There will be an important reunion for the Islanders in the next few days.
Sure, Andy Greene and Cory Schneider will be going up against their old team, the Devils, first at Nassau Coliseum Thursday and then at the Prudential Center Sunday. But though Greene was a Devil for 14 years and Schneider for seven, perhaps the happiest reunion will happen at Greene’s home, where his son, 3-year-old Maddox, will be able to see a special friend on TV.
Maddox had been watching the Islanders' game attentively Monday, and "I guess they showed Sparky on TV," Greene said. "He was fired up about seeing Sparky and then was like, where is NJ Devil? [He had to be told] we’re not there anymore so [NJ Devil] is not going to be there, but maybe on Sunday you’ll be able to see him on TV."
It may be a small thing — a toddler wondering where his favorite mascot is — but it’s as good an illustration as any of the ties that bind Greene to his old home. He built a family there, was named captain, compiled a 350-consecutive-game streak, and played there his entire career. Until now.
"First time doing this and it’s going to be strange," Greene said. "It's sure strange seeing a couple of those guys that obviously, I have a really good relationship with . . . Once the puck drops and we get through the first shift, there will be hockey as usual but for sure, it’ll be my first experience going through it. It’ll be a little bit different with no fans."
Greene has settled in alongside Noah Dobson on the third defensive pairing, and it certainly helps to have one of his closest friends, Schneider, along for the ride. His affection for the people in New Jersey, though, is palpable. "It’s all positive," he said. "I can’t be more thankful for the Devils organization from top to bottom."
And of course, his situation isn’t singular by any means. Professional sports are transactional, and homes are almost always temporary. Some players rise to the occasion when facing their old teams, Barry Trotz said, while others stumble.
It can even be jarring from a coaching standpoint, Trotz said. He spent 15 years in Nashville, and still remembers coming back that first time with Washington. "It’s strange just seeing that jersey and you’re on the other bench," he said.
Either way, he’s grateful the Islanders get to benefit from the Devils’ loss, and happy with what Greene has contributed thus far.
"When I moved over to the Metro Conference and saw him play the minutes he did against top players, night in and night out, I had a really strong appreciation for how smart he was, how competitive he was, how good he was," Trotz said. "As a defender, his hockey IQ, you could see he was a captain. All that. Having him, I totally understand it now."
Notes & quotes: Josh Bailey did not practice Wednesday and was placed on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list. Going on the list does not necessarily mean Bailey has contracted COVID, and there is no released timetable for his return . . . Keiffer Bellows skated alongside Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier on the second line in Bailey's stead...Michael Dal Colle (undisclosed injury) is "very close to being in the lineup," Trotz said. Dal Colle skated with J-P Pageau and Leo Komarov, a line Trotz said he would use in the future. Ross Johnson also rotated in and out of that third line.