Islanders Tavares, Weight read to young students

Islanders John Tavares, left, and Doug Weight read

Islanders John Tavares, left, and Doug Weight read to students of Guggenheim Elementary School in Port Washington. (October 19, 2009) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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John Tavares could not remember being at an assembly like this when he was in elementary school, and he didn't have to think back that far. Truth is, he is not all that much older than some of the students at Guggenheim Elementary in Port Washington, who screamed for him as if he were Miley Cyrus.

"It's really good that he could learn all that stuff while he is so young," said Victoria Langro, a fourth-grader wearing an Islanders T-shirt.

Tavares, 19, and team captain Doug Weight read to the entire student body at Guggenheim as part of the Islanders Literacy Day program, and both were received as if they had just won the Stanley Cup.

"Usually we don't get to do that kind of stuff in school," said Katie Rafferty, a fourth-grader wearing a homemade Islanders shirt, "and it was interesting because they're really cool people."

Both players lauded the value of learning, answered questions, posed for photos and signed autographs. While Tavares' introduction brought down the house, Weight had the audience in the palm of his hand. A father of three children between the ages of 5 and 10, he asked the deliberately rhetorical question, "When do you go to bed, 7 or 7:30 at night?" A storm of fierce denial engulfed the room.

He did tell the students what he tells his own kids: That computer applications and video games are great, but there is nothing like books.

It was not reading too much into the event to say it is the sort of thing that helps make the Islanders part of Long Island's fabric. The team didn't dispatch just a couple of players. They sent the entire roster, in pairs or threes, to 12 schools.

"This was my first time interacting with the young kids and to have this kind of support is a real hometown feeling," said Tavares, who grew up outside Toronto but never had an NHL player come to his school.

"You remember how impressionable you were. I really remember from fourth and fifth grade up, meeting some people and having events like this," said Weight, 38, who recalled having met 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player Mark Wells as a 10-year-old in Michigan. "If you can change one of their lives, it's a very special thing."

If sparking intellectual curiosity was an aim, Weight hit the mark right away. The first young student to take the microphone asked, "How [many] games have you won?"

Weight, mindful the Islanders are winless in six, did a Johnny Carson-like double take and said, "Okaaay . . . " pretending he was ready for the next question. Then he said the players held a productive meeting among themselves on their day off Sunday, on their way to a morale-building trip to the Jets game (another player later said they sat way upstairs among hard-core fans).

Monday registered a win for the Islanders, at least in Port Washington.

Guidance counselor Gina Kelly, wearing an orange Islanders alternate jersey, said, "After having two really fantastic hockey players come in and say to the kids, 'This is really important,' I really think everybody is going to go home tonight and read a book because they were told to, by their heroes."

Notes & quotes: Charles Wang was in good spirits at practice, enthusiastically watching drills. He pointedly waved off a question about the Lighthouse Development . . . Rick DiPietro skated with the full squad for 15 minutes, the first time he has done so this season.

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