Feb 28, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders fans celebrate a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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Taub: The 2018-19 Season Through The Voice of the Fans

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The 2018-19 New York Islanders in a way were a Cinderella story.

From losing captain and face of the franchise John Tavares on July 1, the team’s return to Nassau Coliseum at the beginning of December, to the unbelievable two-month run from late December to mid-February, and the sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, there were so many aspects that made this season unforgettable.

For the fans though, this year either changed or shifted their dynamic about how they feel the team will be moving forward.

“They fully reset expectations about the respect level we deserve from the rest of the league,” said Brian Bock of Manhattan. “Friday Night Fights” was a neat moment for fans connecting with the players, but now we have a front office and coaching staff to be equally proud of. It’s new, special, and exciting.”

Bock’s not wrong about the thrill that comes with having the right people in charge now for the first time since the early 1990s. Head coach Barry Trotz and his staff did a tremendous job establishing accountability and discipline from top to bottom. It’s that work ethic and structure that will most likely have him being awarded his second Jack Adams Award — given to the best head coach in the league — next month in Las Vegas.

Richard Zimmerman from Floral Park has the same sentiment that many who support the team and for those who watch this team on a nightly basis: good times are ahead.

“This past season ushered in a new era,” he claimed. “A fresh start. It was defined by the building of a new solid foundation. Amazing new management and coaching.”

Zimmerman also noted that taking a chance on Robin Lehner and the turnaround the defense were the building blocks for why this season was so enjoyable.

“His (Lehner’s) turnaround mirrored the turn around for the entire team.” Off the ice as well, Zimmerman saw how much the fan base came together more than in any other year. “The fan experience was amazing with things happening all over with the podcasts, meetups and the Offside Tavern. So many wonderful things took place that it was easy to focus on other things besides a former player. The professionalism, team spirit and class moved into a new era.”

Speaking with Steve Gailey of Merrick, he defined the ride the Isles had as the greatest season since the dynasty years.

“I bought my season tickets the week before JT left,” Gailey noted. “My rep said ‘as soon as he signs tix go up’ and most close to him said stuff like ‘of course he wouldn’t’ leave now. What kind of jerk would do that? I was gut punched. It turned around quickly and I was excited to enjoy many games this season, knowing coaching was going to be 100% better and have them battling every night.

“I loved the fans around me and the bonds of a season together. I continued to stay optimistic all season as Isles Twitter burned and told us why this team would never go anywhere, even most bloggers. This team proved everyone wrong, ESPECIALLY Isles Twitter. It was just fantastic all around. Can’t wait for more!”

With Gailey mentioned that former number 91 that used to wear the Islander crest, another fan, Donald Applegate, saw that as a cause that the team and the fans rallied by all season long.

“To me, the coolest thing about this season is that for the first time in a long time, this team and fan base had an actual villain against it,” the Centereach native said. “And the team beat the doors off him in his return, then they advanced farther. I think that common enemy brought the fan base closer together.”

Everyone knew the theme with this current group from the outset — team first above anything else. Commack resident Kim Moisa believes that message resonated in ways more than anyone could have thought.

“For the first time going to the second round, I felt we were united as a team and connected with the fans,” she said. Moisa, who attended the games with her grandma took this year to heart, relishing it as one of the best years of her life, not just as a hockey fan either. “The players and staff really surprised me and showed what a true team looks like. From (Anders) Lee being an amazing captain (in my opinion), to Trotz taking control of this team and making them do a 180, to Lehner being a symbol of hope and perseverance for this community, and to Lou solidifying this team and making them a legitimate contender in the NHL, I’m astonished.

“I couldn’t ask for more from this team this season. They exceeded all my hopes and expectations and gave me a taste of what a true legitimate franchise is made of. I didn’t get to experience the 80s, but I can only imagine this is a taste of what our dynasty felt like. And it’s a taste I’m just so glad I had the privilege of having whilst being at home on Long Island in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.”

Islanders fans are so used to so much negativity that usually surrounds their club — the arena drama, bad contracts, corrupt owners –that the positive mindset that really was felt throughout the whole season almost felt foreign. Ryan Maroney had that same feeling as well.

It was a nice twist to have a year with so much positivity,” said Maroney, a native of Westchester County. Westchester County is known for its Ranger flavor, so being from around those parts, Maroney took pride knowing that this year he could pump his chest out while his neighbors watched with a sad look on their faces.  “From management to just looking into the future, this season was very refreshing to say the least. Stability is underrated.”

If you think about it — and this comparison wasn’t made nearly enough — this season had many reminiscing of the 2001-02 season. That fantastic year saw the Islanders rack up 96 points and their first playoff berth in eight seasons under new head coach Peter Laviolette. Seaford’s Rob Salem, who was only 14 during that renaissance campaign, says the similarities really stuck out between that team and this year’s group.

“This season was probably closest to that year,” Salem said in a message. “New coach. New look. Everything about it. Also, what we saw December 1st was why the Islanders are so important to this community and how their success is unlike any other team winning in any other market.”

As many of the fans will tell you, there has always been this feeling of two steps forward one step back in the few times the Isles have had success since the glory years. Notching 103 points, a second place finish in the Metropolitan Division and winning a round, had many rid the term “laughingstock” when it comes to how this team is viewed.

“This was a huge stepping stone for our organization,” Joe Fattorusso said about what the team accomplished this year. Fattorusso, who lives in Barnegat, New Jersey acknowledged that the respect factor was really hammered home with how the season unfolded. “I feel like we are no longer the laughingstock of the NHL. We actually have a GM and Coach who knows what our team needs and lacks and are willing to do everything in their power to make us competitive and the best team we can be.

“Every year besides this one since I’ve been an Isles fan, we always felt like our team wasn’t good enough or would come up short. This year had a different feel like we had a real, stable team that could go against anyone and have a real shot to beat them.”

The word “rebirth” didn’t get mentioned too often as the Isles began to start winning in bunches this year. But don’t tell that to Chris Hecker, who also hails from Merrick. What happened in the regular season and postseason brought him back.

This season was the rebirth of my fandom,” Hecker said. “I won’t lie, losing Tavares really stung and I had a hard time getting excited about hockey this season. Just about every good memory I had from attending an isles game prior to this year involved John Tavares in some capacity. I kind of put the isles on the backburner for the beginning of the season and didn’t start watching games regularly until January/February (I lived out of state so my options were either stream the games on reddit with my broken laptop or buy NHL.tv which I didn’t end up doing until February).

“When I did start watching regularly, I saw the passion the team was playing with and how Barry Trotz was able to transform the team’s identity basically overnight. It says a lot that a season that began with zero expectations ended in heartbreak. I am not satisfied though and as nice as this season was, we need to shift our expectations to bigger things now.”

For Tim Palladino, the emotion that was ratcheted up throughout the season is what stuck with him and will until the puck drops next season.

The drama of the season was endless,” the New Jersey native stated. “From the opening night at the Coliseum, JT’s return, that last game at the Coliseum clinching a playoff spot and playoffs games 1 and 2, all of it was awesome.” Palladino also said the games and wins were not even the best part sometimes of what made this year special. “It was the new friends, twitter game threads, road games in Philly, Jersey and D.C., long trips from jersey with my buddy John, all the meetups and being able to rock the barn. It was an amazing season and hopefully we pick up right where we left off.”

One thing that had been somewhat absent for fans for a long time before this season was trust. Much of that can be attributed to all the garbage that had been thrown their way during Garth Snow’s reign of terror. Levittown’s Greg Bodkin finally feels that this season the sacred bond between the organization and its fans was finally repaired.

If there’s one thing I take away from this year, it’s I have renewed faith in the organization,” Bodkin said. “I trust them again. I believe that ownership and Trotz have a commitment to winning. They look to the future instead of trading it away as we saw in the past with guys like Palffy and Chara. For the first time in a while, I was able to have pride in my team, the only truly Long Island team in all of sports.”
The great thing about sports — and particularly hockey — is that it’s the kind of thing that brings people together as one. It also brings together families. And for Alison DeRose of Centerport, the Islanders beating all the odds this season did exactly that.
“The season brought my family together,” she said. “I looked forward to hockey games, sitting around and really getting excited about the team, extended family as well. Texting with cousins and uncles during games, cheering and cursing via text. I am proud of our team and to be a Long Islander.”
I was kind of surprised no one asked Lou Lamoriello at clean out day about whether he felt the pride was restored back in the franchise. There’s been a long period up until the Islanders bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes two weeks ago, that sense of pride had been an afterthought.  But this year undoubtedly reinforced that feeling among the fans who paint their faces blue and orange and tailgate from the wee hours of the morning until puck drop that same night.
While I’ve never been ashamed to be an Isles fan, the pride I had as a kid is back,” said Franc Galinanes of Centereach. “For the first time in decades we have stability with ownership, management and coaching. Ownership promised us world class – they are delivering.”
With all the good that came out of this year, fans can finally hold their head up high realizing that there finally is light at the end of the tunnel. Galinanes sums it up perfectly with the next step.
“Now lets get a shovel in the ground at Belmont!”
Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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