Not everyone around here has been an Islanders fan up to this 43rd (and last) season at Nassau Coliseum. That includes, most notably, the current Islanders themselves, who, after all, aren't nearly that old and, to a man, didn't grow up on Long Island.
Captain John Tavares, from Mississauga, Ontario -- just southwest of Toronto -- naturally was a fan of Tuesday night's opponent, the Maple Leafs, as a kid. So was Josh Bailey, from Clarington, Ontario, the other side of Toronto. The Minnesota North Stars left the Twin Cities for Dallas when Kyle Okposo was 5 years old, and the Wild didn't materialize for another four years, so he had to reach beyond his St. Paul hometown to follow the Colorado Avalanche, while many of his childhood friends threw their support to the Detroit Red Wings. (The Islanders were too far away to track.)
Then there are fellows such as Lubomir Visnovsky, from Topolcany, Slovakia. And Nikolay Kulemin, from Magnitogorsk, Russia, more than 1,000 miles east of Moscow.
"When I was small kid," Visnovsky said, "I didn't know about the NHL because there was no NHL channels in the Communist system. Just three channels." At the time, Slovakia still was part of Czechoslovakia.
"First time I knew about the Islanders," Visnovsky said, "I think was because of Ziggy Palffy [the Slovak star who played for the Islanders in the mid-to-late 1990s]. Because Czech and Slovakia were together then" -- the split came in 1993 -- "the whole country liked the national team. The world championships in 1985 was huge in our country, played in Prague, and we won. Was unreal."
When he was a young lad, Kulemin's favorite team was the Detroit Red Wings, "because they had a Russian line there," he said. "As a kid, everybody knows the NHL is the best league in the world, and kids want to see the best players, right? . . . And I knew the Islanders because [Alexei] Yashin was playing here" starting in 2001, when Kulemin was 15.
Tavares long ago was mindful that the Islanders "won a lot of Stanley Cups in the '80s, and I knew they had some great players, Hall of Fame players, and about Mike Bossy's 50 [goals] in 50 [games in 1980-81]."
The real immersion into Islanders history logically came for players when they joined the organization. But Islanders awareness had traveled far and wide -- including such aspects as the infamous fisherman logo.
"Oh, yeah, I remember," Visnovsky said. "Wasn't it a third jersey or something?"
"I wasn't the biggest fan of those," Tavares said. "I think we know why they only lasted so long."
"Actually," Kulemin said, "as a kid, I liked that one."
Bailey, too. "I had no problem with that, to be honest with you, although with the history of the team, they're remembered by the jerseys we wear now. It's a classic jersey. And we're proud to wear it."
Notes & quotes: Defenseman Visnovsky (back) again participated fully in practice and coach Jack Capuano said he is "close" to making his season debut . . . Defenseman Travis Hamonic left practice early in obvious discomfort with an undisclosed problem . . . Forward Mikhail Grabovski (concussion symptoms) did not practice.
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