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As season resumes, Islanders call-ups have time to shine

Ryan Strome of the Islanders looks on against

Ryan Strome of the Islanders looks on against the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 28, 2013. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mike Halmo's first morning as an Islander was an early one.

"I woke up at 6 a.m. [Tuesday] and I couldn't get back to sleep," said the 22-year-old forward who will make his NHL debut tonight when the Islanders resume their season at the Coliseum against the Maple Leafs. "I guess that's when it sunk in."

With injuries to John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin, the Islanders needed a wave of reinforcements from Bridgeport.

Tavares is out for the season with the knee injury he suffered playing for Canada in the Olympics last week, Nielsen likely is out at least a week with a broken hand and Martin has been ruled out of tonight's game with a lower body injury.

Ryan Strome, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, was an expected call-up. He had a goal and three assists in a 15-game stint earlier this season, during which the Islanders went 9-4-2. He leads Bridgeport with 49 points.

Anders Lee was another easy call. After appearing in two games down the stretch last season following a three-year career at Notre Dame, Lee had a team-high 22 goals for the Sound Tigers this season.

Halmo was a bit of a surprise. The undrafted free agent, a gritty player whose edge and drive allowed him to become a first-line wing for Bridgeport, had spent the better part of two seasons in the AHL, playing most recently with Lee and Strome.

"I know my role here will be a little different," said Halmo, who will likely be on the right side with Casey Cizikas and Eric Boulton. "I just have keep it simple and play a straightforward game."

Strome ostensibly went back to the AHL on Jan. 15 so he could be eligible to play for the Sound Tigers during the Olympic break. But Islanders coach Jack Capuano wanted Strome to work on some aspects of his highly skilled game before his recall.

"He's got great vision and there were times I thought he was on the perimeter a little too much," Capuano said.

Strome, who had two goals in the AHL All-Star Game, wasn't put off by Capuano's comments. "It's just getting that consistency into my game," he said. "I maybe didn't bear down enough my first time here, there were chances I had that could have gone in."

And for Lee, a 2008 sixth-round pick who observers believed would choose football over hockey but ended up blooming into a star and captain for the Notre Dame hockey team, this first taste of the NHL this season is important. His entry-level contract is up after the season.

"These are the opportunities you want to have," the 23-year-old said. "You have to be ready to grab them when they come along."

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