Corey Cairo is one hockey player who will have fond memories of the NHL lockout.
The Shoreham-Wading River senior had the experience of a lifetime during the hiatus, routinely standing in the goal crease and fending off blazing shots from a group of Islanders trying to stay sharp at Superior Rink in Kings Park.
Cairo, a goaltender for the Long Island Junior B Royals, will never forget those pucks flying off the sticks of the pros.
"I wasn't used to seeing them come in that quick,'' he said, "but it was fun having NHL players shooting on me, fun being on the ice with them.''
In September, with the lockout looming, Boulton reached out to Jack Greig, the hockey director for the Royals, to reserve ice time at Superior for his Islanders teammates.
"At times there were just four of us and we had trouble getting goaltending out there," Carkner said, explaining how Cairo came into play.
Greig said about 25 Islanders showed up for the initial player-only skates, but some left when the minor league and European seasons began. The remaining players needed a goaltender for their workouts. Greig, who played minor-league hockey and was invited to an Islanders rookie camp in 1998, told Boulton that Cairo was perfect for the job.
"It brought some fun into it, too, when we got to play two-on-two with a goaltender, so we were happy he came and helped us out," Carkner said. "It's a lot better shooting on a goaltender than shooting on an empty net."
Cairo, though hesitant at first, was excited about the opportunity.
"I was a little nervous walking into the rink and it hit me pretty much when I saw all the players," Cairo said about his first session with the Islanders in mid-October. "But once I stepped into the locker room, they all introduced themselves and it was fun meeting the players and then playing with them. I recognized some of them and was like, 'Wow, I'm actually skating with a professional hockey team.' I was in shock that I was on the ice with them."
And competing against them was a revelation.
"They were quick, and their quick release of the puck coming off their stick was faster than most shots I've actually seen," he said. "How they release the puck makes it look quicker.''
Though he admittedly struggled at first, Cairo recalled a few glove and pad saves and stops he made on breakaways that impressed the players and earned him an invitation to return.
Cairo then became a mainstay at practice, skating with the pros two or three times per week through the middle of December.
"He tried hard, and that's what we wanted," said Grabner, who scored 20 goals last season. "We wanted to work on stuff and we weren't taking it easy, either, so it was a great effort by him and we appreciate that he came out. Hopefully it was good practice for him, too."
Said Carkner, "He really worked hard against us. We did a lot of shooting drills so it was a lot of volume for him, and he didn't look out of place or anything."
With the NHL season finally under way, Cairo has a new perspective when he's playing for the Royals. "Everything felt easier and slower," he said.
Cairo said he hopes to play in a high-level junior league next season and someday play in college.
For now, though, he's proud that he already has had an impact on the NHL with his favorite team.
"If there wasn't a lockout, I obviously wouldn't have had this opportunity to skate with professional players," Cairo said, "but I'm also happy I can watch hockey again."