All-Star games are typically played for fun and not taken too seriously, the NHL’s $1 million, winner-take-all prize for winning the three-on-three competition or Major League Baseball determining World Series home-field advantage based upon the result notwithstanding.
Yet Mathew Barzal believes the biggest lesson he learned during his first All-Star appearance that he can apply to the Islanders’ playoff push is that extra drive to compete. Watching his Metropolitan Division linemate Sidney Crosby and All-Star teammates Claude Giroux and Henrik Lundqvist was a bit of an eye-opener for the 21-year-old center.
“I think a big thing for me was I recognized Giroux and Crosby, especially, and even Lundqvist, you could tell they wanted to win,” Barzal said. “Maybe they weren’t going 100 percent but you could tell there was a little extra drive there. I don’t think Sid or even Claude want to lose in anything. That kind of compete level kind of rose my game a little bit. I think that was something I took away. It’s cool to see they have that same mentality. They don’t want to lose in anything.”
Barzal had two goals and four assists in the All-Star round-robin competition on Jan. 26 in San Jose while displaying instant chemistry skating with Crosby and his Penguins’ teammate Kris Letang. That included two goals and three assists in the Metro’s 10-5 win over the Central Division in the All-Star final.
Crosby has long been one of Barzal’s hockey idols.
“When I was younger, just watching his drive,” Barzal said. “He had to be the best. You just watch him on the ice, even when you watch him in interviews, he’s a focused dude. He wants it more than anyone. That’s probably why he’s been the best for so long. It’s pretty impressive to see that up close.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who has often repeated his goal of taking Barzal’s elite talent and turning him into an elite player, said this was a valuable lesson.
“Sid and Kris grabbed Barzy and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to play with us and this is what we want you to do,’” Trotz said. “I think he listened. I think it’s really good for Mathew. That’s another step in his development to know that he can play and be a part of that.”
Wednesday marked the annual #BellLetsTalk fundraiser by Bell Canada to raise awareness for mental-health issues and remove the stigma for people suffering from problems from talking about them. The telecom giant pledged 5 cents (Canadian) for every text, mobile or long-distance call made by its customers and every tweet or retweet using its hashtag.
Bell Canada reported it donated $7,272,134.95 (CAD) this year to bring its total donations since 2011 to $100,695,763.75 (CAD).
Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, who has detailed his mental-health issues publicly and is now 10 months sober, sent out a picture of his two young children via Twitter and said, “As a man with multiple mental illnesses, I stand here today being able to do what I love with a great family. I’m truly a happy man with a great support system. Great Psychiatrist and medicine and people to fall back on if I need to talk. Take the first step. #BellLetsTalk”
Islanders captain Anders Lee saw Lehner’s tweet.
“It hits home,” Lee said. “It further strikes a chord of how real everything is and everything he’s gone through and other people have gone through. This is the support they need to be able to open up and we all have things that we can open up about. But there’s a lot of people that need a lot of help, to have a support system, to be a part of a support system. To get that conversation going is really important.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper has been impressed with the Islanders’ turnaround and was quick to praise the contributions made by Lee and Trotz to the team’s success.
“The one thing I see about the Islanders is they don’t have egos on their team,” Cooper said. “I coached their captain so I know if they follow his lead, what type of team they have in there. I think it stems from him. It stems from their coach.”
Constructing a team
Here’s how the Islanders acquired their current roster:
Draft (11 players) – Josh Bailey (1st round, 2008), Mathew Barzal (1st, 2015), Anthony Beauvillier (1st, 2015), Casey Cizikas (4th, 2009), Michael Dal Colle (1st, 2014), Anders Lee (6th, 2009), Scott Mayfield (2nd, 2011), Brock Nelson (1st, 2010), Adam Pelech (3rd, 2012), Ryan Pulock (1st, 2013), Devon Toews (4th, 2014)
Trade (five) – Johnny Boychuk (2014), Cal Clutterbuck (2013), Jordan Eberle (2017), Nick Leddy (2014), Matt Martin (2018)
Free agent (eight) – Ross Johnston (2015), Valtteri Filppula (2018), Thomas Greiss (2015), Leo Komarov (2018), Tom Kuhnhackl (2018), Andrew Ladd (2016), Robin Lehner (2018), Luca Sbisa (2018)
Waivers (one) – Thomas Hickey (2013)