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SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

Islanders say they knew Jeremy Colliton would coach in NHL

Teammates recall a caring player with high hockey IQ, and a smooth talker

Jeremy Colliton gives instruction to his Chicago Blackhawks

Jeremy Colliton gives instruction to his Chicago Blackhawks team in his first game as head coach, Nov. 8, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel

Jeremy Colliton protected his rookie roommate on the first road trip of his professional career.

It was just one example of why Colliton’s teammates in the Islanders’ organization always pegged him as a future coach.

It was early in the 2011-12 AHL season and Colliton, then Bridgeport’s captain, and Casey Cizikas, a fourth-round pick battling to get to the NHL, had overslept and were five minutes late for the team bus.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take this one, I’ll tell the coaches it’s my fault,’” Cizikas recalled. “It just showed what kind of guy he is. He’s a good guy to have around the room.”

Flash forward to Tuesday and Cizikas, 27, admitted it was still weird to hear the Blackhawks had promoted his old roommate to be the NHL’s youngest coach at age 33, replacing three-time Stanley Cup-winner Joel Quenneville.

“I said, ‘There’s no way,’” Cizikas said. “It turned out to be him. He’s a smart guy. He’s got a really high hockey IQ. He’s worked hard. He’s a smooth talker. He always knew what to say. He knew how to talk to the guys and I think that’s a big part of where he is now.”

Islanders teammate Josh Bailey, 29, also played with Colliton, albeit briefly as linemates in Bridgeport.

“I was happy for him,” Bailey said. “It doesn’t surprise me he’s found his way up the ladder real quick. He can really see the game. I think everyone knew he’d make a good coach.”

Bailey and Cizikas do have some experience with a former teammate becoming a coach, having played for Doug Weight the past two seasons.

The Islanders play the Blackhawks twice this season, at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 3 and at Chicago on Jan. 22.

"LITTLE WARRIOR"

Kaelyn McCandless spent this week with her family in Orlando, Florida, enjoying both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, though her father, Tom, said a side trip to Tampa to see the Islanders face the Lightning on Saturday couldn’t be carved out.

But her family plans to bring the 10-year-old from Lindenhurst to Barclays Center on Tuesday night to see the Islanders host the Canucks. Most likely, Kaelyn will be wearing the home blue jersey signed by the Islanders players and presented to her when she visited the team’s practice facility in East Meadow on Nov. 2.

She was diagnosed two years ago with Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare form of brain cancer, and the organization wanted to do something for her.

“We’re regular guys that play hockey and get put in the spotlight for a little bit,” said captain Anders Lee, whose second Kancer Jam in February raised more than $110,000 for pediatric cancer research. “For us to put a smile on somebody just by hanging out and talking with Kaelyn, she’s a big Islanders’ fan. She’s a little warrior who’s going through a lot of stuff right now.

“She was a little shy at first, she was meeting a bunch of tall guys in hockey equipment with skates on,” Lee added. “But she’s friendly and we gave her a jersey and made her put it on. She’s a fan and a special kid. You can tell she’s really strong.”

FINNISH BONDS

Center Valtteri Filppula skated over to Leo Komarov during a break in Friday’s practice in Sunrise, Florida, and squirted some water into the hockey pants of his unsuspecting linemate. The two then shared a quick chat and a laugh. No doubt, in Finnish.

Filppula, 34, of Vantaa, Finland and Komarov, 31, an Estonian who was raised in Nykarleby, Finland, and is a duel Russian-Finnish citizen, have proven to be solid third-line and special teams additions to the Islanders this season.

“We’re Finns so we’re similar,” Komarov said. “It’s a small country and we know each other well. I wouldn’t say we’re close to each other at home but we obviously have the same friends and we’re working out in the summer. He’s become more of a legend in Finland. He’s been playing for a long time and everybody looks up to him. It’s great to play with him.”

STARTING OFF

The Islanders had the same 15-game record this season as last. A look at the past nine seasons

Season     First 15 Games    Record            Postseason

2018-19   8-5-2                 TBD

2017-18   8-5-2               35-37-10          Miss

2016-17   5-7-3                41-29-12      Miss

2015-16   7-5-3                45-27-10        Won first round

2014-15   10-5-0               47-28-7         Lost first round

2013-14    6-6-3                34-37-11       Miss 

2012-13    6-8-1                24-17-7         Lost first round

2011-12    4-8-3                34-37-11      Miss

2010-11    4-9-2                30-39-13         Miss

2009-10   5-5-5                  34-37-11     Miss 

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