Why Thursday Mattered


Tavares, pictured here with his former New York Islanders, returned to Long Island on Saturday with his new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Chris Hennessy

Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 was a date circled on the calendars of Islander fans since July 1. On that fateful summer day, the Captain, John Tavares, left the Islanders to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This came after multiple interviews where Tavares said that he had never thought about leaving Long Island and wanted to remain an Islander. Well, he lied. Feb. 28 has come and gone, and it was quite the spectacle. From chants to signs to the occasional plastic snake, JT was faithfully welcomed home by Long Island.

The game was originally scheduled to be played at the Barclays Center, but this season they split the home games between Atlantic Ave and their true home, 1255 Hempstead Turnpike, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. When the game was switched to the Coliseum due to scheduling issues in October, Islanders fans were ecstatic.

Ticket prices soared and the building sold out in minutes. Leading up to the game, the Islanders have had a season no one expected. They sit atop the division in a playoff spot that didn’t seem plausible after JT’s departure. The emotion of the game truly meant something for both teams in the playoff hunt and gave it an atmosphere unlike any other regular season contest.

The morning of the game, I was a little nostalgic, watching some JT-era Islander playoff games (there weren’t many) to remember all the great things that he did for the organization. Then I turned to Twitter, where the now infamous video of him in a media scrum in Montreal came up plenty of times. “I want to stay on Long Island,” he said.

People who attended the game prepared by tailgating for hours in the Coliseum parking lot, a tradition truly unlike any other. The doors to the Coliseum opened and the people flooded to their seats, donning custom 91 jerseys with name plates such as “liar,” “snake,” “pajama boy” (long story, look him up on Instagram) and “traitor.” He was booed loudly from the second he stepped on the ice in warmups to the final horn.

I won’t lie, warmups were a rough look for Islander fans. Two plastic snakes and a jersey were thrown at Tavares at various points during the pregame period. This stopped once the puck was dropped; but the chants continued and grew even louder when he stepped on the ice for the first time. Then the tribute video was played. I have no idea why they played a tribute video, but there it was, getting drowned out by booing the entire time. Tavares skated to center ice and saluted a crowd that was using his name in vain repeatedly.

After the tribute video, the fans were fine — passionate, but fine. The chants toward the former captain continued to rain down as the Islanders poured in the goals, totaling six behind Leafs goalie Garret Sparks.

This was a good thing for Islander fans. This was the relief they needed. The fun police were in full force on Twitter in the form of Leafs and Rangers fans, as they would not let a fanbase who had seen a Stanley Cup since the ‘80’s have too good of a time. Sean Avery, as the epitome of class, came out and bashed the Islander fans. Oh well. It’s over now. Everyone can move past it.