Nothing to Fight For?

When one becomes a fan of a good team, a team which can provide the entertainment that said fan paid decent money to see, that team’s job is done…when one becomes a fan of a great team, there’s a little more involved…there are expectations to be met. Expectations which come with both great reward and celebration as well as bitter disappointment. Truth be told, when you become a fan of one of these elite teams, the dedication runs deep…so deep that it’s almost impossible to ever imagine yourself cheering for anyone else, let alone the bottom team in the league…a team who has just about half the total points of the Sharks or Red Wings, a team that has dug themselves a hole so deep they’re almost to China...a team called the New York Islanders.

Some call it crazy, some call it a bad case of underdog syndrome…honestly, it’s neither. The sad truth is, many people have written the Isles off a long time ago…made them nothing but a butt of a joke. It has filtered down to even the season ticket holders and diehard fans who have, plain and simple, just stopped coming. Their arena is in dire straits, and with this past trade deadline seeing major changes for the Islanders (Comrie, Campoli to Senators, Guerin to Penguins), their fan base is floundering.

Yes, maybe I see it all through rose colored glasses…maybe I haven’t followed the organization through the darkest shadows and dingiest alleys through which it has been led by its coaching and management staff...but I do know that when I turn on MSG at game time, I’m provided with what I came to find…good hockey.

March has been a dynamic month for this hockey club, month full of dramatic ups and downs. Knowing they are completely out of playoff contention, and after the dust of the trade deadline settled, leaving them with no captain and no “superstar”, they could have easily cut their losses and cashed in their chips for the rest of the season.

They didn’t.

With rookies like Josh Bailey and Jack Hillen stepping in, the Isles depth is off the charts, and their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport is implementing the same system that Scott Gordon and the Islanders are, so there is a constant shuffle of players between the two clubs and the Bridgeport team is being primed for NHL time…but it’s the hard working, "never say die" attitude that the Islanders organization has become known for these past couple of months…and much of that is thanks to the workhorse mentality that the Islanders’ young players possess working for a roster spot.

It’s that workhorse mentality that has made the “ups” of March quite possibly some of the best hockey games (never) seen this season…but arguably the best showing the Isles had this season was on March 7th against the Devils…and the unstoppable Martin Brodeur who had just come off IR which he was on for the entire season. Not only did the Islanders succeed in getting Brodeur pulled and replaced with Kevin Weekes, but the game ended with the Islanders producing seven goals that night, six of those were on Brodeur. The seventh came with one second left in the game when Sean Bergenheim completed his first career NHL hat trick…and at that moment, you would never have known this team was out of playoff contention, you would never have known this team was at the very bottom of the standings…because that night, the Isles put a dagger through the heart of Marty Brodeur and Brent Sutter and everyone in the hockey world who was aboard the “How Long Can Marty Brodeur Extend His Winning Streak Right Off IR” choo-choo train.

But it isn’t just the young skaters that are turning heads, the Islanders’ goal tending has proven to be deep and down right impressive over the past couple of months.

With Rick DiPietro riding out his 15-yr contract on IR, Yann Danis has become the back up for Joey MacDonald who has taken over for DiPietro in his absence. Danis has also had to step in further due to MacDonald out with injury. Danis has been impressive with a 2.65 GAA and 92% save percentage…proving that the Islanders do indeed have a triple threat in net…but no one has shown a more impressive performance than Joey MacDonald on March 27th against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena.

Joey MacDonald single-handedly (with some help from Josh Bailey and Frans Neilsen) led the Islanders to a 2-0 shut out of the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Making 42 saves against Detroit, most of which were mind bending and three were posts, Joey MacDonald was the hero for his team. There is still much to be said about the Islanders’ defensive play as they robbed the Red Wings – who is the leading team in power plays – on every man-advantage they had.

As the “elite” teams are winding down as they’ve already secured playoff spots, the “good” teams are making every last effort in their respective playoff pushes, and the bottom feeders are doing what they do best and floundering, the Islanders don’t fit into any of these categories. They have no playoff spot within reach, they have no playoff spot even within vision, they have nothing to push for…and to most people, there is no reason for them to be fighting for anything…but when you look carefully, its easy to see…they’re fighting for their fans. Every team needs fans and the Islanders are determined to get theirs back…and to watch them play is to watch what every hockey fan wants to see…great hockey.

Going into next season it will be exciting to see how this team changes. Coach Scott Gordon said it best when he said "We're not an easy two points anymore."

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