John Tavares thanks ‘Islanders Faithful’ in Players’ Tribune


New York Islanders centre John Tavares celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2017–18 NHL season. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

When John Tavares made his decision to return home and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he simultaneously sent one fan base into delirious joy while deeply disappointing and angering another.

On Wednesday, in The Players’ Tribune, Tavares made an attempt appease the latter.

Referring to New York Islanders fans “the Faithful,” Tavares wrote about the uncanny passion Long Islanders have for their team and the uniqueness of playing at Nassau Coliseum.

My first couple of seasons in the league, we were really piling up some losses … and if you were just paying attention to the highlights and box scores, I don’t think there was exactly a lot to get excited about. But I guess this is that cliché on how, you know, “that’s why they play the games” — because if you actually went to some of our home games back then, I swear, it was like this whole other story. The fans, man, they’d be going nuts. It didn’t matter if we were 5, 10, 15, 20 points out of the playoff race … didn’t matter if it was November, December, January, February, March, whenever. Our fans would be out there for us, cheering us on, and acting like it was Game 7 of the Cup Final.

And you have to understand: When that sort of thing happened at the Coliseum, it was just … different from how it would happen anywhere else. The way the fans were right on top of you — and I’m talking, like, right on top of you. The way there were hardly any corporate seats, and the entire arena was just basically one big lower bowl. When you get cheered with that level of intimacy, that level of diehard pride — it’s weird, but, I’m telling you: Something really does happen to you as a player. It’s like you’re almost held accountable, you know? I mean — who’s taking the night off, in that environment?

Additionally, Tavares made a point to thank the Islanders organization, specifically pointing out former GM Garth Snow, team public relations rep Kimber Auerbach – who pulled Tavares into a closet to protect him from being mobbed when he was drafted in 2009 – and his teammates, even adding how hopeful he is for the future of the franchise with some of their young players.

If you take away one thing from my time on Long Island, though, honestly — please let it be this: I came across some of the best teammates in the world. I’ve had so many heart-to-heart conversations with Kyle Okposo over the years that had nothing to do with hockey … and I’ve always felt like I could trust him with anything. If I have a daughter one day, I hope she marries someone like him. And then as for the other guys, seriously — if we went through everyone who made an impact on me, as an Islander, I think we’d be here all day. So I’ll just name a few more: Matt Moulson. Frans Nielsen. Cal Clutterbuck. Josh Bailey. Ryan Strome. Colin McDonald. Mark Streit. P.A. Parenteau. Just unbelievable human beings. All of their friendships are irreplaceable. (And it wasn’t just the guys I played with on the ice, either — it was the entire staff, from our coaches to our trainers to everyone behind the scenes, who made my life easier on a daily basis, and allowed me to be the best person and Islander that I could be.)

I also leave knowing that the future is bright. The new regime has done amazing things in their hockey careers, and they’ll continue to push the team forward. I know firsthand how good Barzy (a.k.a. “The Kid”) is going to be for this franchise, because he’s not only a great player, but he’s a great person as well. And I was fortunate to play with a lot of great linemates, most consistently Josh Bailey and Anders Lee. I know with those guys and the rest of the talent and character in that locker room, good things are on the horizon for this team.

For all the good will Tavares was showing to the Islanders, however, the 27-year-old’s obvious love for the team he recently signed a seven-year, $77-million contract with couldn’t be contained.

[A] lot has been made, over the last couple of weeks of this process, about my having grown up a Leafs fan — and I feel like I owe it to you all to at least explain (beyond some tweet, or sound byte, or someone else’s article or whatever) what that means to me.

And the truth is … it means a lot.

The Leafs weren’t just my first hockey love. They were basically my first human memory.

My first time in Maple Leaf Gardens, I think I was six years old — so it was probably around the winter of ‘96. And I just remember walking in … and being speechless. Like, truly speechless — you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was in total awe. You’re going through these hallways … seeing all this memorabilia from the ‘50s and ‘60s … all of these banners, and the old team portraits, and the action shots — and then of course the iconic images of those guys lifting the Cup. There’s almost this, like … glow to it, that you can’t really explain. The whole thing felt holy. It was like going to church.

Among other topics discussed in the letter, Tavares opens up about his near father-son-like relationship with Doug Weight, the agony he went through while trying to make the decision and the seriousness he took going into each team’s free agent pitch.

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