There were a lot of dark nights inside Nassau Coliseum if you talk about the Islanders from a decade ago. They were a bad team that was in the third year of what felt like a forever rebuild and were trying to find their way out of the wilderness led by John Tavares and a young cast of characters.
Then February 11, 2011, took place.
It was on that night that the Islanders organization took their first major step forward back towards respectability. Furthermore, it was that eventful evening that etched Michael Haley into the hearts of Isles fans forever.
Note: IslesBlog tried to reach out to Haley to talk about that night, but was unsuccessful.
Haley, who is currently a member of the Ottawa Senators, was an unknown scrapper in the AHL after the Islanders had signed him to a two-way deal back in the 2009-10 season. He had racked up 196 PIMS that season in Bridgeport and added another nine in his two games up with the Islanders from that year. So the Isles knew what he brought to the table, and it was clear after the events nine days prior to that memorable February evening, he was needed for that next game against Pittsburgh.
The Isles called him up the day of their rematch with Pittsburgh because they wanted to send a message. Haley obliged as such.
Right off the bat, Haley introduced himself and made it a point to the Penguins, this was personal. Ten minutes into the game, Haley already took a roughing minor and put a beatdown on the Pens’ Craig Adams. The Isles too were putting a beatdown of their own, owning a 3-0 lead with under five minutes left in the first stanza.
The second period began with the Islanders up comfortably 4-0. But the scoreboard wasn’t what they were worried about. They wanted blood.
After Tavares made it 5-0 just 3:16 into the middle frame, all hell broke loose. A line brawl broke out and there were fights everywhere, all of which started from Matt Martin going after Max Talbot. Haley wasn’t on the ice for that moment, and he was far from done. He would actually score his first NHL goal on the following shift to add on to the route. A beauty too.
With a goal, penalty and a fight already to his stat line, Haley was far from finished. Early in the third, another line brawl broke out as a result of Trevor Gillies’ hit on Eric Tangradi. Haley got the two-for-one special, the more memorable part being him rushing down the ice to go toe-to-toe with Penguins backup goalie Brent Johnson. Johnson had broken Islanders’ netminder Rick DiPietro’s jaw when the two teams just a week prior. In that one sequence, Haley became a name Islanders’ fans would always remember.
Here’s how Haley described the scuffle with Johnson a few years back:
“I didn’t actually get to fight him. I would’ve loved to, but [Eric] Godard jumped off the bench, so they were both fighting me at the same time. In the beginning, I thought I could keep going for a few seconds and someone would grab Godard, but he’s a big boy and after I felt one or two in the back of my head, I decided it was probably better to go down. Johnson broke Rick DiPietro’s face the game before when they had fought, but I didn’t go into that one thinking I was going to fight him. It just so happened that I got off of [Maxime] Talbot and there were no refs around me and he [Johnson] was sitting at the blue line, so it just kind of happened. It was one of those crazy games. That game was actually my third NHL game and my first NHL goal. I had three fights and got kicked out of the game, but I remembered my goal the best.”
Being escorted off the ice, he was given a standing ovation from the Coliseum faithful. Haley was given a game misconduct and ended the night with a whopping 39 penalty minutes, true to his reputation. After the game, he was praised by his teammates. “He’s a great kid,” Zenon Konopka said in the postgame. “We went through training camp with him, and we just fell in love with him right away. He immediately became a part of our family. So, here comes Cousin Mike, and he gives us something to build off.”
“The kid’s a competitor,” Matt Moulson added. “He’s got some skill, but he’s tough as nails. He’ll do anything for his teammates. I’ve had the chance to be with him the last two seasons and he’s just a phenomenal kid who does what he has to.”
Haley was a made man after that performance. He would play another 25 games that season and 14 the following year for the Isles before signing on with the Rangers (I know right). But even as he wore that hated Blueshirt sweater — not once, but twice — and a few others, Isles fans never forgot what he did that cold Friday night in February.
The Islanders have changed as an organization since that night ten years ago. They can thank Michael Haley for being one of many guys who helped play a role in that.
A folk hero then, and certainly a folk hero now.
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