There were times during the breaks in Monday night's game when Keith Kinkaid would just look around. When he did, he would see the friends he grew up with, standing and cheering. And if he looked up, he would have seen the section he used to sit in when he was a boy watching Islanders games with his dad.
"I was a little nervous for this one," the 25-year-old Farmingville product said after the Islanders' 3-2 shootout win over his Devils. "A lot of my friends bought tickets and texted me that they were coming. Most of them are Islanders fans, but they were rooting for me . . . I think I saw a few of them when we scored and they stood up . . . I used that as positive energy."
Kinkaid's grandparents had season tickets in Section 313 at Nassau Coliseum, and for years, he and his father, John, would make faithful treks to watch his beloved Islanders. Along the way, spurred by the 1992 Olympics (yes, as a 3-year-old), Kinkaid picked up hockey.
And he got pretty good.
On Monday night, Kinkaid's family and a slew of friends returned to the old haunt and Kinkaid, in only his second NHL start, didn't disappoint. He made 31 saves, including a stop on Josh Bailey's breakaway attempt in overtime, and turned aside shootout attempts by Frans Nielsen, John Tavares and Ryan Strome before finally allowing the winner to Bailey.
"It's nerve-wracking," said his mom, AnnMarie, one of about 50 people on the Kinkaid bandwagon. "It doesn't matter what game he plays, there are always butterflies, but ever since he was little, this was his dream . . . and the Islanders were the team he grew up cheering for."
Kinkaid has been in the Devils' organization for four seasons, spending the bulk of that time with the Albany Devils. Long before that, he attended Sachem East High School and idolized Eric Fichaud and, eventually, former Devils great Martin Brodeur. "He would always wear No. 30," John said from his seat. "Obviously, he can't do that now."
Instead, Kinkaid wears No. 1 while slowly ingratiating himself with the Devils. With Brodeur spending the twilight of his career with St. Louis, the Devils have shown surprising confidence in Kinkaid. Although he has played only six NHL games, his two starts have been against the Blackhawks (21-9-1) and the Islanders (21-10-0).
"They're throwing him to the wolves!" his mother said good-naturedly. "I've got these mother's nerves, and it's not because I don't think he plays well."
John was less jittery.
"I'm not nervous," he said. "I'm less nervous in person than watching him on TV, because in person, I can sort of predict what will happen . . . I might be nervous the first few minutes, but it'll be OK after the first shot."
He hoped for an Islanders loss, of course. "I have to be honest," he said, dressed in neutral clothing and shaking his head slightly, "it's a little weird."