biggest scoops came from a personal "trainer" associated with a few players in the Bronx.

My point: if a player or a team or an executive really wants something out, he'll get it out. If, as in this case, they don't, it's amazing how secretive they can be.

By the way, did the Yankees get Santana yet?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Merry Christmas, Mr. Resch

It's that holiday time of the year when I tend to get a little nostalgic and think of people who helped me along the way. I was waiting for the hilarity and shame of the Petrino press conference last night when ESPNews showed clips of the Flyers beating the Pens behind two hat tricks. There was a graphic that said the last time the Flyers had two hat tricks in a game was on Dec. 18, 1986 when they beat the Islanders, 9-4, at the old Spectrum with hat tricks from Dave Poulin and Tim Kerr.

I was an intern for the Flyers that season, commuting back and forth on the subway from La Salle in between classes and Explorer basketball games (anyone remember the "L Train," Lionel Simmons?). The Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Final that season, beating the Rangers and post-Easter Epic Islanders along the way. I made a lot of good contacts, but it was the Flyers players - their dedication, their class, their decency with the PR intern - that inspired me to take a run at this business.

Those Flyers made it to the 7th game of the Cup Final against Edmonton, tied after two periods, before Wayne Gretzky decided enough was enough. But I'll never forget those players, coached by a young hothead, I mean hotshot, named Mike Keenan.

So thank you: Dave Poulin, Tim Kerr, Peter Zezel, Brian Propp, Brad Marsh and the then 38-year old backup goaltender, Glenn Resch. As fate would have it, several players later became Islanders and I was able to thank them in person: Brad McCrimmon, Doug Crossman, Ron Sutter, Craig Berube, J.J. Daigneault and the best man of them all, Ron Hextall.

I started with the Islanders in December of 1987 perhaps even more intimidated because, after all, these were my Islanders. The first player to put an arm around me and give me tips on how to work the room was Steve Konroyd, who had been acquired for my all-time favorite, John Tonelli. Steve's grace has stuck with me forever.

He wasn't alone helping me settle in those first few seasons. Thank you: Brent Sutter, Bob Bassen, Pat LaFontaine, Denis Potvin, Alan Kerr, Bryan Trottier and especially Patrick Flatley and Kelly Hrudey.

Over time, when you get to look close enough, you realize these players met their dreams of NHL success as much on the strength of their hearts as their talents.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Family squabble

So we have our first in-house controversy of the season. As you'd expect, Ted Nolan handled it perfectly.

To recap, with the Islanders about to start a brief 5-on-3 power play in the final minutes of Wednesday's game in Atlanta, what would usually be a harmless Fox shot of the Islanders bench became something more. Assistant coach Gerard Gallant was seen making a very emphatic point to dman Marc-Andre Bergeron. Many have assumed MAB might have protested because he didn't like being on the bench for the power play.

One of the many cool things about Ted: while Gallant and Bergeron smiled off Greg Logan's questions about it yesterday after practice and said everything was coming up roses, Ted gave one of those answers that had Logan and Mears and King and the ITV crew and even the PR guy looking at each other like, "This is good."

The head coach didn't laugh it off or try to sweep it under the rug. He made it clear he was not happy with what transpired and he intended to talk to BOTH parties about it.

I really liked that. It's so easy for head coaches to jump on players. Ted's position was that he was going to get to the bottom of it but make no mistake - everyone was wrong. Of course, if this was Isiah and Eddy Curry, it might have bumped the latest faux-Yankees rumors off the back page.

(Did you see the one today about how the San Fran Giants might take Matsui's contract off the Yankees' hands and trade a 27-year old lefty who went 14-7 last year for him? Man, no wonder New Yorkers get a reputation for thinking they can have everything).

Anyway, back to Ted. He handled the situation with MAB and the assistant they call "Turk" honestly and directly. There's only one hockey coach I know who would have handled it the same way. That was the guy with 739, I mean 740 wins and four Cup rings as Islanders coach.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

All action, no talk

Maybe we should be more like the NBA, where a Quentin Richardson can pop off about the Big Three of the Celtics not impressing him and get tons of press for it. Q is having trouble shooting the ball in the basket, but he's 1-for-1 when aiming at his own foot.

With the Islanders playing Atlanta today on the heels of getting smoked by the Thrashers at home just a few days ago, think of all the possibilties.

Guerin could say the Thrashers are nothing and the Islanders owe them one. Andy Sutton could talk about how glad he is to be out of Atlanta. Ricky D could fire up the troops with some classic trash-talking. Don Waddell could make up a story to the press about how the Islanders disrespected them on Saturday by not giving the winners any credit.

But alas, none of that was to be found this morning at the rink. When the Thrashers' skate was ending, their assistant coach (and possible head coach next season) Brad "Beast" McCrimmon skated over to our bench and told me how his team better be ready tonight because they have so much respect for Ted Nolan and the Islanders. McCrimmon has been around long enough to understand Atlanta will see a different team than the one at the Coliseum on Saturday.

And that was it, one of the many reasons why I love this league. No garbage, no talk. The Islanders and Thrashers know all that matters is what happens when the puck drops tonight at 7:05.


Looks like Berard and the Fantastic IVth are the scratches tonight.

Ruslan Fedotenko was asked by the press what it was like to be back with Guerin and Comrie - again - and, bless him, Tank tried really, really hard to come up with a good answer.

Ted Nolan is so under the weather, he asked if it was okay for Gerard Gallant to do the post-skate media scrum this morning. Here's hoping when you see Ted on the FSN post-game tonight, an Islanders victory has contributed to bringing some of the color back to his face.

Saw an amazing John Fogarty concert last night in a 2,000-seat palace about ten miles outside of downtown Atlanta. I have fond memories of the (North Fork) Westbury Music Fair, but like a transformed Coliseum, Long Island could use a joint like that.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

It's a marathon...

Just two weeks ago tomorrow, the Islanders beat the Rangers 2-1 at the Garden. It was the Islanders' sixth win in their last eight games and for the season they were 11-6. Calls came in from USA Today and elsewhere, hoping to speak with Garth and Ted and some of the players about how the gritty-gutty Islanders were getting it done. (Because, after all, the experts had picked them to finish around 14th in the conference. That's where they were supposed to be, darn it!).

After that first Garden triumph, the Islanders dropped their next two games: at home to the Canadiens and in Boston. Just like that, the Islanders had lost four of six. Some of the reporters we weren't able to hook up with suddenly were saying maybe they'd catch us down the road.

The Islanders won the back end of the home-and-home with the Bruins, lost to Dallas in overtime at home on Monday, and then the Orange and Blue did something they hadn't even been able to do when Laurie Boschman was a first-liner for the expansion Senators - they beat Ottawa at home. Man, I was so happy last Wednesday night. Everyone in Islanders Country was feeling pretty good and those media requests started piling up again.

Then came the loss Thursday in the Garden and last night's first period flop to Atlanta.

Four days ago, the Islanders were 9-4-1 in their last 13.

Now they enter Monday's game against the Bruins with only two wins in their last seven games.

I'm sure you could see where I was going with this paragraphs ago. (Sorry, just ask my wife or my colleagues: it takes me a while).

In summation:

1. It's a very long season.

2. As Carolina and Tampa Bay proved in their Cup years, the key is how your team comes together for the home stretch.

3. Welcome back, Tamby.

4. It's so much nicer reading Islandermania after Islanders wins than losses.

5. My word to fans of any NHL teams that look like they could use their Butch Goring: it's probably not happening, if at all, until February. For a while, the answers will have to come from within, or within the farm system.

6. I don't understand why my buddies at WFAN aren't too quick to have NHL guests, yet Mad Dog yesterday morning had the football coach at Texas Tech breaking down the Missouri-Oklahoma matchup for 20 minutes.

I know that last one has nothing to do with the rest, but it ticked me off and I had to get it in there.

See you Monday for Kids Night. If you can, please bring something for the Marines' Toys for Tots collection.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Assassination of JFJ

What's going on with John Ferguson Jr. these days in Toronto is disgusting.

Distasteful. Embarrassing.

Oh yeah, it's because hockey means more in Toronto. C'mon folks - yeah, you, Ken Campbell, you too, Mr. Strachan - get over yourselves.

Everyone sitting around analyzing every loss. The countdown to his possible dismissal. The team President saying publicly he may have made a mistake hiring a first-year GM - because it's TORONTO! A current GM gathering the press around to tell them he wasn't interested in the Leafs job. I'm sorry: had the Leafs asked?

Reports of THIS game being a must-win or he'll be fired (oh no, what happens if the Leafs fight hard to tie it late in the third and only lose in a shootout? uh, we'll have to get back to you on that one).

In a departure, I'm not just going to blame the media. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has blood on their hands for this one.

It was just five years ago that John Ferguson Jr. was a highly-respected hockey executive with the St. Louis Blues. He was considered one of the brightest minds in the game and has always been one of the kindest people. Soft spot full disclosure: a lot of people don't know he spent part of his childhood on Long Island when his dad worked for the Rangers.

Now he's 40 and is regularly disrespected, thrown under the bus and over-analyzed to death. I don't know how Ferguson deals with taking it from people with only a fraction of his knowledge, work ethic and dedication.

How he's managing to put on the suit and tie and show up for work every morning determined to get it right for the Leafs and their fans, I have no idea.

Only one thing is for sure. John Ferguson is a better man than all of them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting Defensive

When he did his First Star interview with Deb on Saturday night, Richard Park made an interesting declaration. The subject of the Islanders' defensive system came up - understandably, after split 2-1 games with the Bruins and a run of games where the Islanders have not scored more than two goals. Park seemed to take offense, not at Deb or the question, but over the possibility the Islanders were getting a reputation as a close-to-the-vest, trapping team.

"We are not a defense-only team," Park said, rather adamantly for what is usually a pretty casual post-victory interview on the Coliseum ice. "We are a team that knows how to play good defense."

I don't think Richard was being, uh, defensive. I believe he wanted to set the record straight. Ted Nolan's disdain for a suffocating trap system is well-known and I'm not aware of his new assistants John Chabot and Gerard Gallant even thinking of trying to change Ted's mind.

From my vantage point, the Islanders are doing everything they can to push the play. Their offense has not clicked as well as it did the first few weeks of the season, but I don't think you can say they are sitting back.

A home game on Wednesday against the high-flying Senators (likely with a returning Daniel Alfredsson), followed by Battle Royale IV with the Rangers in the Garden 24 hours later is the latest test.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saturday's crowd...great scoop on Estrada...Boudreau's NYI connection

One thing that never, ever gets old: taking my seat in the press box late first period and seeing the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum completely jam-packed with Islanders-loving fans. From my colleagues on the staff, let me say thank you, thank you, thank you. Let me also tell you that more than a half-dozen players, plus Ted, said something to me after the game in the room about the crowd. Fans: never think for a moment it goes unappreciated.


As thousands upon thousands of column inches are wasted in discussing the Yankees' and Mets' pursuit of Johan Santana, remember this: did ANYONE have the scoop on the Mets' deal to get Johnny Estrada? Did anyone even mention Estrada as a possibility? Nah, didn't think so.

When the deal fell through with the catcher from Colorado with the long name, we had a few days of articles with "sources" saying what the Mets were going to do next. Maybe go back to LoDuca for another year. Or Barrett. Or this guy. Or maybe that guy.

NO ONE had the Mets getting Estrada for Mota. So keep those "sources" coming, guys. And all those wasted, pointless back pages.


New Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is another guy whom it's tough to root against because he has worked so hard to get his first NHL head coaching gig at age 52. But here's another reason: he has a connection to your NYI.

When I started with the Islanders about 47 years ago, one of my "beats" on the publication staff was the franchise's AHL team in Springfield, Mass. Boudreau, then 32 years old, was the veteran scorer on that team. Big-time scorer: 42 goals and 116 points his first season in 1987-88 before being dealt midseason a year later. His teammates in Springfield included many players well-known to Islanders fans:

Bill Berg, Brad Dalgarno, Derek King, Jeff Hackett, Jeff Finley, the dearly departed Duncan MacPherson, Mick Vukota, Ken Leiter, Ari Haanpaa, Richard Kromm, Tom Fitzgerald, Rob DiMaio, plus two games with a rehabilitating future captain named Patrick Flatley.

I doubt Flats or Bruce remember much about those games. Either way, good luck, Coach.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reason to believe

I wonder if there is any correlation between this team's play and the fact that this is hands-down the best group of players I've been associated with in my ten years on the PR side.

It's not even close. For my colleagues and I, there's never been a better team to deal with. (Yes, Garth, you and your boys from 01-02 were princes. But sorry, nothing compared to Guerin's Gang).

I was watching the game last night at the Garden and experienced an unusual sense of calm during the third period. That's when it started to hit me that maybe it's not a coincidence the way these guys are off the ice translates to how they perform on the ice.

I see Richard Park out there and I get the feeling everything's going to be fine, just as I felt on the eve of his recent speech to new U.S. citizens at Stony Brook. I see Brendan Witt and I know enough about his focus and preparation that he's not going to over-react to Sean Avery when his bigger task is being ready for Jagr at the blue line. Some people might be tired of hearing about Billy Guerin's leadership, but tough: Guerin is the best leader this team has had in a generation.

Corey kicks open the locker room door post-game to the media and we know win, lose or overtime loss the guys are going to say the right things. Nobody is better in a tough spot with the media than Mike Sillinger, so is it any surprise Mike wins most of the big faceoffs and important little battles? Bruno Gervais and Chris Campoli are two of the most dedicated players of any age we've had here when it comes to giving their time to community projects. No wonder they have developed so well and so quickly as home-grown players.

Mike Comrie? Didn't know anything about him when he got here. Now we know he's a brilliant center and a complete class act. I asked Ruslan Fedotenko a few weeks ago to help me out with an autograph for a child I know who was going through some tough times. Now every time I'm around the locker room, Ruslan asks if he can do anything else to bring a smile to the kid's face. I see the passion Tank plays with and I feel like I know where it comes from.

As for Rick DiPietro, his rising star in goal mirrors his growth as a man. Rick has always been a dedicated and respectful young man. It's just all coming together for him now, and nobody deserves it more. He's ours, and we'll take him.

Of course, it starts with the coach. Although Ricky socked Avery - kicking off DP's candidacy for People magazine's Most Beautiful list for 2009, perhaps? - seems clear to me Ted Nolan has said all the right things to his team about ignoring Sean. The comments from Witt, Rick, Andy Sutton and the classic line from Radek Martinek in today's coverage illustrate that.

As Garth wisely pointed out in phone interviews this afternoon with Pierre Lebrun of the CP and Kevin Allen of USA Today, it's early. But there's good reason to believe this team will be just fine during the peaks and valleys of the long NHL season. In fact - because of the makeup of this team and the GM and Coach running it - you could make the case that they haven't even come close to peaking yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Roster update, and a Globe writer is all giddy over her teams' success

Turns out Springsteen is playing the Igloo tonight and I just happen to be on this road trip. Unbelievable coincidence!

Here's the roster update:

Bill Guerin was cleared to play this morning by the NYI medical staff and made the trip. With a good morning skate, he should be in the lineup Thursday against the Penguins.

Ben Walter has been returned to Bridgeport, meaning you could see a line of Richard Park centering Simon and Jackman tomorrow. (Or not).

Shawn Bates has been sent to the Sound Tigers on a conditioning stint. The plan, as I understand it, is for Shawn to play a few games before his return to the NHL. He has worked so hard to get back, so here's wishing him well.

Bryan Berard is likely to return to action tomorrow night. Could Ted play seven D again? Hmmm...

While waiting for "PTI" to come on a little while ago, I caught the end of "Around the Horn," which continues to stun with its awfulness. The Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan "won," so she got to rant for the final 30 seconds of the show. Ms. MacMullan used her time to gloat about how great the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots are, even thumbing her nose at Roger Goodell.

This is one of the many things that crack me up about sports reporters. They go to lengths to separate themselves from the teams they cover. When the teams aren't contenders, it's usually an endless run of one-liners. But when the teams are champions, many of them act like they're in the club directory.

Hey Jackie: you are not a part of the Patriots' and Sox championships or the Celtics' revival. Deal with it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

At Disney World, alone

On Monday the job took me to another place I'd never have predicted: the Major League Baseball meetings in Orlando. MLB called a few weeks ago to invite me to be on a panel on blogging. Apparently I've become an expert (that noise you just heard was my guy Corey and Blog Boxer B.D. Gallof falling over themselves laughing). Regardless, the chance to represent the NYI and the 36 hours in Florida were too good to pass up.

I arrived at the Caribbean Beach resort at Disney World late Sunday afternoon. At the front desk was a really nice young lady on her first day on the job. With a wide, Disneyesque smile she told me her fiance (from Enfield, Conn.) was a huge Islanders fan. She also told me it was my lucky day because the Magic Kingdom is open until midnight!!!

I'm at Disney World completely on my own. I know no one there. If you saw me on It's a Small World by myself, wouldn't you wonder?

I passed on the Jungle Cruise and instead headed to Downtown Disney, the stretch of shops and clubs where I figured I wouldn't feel so self-conscious. Wrong. I went into the Magic Shop to maybe get a gift for my three boys and the guy behind the counter says, "Sir, my magic show starts in five minutes. Go get your kids"!

Monday was much better at the meeting at the Yacht and Beach Resort Hotel on the Disney grounds. I was real impressed by the MLB staff and everyone from the teams. At my session, I picked up a few good tidbits.

Scott Reifort, who has a job similar to mine with the Chicago White Sox, has a blog that he often uses to even the score with the media. Picture my poke at Jim Baumbach last week and then imagine me doing that a few times a week. Scott started his blog the year the White Sox won the World Series, but was just as aggressive when the ChiSox struggled badly this season. Scott made the point that it wasn't like the newspapers were going to stop covering his team just because he ripped them.

The other thing Scott does, which I haven't yet, is open the blog up for reader response. He told me he now has a "community" and it's worth all the effort. I've been hesitant to do that because I know it could turn into a fulltime job eliminating pesky posts from Rangers fans (ask Logan). I'm going to look into adding that feature in about a month.

The San Francisco Giants do a nice job of communicating with their season ticketholders. Whenever possible, they try to get their breaking news to their subscribers first. For example, they sent out a letter from management explaining the decision to not bring back Barry Bonds. I believe the NYI have made a lot of strides in this area, but it is definitely worth continuing to explore.

Tomorrow I leave with the Islanders for two big games in Pittsburgh and New Jersey. I spoke with Billy Guerin this afternoon and it sounds like he's going to make the trip. If he gets the OK from the doc Wednesday morning, there's a chance Bill could play on Thursday. Also sounds like Bryan Berard will be back.

Thanks, Islanders fans, for playing a big part in what has been a pretty amazing start to the season on a lot of levels. Let's keep it going.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Vintage home team hockey broadcasting

On my way home from a CVS run tonight, I heard the perfect little illustration of how a home team hockey announcer treats his team compared to the opponent. It just happened to be Dave Maloney on the Rangers radiocast, but I'm not doing this to show up Dave, a good guy and strong analyst. Dave's no different than Kinger or Sherry or the guys in Buffalo and Calgary. That's just the way it is. I found this first period sequence tonight amusing.

Dave on Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong getting a penalty for pulling down the slowish Rangers dman Jason Strudwick: "Oh, that's a bad play by Armstrong. Strudwick's not a guy who's going to beat you with his legs, so if you're Armstrong you have to be crisper on the forecheck. You have to come in with speed, you have to be smart and ready. The coach isn't going to be happy with that penalty by Armstrong." (Good, fair analysis).

Dave just seconds later on Sean Avery, who costs the Rangers their power play soon after it starts when he's called for interference when he gets in the way of Pens dman Sergei Gonchar: "Oh...Sean, Avery's gotta be better than that."

That's harmless, understandable home team broadcasting, but sometimes it gets real stupid out there.

There was a game during the 2000-01 season in St. Louis when the Blues got an early lead and the home announcers decided to take the next two hours to poke fun at the state of the Islanders. One of the guys was Bernie Federko, who you'd think would know better. To the Blues' broadcasters, the Islanders were a joke of a franchise and they were part of one of the elite ones. I made a call to Bernie's executive producer the next day and it was never returned.

The next season the Islanders started off 11-1-1-1 and soon after the Blues had some ownership problems, a few bad seasons and a major disconnect with fans that Dave Checketts, JD and the rest of their staff are doing a nice job today digging out of.

I've never had a problem with some affectionate homerism as long as it doesn't get out of hand. Front-runners? That's as bad as it gets. I'd be real disappointed with King and Mears, Howie and Billy if they ever kicked another team while it was down. I don't think that's something we have to worry about. The class of this organization extends to our broadcast booths.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Baumbach Mountain out of a molehill

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is humor a reporter who's written something blatantly controversial because all it does is make them a hero to their bosses. Such was the case today with Newsday columnist Jim Baumbach, who decided to dump on Al Arbour's victory Saturday night because, one can only assume, he was feeling neglected.

We've worked with Jim before and he has always seemed bright, diligent, professional, usually on his medication. But this piece is so lame, so depressing in its desperate attempt to ignite an emotional response from fans. Even Rangers fans are joining their Islanders brothers-and-sisters-in-hockey and piling on, defending Al's name and coming up with inventive words to describe Jim.

Once the Reader Response meter hit 160, I decided to jump in. Admittedly, not traditional form for a PR person. But then again, neither is this blog. Here's my contribution. You'll see I refrained from calling him a "tool."


Jim: Saturday night's event will never, ever be matched by any team, anywhere. With the exception, of course, of our ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup, from beginning to end the Al Arbour game was the greatest night a professional sports franchise and its fans could have. And as Newsday might say, It Happened on Long Island.

It's too bad the Arbour family, Al's players, our fans and my colleagues had to get smacked with this blatant grab for reader feedback. Red Schoendienst - are you kidding me, Jim?

That said, perhaps something good can come from this. I would imagine your bosses are mighty giddy with all the attention your column is receiving. (160 responses and counting - did you get that many from your Phil Hughes updates from Scranton?)

While your editors will no doubt put you up for an award for your brainstorm - or at least send over a "Way to go, Jimmy!" email - here's hoping they also remember our fans' passion-in-numbers when they are deciding who gets the back page the rest of the season.

Chris Botta
VP, Media Relations

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Pin

This game tonight means so much to so many people for many different reasons. Just about two hours before Al Arbour walks to the Islanders bench one last time, please allow me to explain why it means so much to me.

I've had the incredible fortune to be part of every jersey retirement night here, starting with Potvin and Bossy through Bryan Trottier's worth-the-wait afternoon. For a kid who was raised on Long Island, for a kid who grew up with the Islanders, I don't think I could ever put into words what it's been like to play a small role in the planning of these events.

I was a part of the preparations for Al Arbour Night in January of 1997, but it was the one banner-raising I missed.

My father passed away two days before Al's big night.

I will never, ever forget coming home from the wake that Saturday night, putting on Sportschannel and catching the last few minutes of the game as the Islanders held on to beat Chicago, 3-2. For a little while, it was a wonderful distraction.

I didn't catch the ceremony, of course, but towards the end of the game one of the teams called a timeout and the TV broadcast had a close-up of Islanders head coach Rick Bowness drawing up a play. Rick and his staff were wearing on their lapels the pins the team gave out that night. The pin featured a classic shot of Al in his Islanders coaching jacket, whistle in mouth and the words AL ARBOUR 739.

When I came back to work a few days later, I told Bowness how moved I was when I saw him on the bench wearing the pin. Later that day Rick came over to the office and said he had something for me. He dropped his Al Arbour pin in my hand.

When you hear all this talk about Al Arbour and family, it's not some sort of over-hyped legend. It's real. At my father's funeral at Our Lady of Mercy on Monday, Jan. 27, 1997, in walked Al Arbour. The church, for a brief moment, got real quiet. That was understandable because Al had just been on the back page of Newsday. One of my best buddies - guy from the neighborhood I used to go with to a lot of Islanders games in the '70s and '80s - walked up to me after the mass and said, "I know this day sucks and all, but you have to admit THAT was pretty cool."

Tonight, I get another chance to be part of an event for Al Arbour. And that pin Rick Bowness gave me ten years ago? I'll have it with me all night.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The NHL's Everyman hits a grand

If you have tickets for the game at the old barn on Thursday night, I'd like to ask a personal favor: please do everything possible to be at your seats by 7:03.

That's when a very good man is going to be honored for reaching a major milestone.

Mike Sillinger plays his 1,000th NHL regular season game on Thursday when the Islanders host Tampa Bay. Mike will be joined by his wife Karla and sons Owen, Lukas and Cole for a brief and classy ceremony. There will be presentations by Garth Snow and Chris Dey, representing Islanders management, Billy Guerin on behalf of all of Sillinger's teammates and Jim Gregory for the NHL.

The biggest gift all of the Sillingers could ever receieve, of course, is a standing ovation.

What a career Silli has had. We all know about the many trades he's been a part of, but have you ever really taken a long look at his career stats? Do you realize that when he finishes the current regular season with the Islanders, Mike will have been with the Islanders for more games than any of the other franchises he's been with?

I'll be frank. There have been a few players in this league whose names are attached to the tag "much-travelled" and I can understand why. But Sillinger? Good guy, funny, sincere, selfless. Makes no sense at all.

I spoke with one of those big-time connected Canadian TV broadcasters tonight to make sure there wasn't something horrible about Sillinger I've missed. I was set straight.

"For Sillinger, all the trades have nothing to do with him being a bad guy or anything," my source said. "He's always had a good attitude about moving around - that other teams have simply wanted him - and he's right. The only thing he's been guilty of is being the perfect in-season acquisition: experienced, solid in both ends, brilliant on faceoffs. He can score some goals for you and he's a coach's dream."

Among the many things to love about Sillinger, he comes across like he grew up around the block from you, no matter where you are in North America. He gives it out and takes it with the best of them.

A few weeks ago I was with the team on a road trip. When we arrived at the rink for practice, I let everybody get off the bus before I got up. Sillinger, the last player to depart, walked by and asked me if everything was all right.

"Oh yeah, thanks Mike," I said. "I usually like to have the athletes get off the bus first, so now it's okay for you and me to leave." That got a laugh out of Guerin.

Mike Sillinger, the NHL's Everyman, plays his 1000th NHL game on Thursday. Do your part to give him the kind of night Mike, Karla and the kids deserve.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

So Ricky, what happened?

I figured at some point with this blog I'd clue readers in to what happens with the media in the locker room after a game. What better game to use as an illustration than last night's?

NHL rules dictate that your dressing room must be opened to the media within five minutes of the end of the game. Before the lockout the NHL rule was ten minutes. Now it's five. In the business it's called a "cooling period," as in the players have five minutes to cool off before the inquisition. They sometimes have a little more time because if the game is close, the writers take a little longer to compose their stories before making the pilgrimmage from the Coliseum press box to the locker room hallway.

Alas, that wasn't a problem last night.

Don't for a second think I'm trying to make this sound like brain surgery. It's not even Algebra, another thing I was never very good at. But here's how we make our players available to the media.

NHL rules say that all players must be accessible to the press post-game, but let's face it: on most games the reporters really want to hear from just 3-5 players plus the head coach. Rules also dictate that reporters have access anywhere in the locker room facility except for the trainer's room and the bathroom/shower area. Our preference is whenever possible to keep the interviews in the main area and not where the players have their post-game workouts. With all the treadmills, arcs and bikes and all the weights being thrown around, it can be dangerous in there.

So with about five minutes left in the game, Corey Witt jots the numbers of the players we expect will be requested by the media on the locker room board. The message my staff is sending is for those chosen players to do their best to stick around the main dressing room so can meet our media requirements. I'm happy to say we have a very cooperative group this season. Last night proves it.

On Saturday reporters got Rick DiPietro five minutes after the final horn sounded. (As I tell the players in my media talks, there's no business like it where five minutes after a tough day at the office, a dozen people with microphones and notebooks are asking you about it). Cynics can say it comes with the territory, but I still think the professionalism should be respected.

Rick answered each of the half-dozen questions with as much grace as you could probably expect. The goalie was followed by Mike Sillinger, whom the media has come to rely on as a good man for perspective in situations like this. Then came Bill Guerin, who knows facing the music is a big part of being the captain.

The press corps last night seemed satisfied with the trio of players, so Corey went to get Ted Nolan and the coach was in his post-game press conference room two minutes after Guerin. So last night if you were John Jeansonne, filling in for Greg Logan at Newsday, you had all the quotes you needed from three Islanders players and the head coach within 20 minutes of the end of the game.

I'm not sure how that compares to other leagues. Okay, actually I do, but there's no point going there. This is how it works in the NHL, and I thought you should know.

Here's hoping we're done in 20 minutes on Thursday, but this time it's after a win.

Friday, October 26, 2007

P.A.R.K. in the USA

One of the great things about this job is you never know where it will take you.

This morning I was with Richard Park at SUNY-Stony Brook. Richard was given the honor of being the keynote speaker when more than 100 people took the oath to become citizens of the United States of America.

Richard has quite a story to tell: Born in Seoul, South Korea, moved to the hockey hotbed known as California with his family when he was 3, excelled enough at the game that at age 13 he moved with his sister (then 19) to the suburbs of Toronto to chase his dream of playing in the NHL. He'll play his 500th game this season.

And that's just the short version.

Richard took on the assignment of speaking at this morning's Citizenship Celebration with the zeal he displays every time he steps on the ice. He made it look easy, despite it being the first time he's ever come close to giving a talk of this magnitude. Know this: he wrote the entire speech on his own and hit the podium without even a single sheet of paper. Think that's easy for a professional athlete with a game the next day?

The line most will take from Richard's address was how lucky he and his wife feel to be able to raise a family in America. When it was over, I think Richard was surprised by how many of the new citizens wanted to take their photo with him. He made that kind of impact.

At 10:30 this morning, a suit-and-tie clad Richard Park gave an inspired talk and presented certificates to 100 new citizens of the United States. At 12:15 pm he had on his Reebok Islanders practice jersey and hit the ice for practice at Nassau Coliseum, continuing the pursuit of his American dream.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who's the bully now?

A feature by Michael Farber in Sports Illustrated on Chris Simon hits newstands and your mailboxes tomorrow. I received an advance look at it tonight. There's some good stuff in it, but sadly too many times when Farber writes like those guys who skate around and hit everybody from behind.

Many people - "journalists," the people at SI - will argue it's a fair piece. But I would hope even they would understand it's nearly impossible to see it that way when a friend, somebody on your own team, is under attack. Especially when that person did everything he could to apologize for his mistake and - seven months later - treated a reporter with a level of professionalism I doubt he'll feel has been returned.

I'd like it to be on the record that, based on my recommendation, Simon and the Islanders cooperated fully with Sports Illustrated for the article. My approach, for better and for worse, has almost always been to cooperate because it's your best chance to get a fair shake. When you're dealing with a major publication with the rep of SI, I believe strongly that's the way to go. I have no doubt this philosophy will be questioned over the next few days, and deservedly so.

Define cooperation? Okay.

*A one-hour shoot at Iceworks with Chris by an artsy Manhattan photographer who dazzled us with his work on Neil Young and Al Green (I bet those stories were puff pieces!).

*75 minutes of Simon with Farber soon after the team arrived in Buffalo for the season opener.

*Ted Nolan for 60 minutes with the reporter in Buffalo right after he spoke with Simon.

*Follow-up conversations after Simon's season debut a week later in Philadelphia.

Not a tremendous amount of time, no doubt, but from the beginning we made it clear Chris and the Islanders were here to candidly answer anything Michael wanted to throw at us.

(BTW, I continue to not comprehend the question of why the Islanders dressed Simon for the pre-season game against the Rangers. Among the many reasons why I think it's an idiotic issue, his inclusion in the lineup followed league rules. If it really bothers anyone so much, isn't it a question for the NHL?)

Anyway, our cooperation was textbook, the kind all PR gurus (and reporters!) will always say you should give. That's likely going to be a tougher sell for me for a while.

In the time I spent with Michael, as connected as any writer in the game, I asked him - almost challenged him - to track down one person affiliated with the NHL who doesn't have a high level of respect for Simon. The article, to be fair, has at least a half-dozen players, including some foes, standing up for him. No one has anything bad to say. One guy even has the nerve to say Simon was the best teammate he's ever had.

For all the cheap shots in the story, that's all Chris Simon and his family should take away from it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All for the best

To the best of my knowledge, any pursuit of Brent Sutter for a role in the Islanders organization did not go very far and ended quickly. Brent pretty much said the same thing to reporters this weekend.

It goes back to the day in January, 2006 when Steve Stirling was let go as coach and Mike Milbury announced he was stepping down as GM until a successor was named. We had a press conference that morning with Charles Wang taking the leading role. In a major coincidence, the Islanders had a game that night with Darryl Sutter's Calgary Flames, whose morning skate at the Coliseum ended around the same time as our press conference.

A few enterprising NY reporters had the idea to ask Darryl, one of Brent's older brothers, what were the chances of Brent being interested in coming back to Long Island. Darryl, boasting the same charm as a few of his siblings, replied, "I'd have to say none."

The Calgary GM/coach went on to say Brent's loyalties were only to Bill Torrey and Al Arbour (comments Brent reiterated in a New Jersey newspaper story on Saturday). I have as much respect for Brent as any player who's ever worn an Islanders uniform. I appreciate how much Bill and Al mean to him. My only wish for Brent is should he be asked again about his ties to Long Island, he might want to consider mentioning the ten of thousands of fans that supported him for the decade he wore the crest.

(Hey, it's no biggie. He's not the only person in our game who is so focused they forget the people spending their hard-earned money and make the National Hockey League, you know, possible).

Despite whatever may or may not have happened, the cool thing is everyone is where they should be. Brent and Lou Lamoriello appear to be simpatico and Ted Nolan has been a godsend for this franchise.

Last night's game was pretty great. Even for a guy who keeps things close to the vest like Brent Sutter, you'd have to believe a few memories flashed by when the Islanders and Devils were in overtime and every fan was out of their seat.

A FINAL WORD ON TORRE: Yankees brass wanted Joe Torre out, in part, because it drove them crazy how much credit the manager got. Now, by not fielding the ball cleanly, they've made him the biggest icon in New York since Rudy Giuliani.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stanny being Stanny

My friend Stan Fischler was at his Maven-ly best this evening.

Stan was on the pre-game show with Al Trautwig tonight going through the tripleheader of Islanders, Rangers and Devils games. The subject of Bill Guerin going goal-less for the first six games - oh no!!!! - came up. There were so many ways Stan could have gone.

Since I know he follows the Islanders very closely and even - dare I say it - loves the franchise - Stan could have pointed out that Guerin has played well considering a new team and new linemates. He could have mentioned how Guerin has a bunch of points and seemed only a good bounce away from getting on track in the goal scoring department. The Maven could have cited all the deserving praise Guerin has received for his impressive leadership since the day camp opened.

But no, this is Stan. So here's what he says, almost as a throw-away:

"Maybe the Islanders shouldn't have been in such a rush to name him the captain."

Vintage Stan Fischler.

Is there a fan who watched the pre-game show who suddenly didn't have a doubt Captain Bill was going to get his first goal tonight?

Of course, nobody could have predicted Guerin would get a hat trick.

Well, except Stan.

We kid because we love. We could have gone the obvious route and written a sonnet to Stan in honor of his winning the Lester Patrick Award this year for his service to U.S. hockey.

But that wouldn't have been very Fischleresque. Like the Maven, we dared to go in another direction.

Congratulations, Stan. Please, never change.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Third Star

He's been with the NYI over a year now and I still don't know Brendan Witt very well. He's one of those old-time hockey players whose communication with team staffers is primarily a look of bewilderment. It's the look that says, "You REALLY do this for a living"?

This doesn't stop me from thinking he's an unbelieveable hockey player.

Witt has been named Third Star in two of the Islanders' six games so far. Both were losses: one for his work against Ovechkin on Kids Opening Day, the other in Philly on Saturday night. Is there any higher praise? Witt is a stay-at-home defenseman who does all of the dirty work and gets hardly any points, yet someone up there in the press box thought enough of him to call him out for a bow. That's saying something.

No one plays harder. When the Islanders are locked in a battle like they were against the Caps or in their 2-1 win over the Rangers 48 hours later, Witt gives more of himself than any player I have ever seen. He throws his body in front of opponents and pucks with such abandon, I can only assume he must like the pain. How else to explain it?

Of course, there is another side to Brendan. Many of you read last year's holiday article about how he and his wife Salima host children affected by cancer at every home game. The Witts do this completely on their own, which makes the gesture even lovelier.

And by all accounts, he's the ultimate team player. When I mentioned to Brendan last week that a major national magazine writer needed to speak to him about his friend Chris Simon, Witt told me it was an interview he didn't need any prep for. He was so gracious, so articulate, so effusive in his praise of Simon - his longtime teammate in Washington and now Long Island - chances are his quotes will never be used.

But I know what he said. And so does Chris Simon. For the latter, that's more than enough.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My game-day Corey impersonation

Usually Corey Witt keeps the fans up-to-date from the road on his NYI Media Blog, but I'm solo on this trip so here are a few notes.

Looks like Marc-Andre Bergeron will sit out tonight's game against the Flyers, along with AJ. What that means for the D pairings, I couldn't tell you. (I don't mean to come off like I know and am forbidden to tell you - I really don't know).

The man walking around the last 24 hours with an even bigger smile than usual is Darryl Bootland, who's back in the lineup tonight. When Bootland made the team out of camp with Chris Simon suspended the first five games, Bootland had a habit of telling Simon "I love you" whenever he walked by. Darryl told me: "Every day in the Show is a good day." Now the man they call Boots has a chance to carve his own niche here even with Simon back.

I guess the other on-ice storyline for tonight is Sean Bergenheim being moved up to play with Satan and Vasicek. Regardless of how the new line performs tonight, to me it's just as big a story that Ted Nolan has recognized Bergenheim's commitment and grit.

It's the Flyers' home opener, so they'll be jacked up. Great test for the guys from Long Island. Enjoy the game.

Simon meets Logan at the Spectrum

It was one of those little media moments that I live for in this job.

Greg Logan of Newsday got up early this morning to drive from Toronto to Buffalo, where he jumped on a commercial flight to JFK. Then he drove to 115 miles to the old Spectrum in time for Islanders practice, hoping he'd get five minutes with Chris Simon before the returning veteran disappeared for the day. For his efforts - let's face it, you could say it's his job, but that's a lot of hassle just to have one conversation - Logan got a lot more than that.

Simon didn't just agree to do an interview, which is sort of a player obligation anyway. Simon went out of his way to make Logan feel comfortable, inviting him to take a seat in the stall next to him. Then, because he has respected Logan's work ethic and fair reporting over the last year, Simon told the veteran Newsday scribe more than he's ever told anyone about the incident with Ryan Hollweg and his approach in what sometimes can be a very violent sport.

You can read the end result in Saturday's Newsday or on

I enjoyed witnessing the athlete-to-reporter respect today. While there's been a lot of excitement about blogging lately, days like this are a reminder that sometimes there's nothing better than a determined and professional beat writer for a major daily newspaper getting a story no one else got.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The day Al Arbour motivated the guy from "Shawshank"

With Al Arbour's one-night return to the Islanders bench just a few weeks away, the Radar stories were plentiful at today's morning skate in Toronto.

My favorite had to do with a celebrity hockey game Al was asked to coach in Los Angeles a few years ago. About midway through the game, Al's team was trailing and he started double-shifting one of his lines. One of his benched players, actor, director and Rangers fan Tim Robbins, finally became exasperated and challenged The Coach.

"Hey, when am I gonna get back out there,"? asked the star of "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Bull Durham." "What's going on here"?

Arbour fired back: "Two things - WE'RE losing and YOU stink"!

After sitting him out a little longer, Arbour eventually sent out Robbins, who proceeded to play the game of his life.

So if you think Al's just showing up for a photo op on Nov. 3, think again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The decks are cleared, but is space in the newspapers?

Spent part of tonight trying to get the word out that tickets are still available for the Islanders-Rangers game at the Coliseum on Wednesday. That may come as a surprise to some of you, especially with the Islanders starting well and Drury and Gomez coming to the Coliseum as Rangers, but there are factors. Keep in mind Wednesday could have been Game 5 of Yankees - Indians. My hunch is a lot of fans were waiting to see if they'd be better off at home with the remote.

Michael Coleman at News 12 was kind enough to drop in a line tonight about seats being available; so was Greg Logan at the eleventh hour. I would expect most, if not all, of the remaining seats to be sold tomorrow. The team has also added a student discount for the game, so it's a great chance for kids to see an Islanders-Rangers game at a good price.

Just three weeks ago, what were the chances the Islanders would have had their home opener not conflict with a Yankees or Mets playoff game? Same for Wednesday. Who would have thought it? The Islanders and Rangers have the local game schedule to themselves tomorrow.

A lot of people tell me it's fantastic for the Islanders that the Yanks and Mets are out because my team should be able to get more press. I hope so - it's the silver lining for my friends and I to have to live with the pain of another Bronx Bombers playoff defeat - but I'm not so sure. I called a reporter this afternoon and guess where he was?

On George Steinbrenner Watch on the streets of Manhattan.

At least for a while, the Yankees will be a big story as the fates of Arod, Torre, Mariano and others are determined. That said, as the reporter pointed out, the editors no longer have to send 8 reporters each to the Bronx or Shea, so that could only help the NYI.

The Islanders are looking for a third sellout in a row Wednesday against the Rangers. There was a report on Monday's game about empty sections at the Coliseum that was categorically false and altogether unfortunate. There was one section (by the Zamboni corner) that went mostly lonely because a group was unable to attend. Other than that, some scattered empty seats are what you would expect for a Monday matinee when the stock market was open.

Maybe it's a bit too hopeful for these times, but I like what a friend said to me tonight: "It's too bad he didn't use that sentence to promote that the Islanders Inspire program provided tickets and bus transportation to 1,200 kids."

That's my job. I'll keep trying.

Fire Torre at your own risk

A quick note that's partially about the Yankees but just as much about media relations in New York. If the Yankees fire Joe Torre, they'd better replace him with someone who's as much a PR director as a baseball manager.

That was former GM Bob Watson's genius 12 years ago. While everyone else was saying "Joe Loser," Watson identified that he needed someone who could handle the press (and George Steinbrenner) as well as he could write out a batting order. When he wasn't managing bad baseball teams, Torre was a very poised broadcaster. He knew the game, but better still he knew how to talk it.

That's why he was a perfect fit for the Yankees. That job, more than any coaching job in New York, is about representing the team to the fans via the media. Torre is a genius at this. I've written it before: his weekly stints with "Mike & the Mad Dog" are a master's class at handling interviews. I prescribe them to Ted Nolan a couple of times a year.

Should the Yankees feel the need to replace Torre, they'd better learn from Watson's wisdom. A lot of fans and commentators - including Yankees TV play-by-play man Michael Kay, who you'd think would understand this - seem to believe they'll be better off without him. I agree that when it comes to strategy, Torre is average at best. I also understand Torre can't do this forever.

But the first time things get rocky and the new manager says the wrong thing in the post-game presser and all heck breaks loose, they'll realize what they had in Joe Torre.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

About that post-game salute

Back in June, our new Senior VP Chris Dey wasn't in the job for 24 hours when he got the ball rolling on a post-victory salute from the players to the fans. Garth and Ted quickly bought in and it made its debut last night.

The soldout crowd seemed to love it, if the roar as the Islanders raised their sticks in unison on the blue line is fair evidence. But I'm aware of a handful of critics on the fan message boards this morning, the biggest critique being the salute mimics what the Rangers have done the last two seasons. Let's clear the air on that, shall we?

The Rangers had a lot of good fan-related initiatives post-work stoppage, the salute included. Full marks to them. As a competitor off the ice, I hate when someone gets there before us.

But let's be clear: the New York Rangers did not invent the stick-raise. I guess the Islanders could have gone out of their way to do a variation - bang sticks on the ice, something like that - but this seemed the most effective, the most powerful.

And besides, in recent years the Islanders have been the innovators behind Islanders TV, the Blog Box, Rexcorp Islanders Inspire (close to 2,000 underprivileged children coming to Kids' Opening Day tomorrow as a result), NYI365, the Islanders Business Club, Loudville, inviting all of your season subscribers to a Mets game or Eisenhower Park to hang with the players. Oh yeah, and the Ice Girls. If we got beat on the post-game salute, so be it.

What's important is we're doing it because the fans deserve to be acknowledged. Seems it would be pretty stubborn and foolish to not do something because another team, even our rivals, also did it.

The salute is a work-in-progress. I spoke to Bill Guerin this morning and he was really happy with the fan response. We have encouraged the players to make it their own. If they have a variation they would like to try, we'll implement it.

(Oh yeah, one shot we took on the boards was from a passionate fan who said he saw me and the staff directing the players where to go - as if it wasn't genuine. Please understand that after a player gives his all for 60 minutes and is completely drained when the buzzer sounds, it's possible he could forget where to line up. After another win or two, we won't need traffic cops. And BTW, I wasn't anywhere near the ice. That was probably Tim Beach, and I'm insulted we were confused for one another).

In the end, what matters most is what Guerin said this morning: "That crowd was nuts last night, didn't you think"?

Friday, October 5, 2007

It's OK to have a man-crush on Marti

Radek Martinek must have known when we travelled to Buffalo yesterday that he was on the verge of signing a new deal that would guarantee NHL dough and his place on the Island for the next four years. But you would never have known it. Same thing when I saw him in the lobby on my way out to dinner last night. "Everything good, Marti"? "Yes, Chris. Thanks. Enjoy your night." Believe me, folks, if this happened to me, you wouldn't be able to wipe the dopey grin off my face.

I walk up to Radek after today's morning skate to offer my congratulations. As always, he's putting in extra time with the strength coach. Make no mistake, he was happy, perhaps even moreso relieved. "It's nice to get it done and know I'll be here for a while. I love this team and I love the Island."

Garth didn't tell me what the contract was for - we don't release that, though it's never hard for media and fans to find - so just to make conversation, I said something like, "I'm really happy you got taken care of, Marti. You deserve it." Martinek - his English a bit better each season - says, "Well, to be honest with you, I was already okay"!

Radek Martinek is the NHL's all-time most low-maintenance player. He's a terrific dman, the Island's own little secret, and he just shows up and plays his heart out. Not just games, mind you, but every day at practice, too. Ted Nolan had no idea a year ago who Martinek was. Now Radek is one of his favorites, for good reason.

I was thinking of suggesting to Garth late last night that we hold off on announcing Radek's new deal until the last week of June, 2008. If we kept it quiet until the week before unrestricted free agency next summer, everyone would have been calling for the Islanders to not even think of losing arguably their most reliable defenseman. Then we could have announced his signing at the 11th hour and it would be a time to rejoice. Logan could have gotten 600 words out of it in Newsday. Maybe this underrated defenseman would have finally received the kind of attention he is worthy of.

But when you think about it, a stunt like that would have been so un-Radek-like. When you think about it, today's announcement is perfect: happy but quiet, under the radar, not taking much attention from the team on a big night.

Nicely done, GM. Bravo, Radek.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ted would never pull an OK State, I hope

On the eve of the Islanders leaving for Buffalo, a few random notes and observations:

  • Chris Simon spent an hour before practice Wednesday morning taking part in a photo shoot with a major New York photographer for a major weekly magazine. Si and I spoke before the shoot about how the photog must have been given the assignment of making him look tough. Si did his best to sabotage those plans by grinning wider than Bruno Gervais for the first ten minutes of the shoot. I was laughing so hard, I had to leave the area. They also took some real nice shots of Si with his mentor, Ted Nolan. I hope they use those. They came out fantastic.

  • Fans can expect a reminder website story and Islanders Insider in the next day or so for Loudville, the team's new student discount program. For just 10 bills, you get into the game and all you have to do is try to be the loudest fans in the barn. From what I understand, the team has set aside Loudville tickets for Opening Night on Saturday even though the game will sell out. Tix go on sale at 6:00 pm, but students should get there early. $10 seats will also be available for the Kids Opening Day on Monday against Washington.

  • Everyone has their take on the Oklahoma State football coach going wacko on the reporter at a press conference ten days ago, so here's one from a team PR guy. At the beginning of each season, I present a 3-page document to our head coach of suggested media dos and don'ts. Near the top of my list of don'ts is calling out a reporter for a story you don't like in front of a group. My advice is to do it one-on-one. Now, of course, this is often met with a reaction from coaches and players of, "The writer embarrassed me in front of thousands of people in his paper," and I understand that. Still, I don't believe that is the way to go. And I would submit that if the OK State coach or any coach is so desperate to fire up his team that he has to put on a freak show at a press conference, he's looking the wrong way.

  • Tonight the Islanders had a staff-team event in Bayville to kick off the season. The families of every player and staffer were there. The setting was gorgeous. The game ops crew debuted a video by my colleague Suzi Schopp and the staff at Islanders TV that was inspiring, to say the least. The players all had fun introducing each other. And to end the night, there was a fireworks show. As Ted Nolan told the crowd of more than 200: "I've been around the game a long time, and no one puts together an event where we can all be a family like Charles does." Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and all the new guys no doubt agree.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Talk to ya tomorrow

There's fantasy hockey, and then there's the real-life version going on in the offices of Garth Snow and Ted Nolan today and tomorrow.

It's time for the Islanders to get down to 20-23 players. Remember how you felt when your junior high coach posted the names of the players making your school team after you gave your all in tryouts? Not a laughing matter, right? Neither is this.

More than any season I can remember in the last decade, the hockey staff has major decisions to make on who's getting on the plane to Buffalo on Thursday and who isn't. There are at least 10 defensemen worthy of consideration for six, maybe seven, maybe eight jobs. At forward, the competition was stiffer than perhaps even Ted thought it was going to be. Throw in Chris Simon out for five more games and Shawn Bates not ready for action, and it gets even more complicated.

Of course, everyone will tell you this is a good problem to have, but that doesn't make it any easier when Garth and his staff have to make decisions that will affect the careers and lives of so many men.

The final roster will likely be announced around mid-day Tuesday. You may see some guesswork in the media and in blogville tonight, but that's all it will be.

Tomorrow is really no different than a day when you make a trade. You want to do it the right way. So as much as one might want to get a story out, information will not be made public until it is certain the information has been disseminated to the players first.

When it is, Jason Lockhart from our website team will hopefully remember to bring his laptop to practice and post the information first. I'm sure Logan will be itching to fire up his blog. And, this being 2007 and all, there's sure to be at least one fan who'll text message what he sees in Syosset tomorrow and get it up on a message board. That's the fun part.

The serious stuff is still going on.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


The predictions are out and, so far, the only major journalist boldly coming out and saying the Islanders will make the playoffs is...ta dah...Greg Logan, the only reporter actually on the team 24/7. A whole bunch of them have predicted the Islanders will be in the mix for the last two spots, but Logan is the only one going out on a limb.

The rest can say what they want. We saw what happened last year and we know where Carolina was picked the year they won the Cup. That's okay.

But what really drives me nuts are the reporters who are either not doing their homework or simply being lazy. Of all the prediction columns I've read this week, one word continued to pop up and make me shake my head.


As in, "the Islanders were raided in the free agent market."

Come on.

How could the Islanders have been raided when there was only one player (Ryan Smyth) they continued to negotiate with before and after midnight, July 1? Did I miss something? Were there reports of the Islanders sweating out 11th-hour negotiations with Jason Blake or Tom Poti or Viktor Kozlov or anyone else?

The Islanders were not raided. They just said goodbye to those guys, wished them well and turned their focus to other players. The Sabres, THEY were raided. (Nevertheless, Buffalo is still going to contend in the East. They are that deep).

Part of the perception problem is my fault. If I could do the days leading up to July 1 over again, I would have recommended that Garth publicly state he was still negotiating with Ryan's agent but the team was prepared to part ways with Blakey, Vik and the rest. I don't know if Garth would have agreed with the advice, but I should have pushed for it. Even after all these years, still learning on the job.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Thanks to Neulion, Vasicek's family can watch him play tonight

I'm not even going to try and come off as some tech-savvy guy who is ahead of the curve when it comes to innovations. My 9-year old son was the one who turned me on to the iPod in January, and now I don't know how I lived life without it. When I decided I'd try to do my own blog, I had to ask my colleague Corey Witt and the amazing Islander fan and NYIslanders Country message board mod Nick D to get me started. And even with their help, as you can see I'm clueless. Even that old fart Neil Best in Newsday knows how to post photos and link stories.

But despite it all, I'm in awe at the impact my friends and colleagues at Neulion have made with internet television. Neulion is run by Nancy Li, their offices are across the street from the main NYI exec offices in Plainview and we're proud to all be part of the same extended Islanders family.

Nancy and her team brought Islanders TV into our lives last season and now, just one year later, it is the talk of the industry. By the end of last season the Rangers were on board and Rangers On Demand (or ROD, as I call it) was a huge success for them. A few weeks ago it was announced that every team in the NHL was going to use Neulion's technology.

And, believe me, Neulion's sportsworld takeover does not end there. Not a day goes by when some executive with a sports league or team isn't inquiring about how they can get their version of Islanders TV. Josh Bernstein, the Emmy-winning former producer at ESPN who runs the production side, is a very busy and popular man these days.

Tonight's breakthrough is just the latest. If you haven't heard, the MSG Network broadcast of tonight's Islanders-Rangers tilt - I mean, hockey game - will be available around the world through the NHL Center Ice Online package. It's a free trial and the key is that there are no blackout restrictions. It will be a Rangers broadcast with Rangers broadcasters (although I believe Joe Micheletti still secretly adores us). But Corey will be on hand at the Garden trying to get a little Islanders flavor into producer Joe Whelan's show.

Projects like this do not get done without a lot of cooperation from a lot of people. But what everyone really needs to understand is that none of this happens without the brilliance and tenacity of the people at Neulion and Islanders TV. They are pioneers, and they should be very proud.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maybe they called 1.800.882.ISLES

Got a lot of calls today from the press asking for an official statement from the Islanders about whether the league is going to discipline the team or anyone on it for last night's, um, events.

My answer to everyone was, "What for"?

I know Chris Simon received a match penalty. Still trying to figure out what for, but whatever. He didn't do anything suspendable. Last I checked fighting was still allowed in the League de National Hockey.

Even goalies can do it. That was something. Within five minutes of DiPietro-Montoya, I must have gotten a dozen text messages from friends with some profane version of, "I knew I should have hit you up for tickets."

Last night was what it was - a preseason game between two REAL rivals, not those fake ones some folks around the game want you to believe really exist. The game included plenty of players with history with one another. The game also had players trying to make their teams.

What did you expect?

Now Chris Simon is Exhibit A for outsiders to whine about suspended players being allowed to play in preseason games. If they haven't already, you can count on Darren Dreger or Bob McKenzie or Nick Kypreos to have an exclusive soon that says the managers plan to discuss the issue at the next GMs meetings.

And should the rule be passed, it will forever be referred to as "the Chris Simon rule."

I don't have an opinion on whether suspended players should be allowed to play in preseason games. But don't blame Chris Simon.

(Again - and I really have to stop this - how can you not respect Tom Renney? He was pushed last night post-game to take a cheap shot at Simon and, once again, he didn't take the easy way out. He told reporters, "I thought Chris Simon was out there to play hockey tonight. I thought his first intention was to play a strong game of hockey and get himself ready for the season." I really hope Coach Renney gives me a reason to not like him at SOME point this season).

Anyway, like I said, my unofficial response to media inquiries today was, "What for"?

Officially, as of 8:30 tonight, the Islanders had not heard from the league.

As for the Rangers...

Just kidding.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Hey Ted, how about those Rangers"?

Flipping around the dial on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I came across an interview exchange that was so familiar to us in Islanders Country.

Sideline reporter Alex Flanagan of NBC had a quick hit with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio just before the Spartans' kickoff yesterday in South Bend. These quick hits - like you see Deb Kaufman do with our assistant coaches between-periods - usually allow for just one question and maybe a followup. So of all the things Ms. Flanagan could have asked the Michigan State coach about his 3-0 team, she asked the following:

"Coach, what do you think Notre Dame's mindset is going into this game"?

This is exactly the sort of silliness Islanders coaches and players are faced with every time we play the Rangers.

Dantonio could not believe the question and did a poor job of hiding his digust. He shook his head, took a deep breath and said, "I don't care what their mindset is. I only care about the Spartans."

Mike Milbury was the Islanders coach for about two minutes when he got his welcome from the Rangers, I mean, New York media. You may remember it. His answer was "__________ the Rangers, _________ the Devils." If you ever wondered why Mike would have that reaction, that's because the second question he was asked at his introductory press conference was not "What do the Islanders need to get better," "Who's your starting goalie" or even "How excited are you that Alexander Semak and Niklas Andersson are on your first line"?

No, the second question asked to Milbury was, "How do you feel about going up against the Rangers"?

I mean, could that one have waited until, like, the eighth question?

Ah, what are you gonna do? That's life in New York. I certainly don't mean to paint everyone with a broad brush. And it's not nearly as bad as it used to be. Some of our most supportive members of the New York media are probably those you'd least expect.

I do get a chuckle, however, when there's this talk of the Islanders-Rangers games meaning more to one team than the other. Another reason why it's impossible to not respect Tom Renney: last season the Rangers were still in their playoff slump and the Islanders had the better part of the first four matchups with the Blueshirts. A reporter threw out the theory that the games meant more to the Islanders. Renney responded, "Well, it's looked that way and it's time we changed our approach." And they did.

Can't believe the Coliseum is hosting a hockey game tomorrow night. History shows the Islanders will play a good portion of their NHL lineup since it's the team's only home game. Two days ago I would have predicted the Rangers would have sat a lot of regulars, but since they struggled to find chemistry on their top lines in their 5-0 home loss to the Flyers on Saturday, maybe we'll see Drury and Gomez. Either way, should be a blast.

There's also a good chance the Islanders will be down to around 30 players by puck-drop.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The old barn didn't stop Guerin, Comrie, Sutton, Fedo...

Hopefully you read the article in Newsday on Wednesday where Mike Sillinger gave his take on Smyth, Yashin and the Islanders' offseason. I want to clear up one issue for fans that was discussed in that piece.

When you hear talk about the Islanders' "facility" possibly hindering the team in its pursuit of certain top free agents, make no mistake: this is not about the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike when the placed is packed and raucous on a Saturday. This is not about the fans or the atmosphere in the Coliseum.

When Sillinger admitted to Greg Logan in the article that Billy Guerin and Mike Comrie asked him about the "facilities," when Garth acknowledged a theory by Mark Herrmann of Newsday in early July about the arena being a hurdle, they were not talking about the support or the passion of the fans.

They are simply referring to what you don't see when the Islanders exit the ice and go off-camera at the Coliseum.

Since buying the team, Charles Wang has invested a lot of resources into making the Islanders' locker room and training facility as good as it can be. It's a classy joint, with all the equipment anyone would need for a good workout, nice decor with photos of Islanders past and present and plenty of TVs to watch the out-of-town action. The weight room stereo system - do they still call them stereo systems? - is so good and cranks to so many decibels it drowns out Deb Kaufman's questions three doors down.

But I guess the key phrase is "as good as it can be." Until the Lighthouse Project is finalized - and it will be - the team is limited by its space in the built-for-1972 Coliseum. That's just reality. The cozy confines of the Islanders' locker room bring advantages; for one, it's a great place for Ted to coach. The players are right on top of him so he has everyone's attention.

I've seen many of the home team facilities in these new arenas and I figure the coach must wear a microphone to be heard in the cavernous locker room.

But when Garth conceded to Herrmann that the arena wasn't a selling point in its current state, he was simply being honest. If he was recruiting a top free agent and a state-of-the-art rink was actually a priority to the player (which would be pathetic, if you ask me), Garth probably wouldn't volunteer to host a tour. Or he'd blindfold the guy and drive him to Philly.

Now, should the Islanders host, let's say, a Game 5 in the second round of this season's playoffs...
...and, let's say, a prospective top free agent's team was out of contention...

...and, let's say, Garth wanted to risk the gajillion dollar NHL fine by tampering with said free agent...

Well, I couldn't think of a better way to sell someone on being an Islander than getting him a seat right in the middle of 16,000 crazy fans at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

So should the issue of the Islanders' facility ever come up again, I beg of you:

Do not take it personally.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Every picture tells a story

After last night's game in North Bay, the assembled media wanted to speak with Chris Simon about how he felt playing a game in Northern Ontario, closer for an NHL game than he's ever been to his home in Wawa. I went to Chris and explained why they wanted him, that it wasn't to rehash last season's incident with Hollweg. Si was happy to do it, then I mentioned there was a good chance we might walk by Gary Bettman on the way to the press area.

So we make the walk and practically run right into the commish. The hallway got a little quieter as everyone noticed Simon was about to greet (or not!) the man who presides over the league that gave him a landmark suspension. What people don't understand, however, is this is Chris Simon.

The commissioner very classily put his left arm on Simon's shoulder, shook his hand and asked how the Islander's offseason was. Chris was extremely pleasant, smiling, returning the warm exchange. Bettman and Simon continued to talk for a while and then the cameras started going off from everywhere.

I'm standing there thinking, This is fantastic. Nice turn of the page. Two professionals, two men showing there are no hard feelings. What a great image. I love this game.

I get the paper at the North Bay airport this morning and there's this huge picture on the front page of the local paper capturing the moment. Only problem is, the frame the editors picked is of Chris looking grim and Gary pointing at him. The photo caption reads, "NHL commissioner Gary Bettman makes his point with suspended Islanders forward Chris Simon after last night's game."

Oh well. You'll have to take my word for it.

One final nugget from Hockeyville. A young colleague of mine, completely single, decides he's met the latest life-partner of his dreams, a young woman from North Bay, Ontario. He asks her if she would like to join him and his Islander friends for dinner. She replies with a rejection that is one for the books: "Sorry, but I'm just not feeling very social tonight."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Flats says hi

Surreal scene here in North Bay, Ontario for the Kraft "Hockeyville" game against the Thrashers.

The arena is about the size of one of those New York City gyms where MSG televises high school hoops. A few thousand people filling not just every seat but literally every corner of the building. Among those in the house are Gary Bettman (standing 5 feet behind me, entertaining the press), Patrick Flatley (still bragging about the "Heals and Flats Show") and Jiggs McDonald (a little nervous again, now that Howie's Mets got swept again by the Phillies).

It's a privilege to be here. I'm standing on a perch that hangs over the ice and you can hear every hit (my guy Labelle broke the glass with a Thrasher), every word exchanged between opponents. Chris Simon is playing tonight like a man who missed the game oh so much.

Ted Nolan and John Chabot were big hits with the media before the game. Turns out a bit of history is being made because there's never been two First Nations coaches behind the same bench at an NHL game before. Ted never ceases to amaze me. We got here three hours before the game and he finds the time for everybody and treats everyone with class.

Turns out Josef Vasicek is very close to a family from the Soo from his junior days. He's been sort of a big brother to two of their children, both suffering from muscular dystrophy. JoVa made the effort to arrange tix for tonight's game and asked teammates such as Drew Fata (from the Soo) and Ted to stop by and visit. Didn't know Josef much before today. Now I know a lot about him.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

First impressions (off the ice)

Always interesting to watch how guys are away from the rink. I guess no differently than how it is at the office you work in, you see all kinds.

Friday night there was a parade down Main Street here in Moncton and all of the players graciously agreed to be part of it even though it was optional. It was fascinating to watch how the players interacted with the Moncton community when the parade was over.

As we've come to expect already from his first three months as an Islander, Bill Guerin had the body language of someone who would have stayed until curfew if it meant shaking every hand, answering every question, signing every autograph. Bruno Gervais was, well, Bruno Gervais. I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't come away from talking to the kid feeling like they've made a new friend. Chris Campoli was his usual self, chatting it up with everyone. Jeff Tambellini. Andy Sutton. Mike Sillinger. Richard Park. Miro.

And then there were a few guys who couldn't keep their legs moving fast enough back to the hotel. Make no mistake: they were respectful, stopped for every autograph request, were never rude. I want to be clear on that. It was just interesting to see the contrast between the guys who took the time to, as Ted Nolan said, get to know the people, and the others who were clearly anxious to move on to the next thing.

But when you think about it, that's natural. Not all of us in any walk of life are comfortable in groups. Imagine what it must feel like to be wearing a colorful hockey jersey in the middle of Main Street and have hundreds of people looking at you. Some guys are naturals. Some aren't. That doesn't make anyone better than the others.

I would think Billy Guerin might impart some wisdom on fan and community relations to some of his younger teammates as we get deeper into the season. He comes across as a man who has made friends (and future business associates) everywhere he's been. Heck, nevermind just the players. We could all learn from him.

OFF TO NORTH BAY: Tomorrow afternoon a group of players, coaches, scouts and staff charter to North Bay, Ontario for the Kraft Hockeyville game against the Thrashers. The team is bringing about 30 players for the games in North Bay and Tuesday's game against the Bruins in St. John's, Newfoundland. I'm not allowed to release the complete roster yet for Monday's game, but check the site tomorrow morning. I know Logan was poking around today to get a roster up on his Newsday blog tomorrow, too.

What I can divulge is that it will likely be a fairly young lineup Monday and Tuesday. My hunch is you won't see some of the big names like Guerin, Comrie, Witt and DiPietro until the team plays the Canadiens in Moncton on Wednesday.

I'll be in North Bay and look forward to seeing Olivier Labelle against guys not in his team's sweater. Labelle continued to show a lot of guts, spunk and snarl today. Frans Nielsen, who may play in both games, looks better and better. Also expect to see Aaron Johnson, who played all last season for Columbus, get a long look. A few veteran Islanders mentioned to me today that Johnson is really making a run at a job on the blueline.

Oh yeah, and don't forget: Ted has a no-fight rule in the scrimmages, but that goes away Monday night in North Bay.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First impressions (on the ice)

Hockey analysis in Point Blank always comes with the qualifier that I'm not a scout, do not make hockey decisions and my take is simply a hunch based on what I detect about a player's guts, dedication, hustle and professionalism. For example, I knew the moment a young Steve Webb made his debut at Islanders training camp and crashed into and challenged every player on the ice that he'd have an NHL career. On the other hand, I doubt I would have been able to pick a teenaged Nicklas Lidstrom out of a crowd of prospects.

So here goes with a few random thoughts on some of the young players after just two days of camp.

Andrew MacDonald: The young defenseman is now much more than the kid Ted Nolan said the team should consider because he liked him when they were together in the QMJHL in Moncton. He's now a legitimate NHL prospect and I suspect he'll play in the league in a year or two and be a good player. I feel even better about writing this because, without prompting, a person with a keen eye and some say in the organization told me the same thing about MacDonald today. Between Gervais, Campoli and now MacDonald, seems the Islanders have snatched some good young dmen late in the last few drafts.

Blake Comeau: I really like this kid. More importantly for the young forward, so does Ted and everyone else. Comeau was so good in camp last year and then had a first great week with Bridgeport that it was surprising to see his numbers were so average last season. But I was reminded today about the high ankle sprain that bothered him for a good chunk of his time with the Sound Tigers. Comeau is very sound in all aspects of the game and could become a very, very good second-line player. Word is the only thing he has to work on - and this is no small detail - is to find a way to "bring it" every game. I would not bet against him.

Justin Bourne: Bob's kid hit the ice yesterday with the same butterflies and angst as all the other kids on day one. On top of that, he was wearing a jersey that said BOURNE on the back, just like the guy who's in the Islanders Hall of Fame and has four Stanley Cup rings. And then he had to do it with his dad at the rink and everyone watching them. While so many of the kids in the scrimmage yesterday showed obvious nerves, Justin scored a goal, had an assist on his next shift (on a goal by Comeau) and gave as many hits as he absorbed. I'm not going to tell you how Justin projects as an NHLer or AHLer, although I'd personally love to see him get a shot in Bridgeport this season. What I can tell you is I have tremendous admiration for what he accomplished yesterday in what should have been a difficult setting.

Olivier Labelle: You may ask, "Who"? So were a lot of people yesterday. But like Steve Webb more than a decade ago, Labelle had one of those first days when everyone walked out of the rink knowing his name. The 6-0, 190-pound forward - who played his first year of pro last season at AHL Syracuse - is a disturber. Most good NHL teams have one. The Islanders, without one since Webb although Jason Blake was certainly a disturber-plus, could use one in the system. Labelle is unsigned and on a tryout. The knock on him in the past is whether his skating is good enough for the top level. The key for Labelle is to maintain his level of intensity at every scrimmage, every game. If he does into next week, I have a feeling you'll hear more about him.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Eric Cairns retires...and now he's an Islander again

I’d heard a few days ago about Eric Cairns joining us in Moncton for an NYI Alumni breakfast sponsored by the good folks here. What I didn’t realize was that it was going to be so much more than that.

Cairnsy has officially retired as a player and this week he’s where he belongs – as an Islander.

Eric didn’t just meet the team in Moncton for a one-shot deal. No, he means too much to the fans and people of this franchise. Eric was on the charter plane that left Thursday afternoon from Farmingdale to New Brunswick. Turns out Garth Snow gave him a call recently and told Cairns he may be retired as a player, but he’s most definitely not a man without a team. Garth invited Cairns to become an Islander again and be part of training camp.

“I’m here to do whatever the team needs,” Eric said today during the first scrimmage of camp. “I’ll do the alumni events, talk to the young players, hang with the scouts, whatever I can do. I appreciate what Garth and the Islanders did. I loved it on Long Island and it’s so nice to be back.”

Nobody deserves this more than Cairns, and not just because he cleaned the Coliseum ice with Shayne Corson five years ago. Cairns’ presence in the Islanders' lineup made them a better team in so many ways. Look it up: when the Islanders picked the big defenseman/enforcer off the waiver wire from the Rangers, Long Island’s team gained from it, the city’s team missed him big-time.

His passion sometimes made him a misunderstood character. I know I had my moments with him, or should I say – since he’s got a half-foot and 40 pounds of muscle on me – he had his moments with me.

There was the day Steve Webb returned to the Coliseum in the uniform of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the FSN TV crew filmed a brief shot of Cairns and his best NHL buddy chatting in the hallway after the morning skate. Cairnsy did not like that and made it clear in his own way to me, my staffers, the cameraman and everyone on the TV crew. FSN thought they had a nice visual of two Islanders favorites reuniting. But for Eric, it broke the code. He was talking to a friend, it was private, and the hockey world didn’t need to see two very tough guys from opposing teams acting all nice to each other.

Fair enough. Like any issues with Cairns, time and a few heart-to-heart conversations would heal them. But that’s what made Cairns the player who made the jump – some might say against all odds, but not him – from the ECHL to the AHL to the Rangers and Islanders. I know so many fans with the picture of Cairns holding up the No. 1 index finger as he was escorted by the referees off the ice after pummeling Corson at the Coliseum. Of course, the paranoid people of Toronto wanted to believe Cairns was showing up the Leafs. Cairns would never do that. The morning after that playoff game he tried to explain what he was doing and I told him he didn’t owe an explanation to anyone.

If you know Eric Cairns as a teammate or a friend, you know that gesture was toward the fans for being No 1 in his oversized heart. Garth Snow recognized this and made a phone call that won’t make big news, but means a lot to so many people. I told Garth that it’s stuff like this that might give people the wrong impression our GM is actually a decent guy.

When Eric got on the charter yesterday and I realized this was more than just the cameo appearance of a former player, I got a little choked up. Good for him. Better for us.

Eric Cairns is an Islander.