Just this once, John Tavares was more of a fan than a star. For starters, he said it was “surreal” to be part of an Islanders Captains Retreat alongside his forebears. He was honored when Michael Peca came up to introduce himself. Then, right before heading over to the first tee, he just had to say hello to a serious golfer who also happened to be playing at Sebonack Golf Club Wednesday morning.
Mr. Tavares, meet Stephen Curry.
The Islanders superstar and current captain told the Golden State Warriors superstar and current captain what a sports devotee he is, and that he follows pro basketball. Curry told the hockey player how much he is enjoying his week on Long Island (Tavares’ turf). The two-time NBA champion was interested in the Islanders, asking numerous questions such as how they are going to be this season.
Tavares was almost apologetic in replying, “Well, we got off to a bad start last year . . . ” then went on to promise that the team will be better.
Then, while Curry kept practicing for his planned big day in a group that included his dad, Dell (they were scheduled to play the neighboring National Golf Links of America in the afternoon), Tavares went to join the rest of his foursome — Clark Gillies, Sebonack superintendent Garret Bodington (who often is an Islanders practice goalie) and actor/Islanders die-hard Vincent Piazza.
Yes, he did hear that Gillies was fresh off winning his fifth Huntington Crescent Club title. “I might be in for a tough day,” Tavares said. “Hopefully, the wagers won’t be too high.”
Of course, he will be able to afford it, what with a huge new contract in sight. Whether it will be with the Islanders is anyone’s guess, and that is a potentially tense situation for him, the team and its followers. But Tavares sure did not seemed burdened. He was determined to enjoy the week in Southampton along with Ed Westfall, Gillies, Denis Potvin, Patrick Flatley, Peca, Doug Weight and Mark Streit (the other former captains were invited but couldn’t make it).
“I think it’s fantastic. Pretty cool to be around these guys from different generations,” he said. “You’re still kind of pinching yourself, looking up to these guys.”
As for his own situation, Tavares said, “In terms of the contract, it’s just one day at a time and let the process kind of run its course. Things have been great with the communication so far.”
The communication extended to the driving range and course during a friendly outing that included Jon Ledecky, the co-owner who conceived of the captains’ gathering, and general manager Garth Snow, who played alongside Weight, the coach.
Everybody on the grounds seemed to agree with Potvin, the franchise cornerstone, who said of Tavares: “Personally, I would like to see him stay an Islander for the rest of his career, like many of us have done.”
Westfall acknowledged that the retreat carried an air of common accomplishment, a bit like the Masters champions dinner. Plus, the golf was expected to be intense during a captains-only, Ryder Cup-style team match Thursday. Westfall entered, despite recently having had a hip replacement.
Tavares’ surgery this summer caused his handicap to soar to 16 but that he is back to a respectable 11. “I played a decent amount in July and certainly just enjoy playing with my buddies. I love the competitiveness of it,” he said.
Peca is a 2 handicap at his club in Buffalo but was impressed that Gillies, 63, could beat guys in their 20s for a club title — after two knee replacements and overcoming prostate cancer.
“It just goes to the character of hockey players,” Peca said. “You’re injured, you’re down and out and character pulls you through.”
The hope going around Sebonack Wednesday was that the whole franchise will pull through for a secure future, and that the current captain will be part of it. Piazza said, “I’ve got my big pitch ready.”