Being a New York Islanders fan is not a position that’s been for the faint of heart, particularly since the franchise’s glory run of four straight Stanley Cup wins dating back to the early 1980s. The team’s loyal fan base has been witness to enough ownership and venue changes to cause a perpetual sense of feeling untethered that dates back a couple of decades.
With current uncertainties, including when the team will leave the hockey hinterlands of the Barclays Center for their new digs at Belmont Park and the departure of former captain John Tavares to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, change of the good kind is definitely on the horizon. With fans clamoring for former general manager Garth Snow to get the boot, owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin finally relieved Snow of his duties after a 12-year run. Doug Weight was also relieved of his head coaching duties after a one-year stint in the position. And while past history might have had Isles fans wringing their hands, Ledecky and Malkin swung for the fences and brought in Hockey Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello as the team’s general manager on May 22.
The franchise’s future further brightened when nearly a month later, Lamoriello brought Barry Trotz on board June 21, fresh off winning the first Stanley Cup for both the Washington Capitals and himself nearly two weeks before. Suffice it to say, spirits were soaring at the Islanders annual draft party that was held at NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Roughly 2,500 hockey fanatics mulled around buying merchandise and howling at the overhead Jumbotron, where this year’s draft was being simulcast from American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Stars. Former linemates and Stanley Cup champions Bobby Nystrom and Bryan Trottier were on hand to sign autographs. While both Islanders legends agreed that the Lamoriello and Trotz moves were significant game-changers, Nystrom’s relationship with the latter gave him some insight into what Isles fans can expect from their new coach.
“I spent quite a bit of time with Barry down in Nashville when he was coaching my son [Eric]. He’s a workout guy and I’m a workout guy, so we talked quite a bit,” he said. “I think he’s a wonderful coach. Needless to say, you don’t have to say anything about his coaching ability [seeing as] he won Washington the Cup. As far as Lou goes, I think he’s a true gentleman, a no-nonsense guy and somebody who can really change things around. Years and years of experience and that’s critical. Knowing players, character and what it takes to win games—these guys have the kind of experience that’s going to help us a lot.”
Lamoriello’s expertise came into play during the draft as the Isles picked high-octane winger Oliver Wahlstrom with the 11th pick and followed it up with defenseman Noah Dobson at the 12th spot, which is the pick they received from the Calgary Flames as part of the Travis Hamonic trade. The enthusiasm extended to Ryan Pulock, the team’s 2013 first-round draft pick and a rookie who put in 68 games for the team on the blue line this past season. As someone who came off of being a high pick, his advice for Wahlstrom and Dobson is to enjoy the moment before putting their noses to the grindstone, a lesson he’s taking to heart for himself.
“It’s exciting to get chosen, but it’s just kind of the start. Obviously, it’s a long summer ahead and a lot of years ahead for myself. It took me awhile to get to the NHL but obviously the draft is the first step in the process, but it’s definitely exciting,” Pulock said.
While disappointed about the team missing the playoffs, Pulock remains optimistic going forward.
“Obviously, playing on Long Island [is great because] the fans know hockey and they love their team. We have good people and some good players,” he explained. “The hardest part was not getting the job done last year. But it’s going to be exciting [going forward] with all the changes. I think the Stanley Cup isn’t too far away.”
It’s a sentiment that super-fan Patrick Dowd shares. As someone who has been a true-blue Islanders fan since the franchise was founded in 1972, he’s convinced this latest turn of managerial events will lead the team out of a particularly dark era.
“It’s the most historic thing in Islanders history. It’s two guys that have proven history of being very successful at their positions. What I’m getting at is that we’ve never had this in our history before, where we have two guys come out and be such significant players [coming into their positions],” he said. “They’re good and they know the job and are great and the best at what they do. Now is the best time in Islanders history.”