Cole Bardreau watched the time waste away at JFK Airport. The Islanders' newest call-up was wearing a borrowed blazer over his sweatpants and had already missed his first flight after taking a car service to Queens from Bridgeport. The next stop had him going to Columbus, Ohio, to meet the big club, and he managed to get there about a half-hour before warm-ups.
Bardreau had waited years for this moment – a lifetime, really, when you consider the neck injury that nearly cost him his career seven years ago. But the hours leading up to his first NHL game felt like an eternity.
“My bags felt like they took forever to come out,” he said Tuesday after practice at Northwell Health Ice Center training facility. “It’s kind of definitely been surreal. It’s one of those things that every hockey player dreams of…but it’s been kind of a bumpy road with all my injuries. I wouldn’t say that I gave up on it, but I was coming to terms with the fact that I might not get my sniff. I’m getting older. I couldn’t really talk when it happened. Words just weren’t coming together.”
Bardreau, 26, a former World Junior gold medalist, missed his shot at the NHL draft after suffering a cervical fracture while playing for Cornell. “I was sort of at the pinnacle of my career” when the injury occurred two weeks after World Juniors, he said. The injury was devastating, though when it comes to neck fractures, Bardreau was actually somewhat fortunate. He was in a neck brace for three months, couldn’t skate for six months. After he returned, he tore his MCL. Twice.
He has had arm and knee injuries, abdominal surgery, and suffered a broken hand while in the AHL. And now, at long last, he’s here – a replacement as Leo Komarov (illness), Casey Cizikas (lower body), and Jordan Eberle (lower body) recuperate. Bardreau made his NHL debut Saturday centering the fourth line and practiced Tuesday with the third line. Tom Kuhnhackl, who missed two prior practices for maintenance, said he didn’t know if he’d be able to rejoin that line Thursday. Bardreau played 8:54, with three hits and went 2-for-6 on faceoffs.
“I always kept believing,” Bardreau said. “But, you know, it’s harder and harder with each injury, each time you get pushed farther behind…I guess you never really know when it’s going to happen.”
Bardreau spent five seasons in the Flyers' organization, having signed as an undrafted free agent, and had 41 goals and 57 assists in 230 AHL games, his last four coming at Bridgeport this season after the Islanders signed him in July to a two-year, two-way contract.
“I kinda really didn’t even have time to think and I was thrown into the action,” he said of his first game. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was 5. I’ve waited 21 years for this moment.”
Notes & quotes. With Eberle’s injury, Josh Bailey joined Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee on the first line. “Bails is such a good player that moving him around a little bit allows us to do different things,” Barry Trotz said. “I just think we can get a little more out of that [line].”… Derick Brassard was moved to left wing with the second line in practice Tuesday. “It’s something we may look at,” Trotz said. “There’s a little of a transitional period [for him]…It’s been a little tough on him but he’s done it with a great attitude.”