Tavares to lead Brooklyn’s new Ice Age
Islanders Captain To Be the Face of Borough’s Pro Sports Scene
Former Brooklyn Eagle editor Walt Whitman was writing about the death of Abraham Lincoln in his epic poem, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” back in 1865, not the arrival of our borough’s pro sports savior.
But Brooklyn hockey fanatics may be shouting those very words from the rafters of the Barclays Center come next month.
Brooklyn will finally have a superstar captain to call its very own when John Tavares and the New York Islanders move into their Downtown digs on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
Tavares, who will turn 25 on Sept. 20, is a two-time Hart Trophy (MVP) finalist with 401 career points (174 goals and 227 assists) accumulated across his first six NHL seasons.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Mississauga, Ontario native has also helped the Islanders reach the postseason in two of the last three seasons following an epic playoff drought for the formerly Long Island-based franchise.
But most importantly, Tavares exudes all the qualities of a true leader — someone to carry not only the Islanders banner as they embark on a season that they hope will culminate in their first playoff series win since 1993, but those of Brooklynites hungry for an identifiable player to call their very own.
The Yankees were blessed to have Derek Jeter for 20 years.
The New York Rangers rode Mark Messier’s guarantee to a Stanley Cup more than two decades ago.
The Knicks had Clyde and the Jets had Broadway Joe.
Now, the New York (Brooklyn) Islanders have J.T. to carry them back to greatness.
“He makes players around him better and he leads by example, and he’s only getting better as a leader too,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said of Tavares, who netted a career-high 38 goals last season and finished one point behind NHL scoring leader Jamie Benn with 86 points.
With all due respect to the athletes who have donned the black and white of the Brooklyn Nets these past three years — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez to name a few — Tavares is the one who has the best chance to take Brooklyn’s recent pro sports renaissance to greater heights.
That’s because none of the aforementioned NBA players, one of whom has already moved on to Dallas after failing in his role as the face of the Nets’ franchise, is considered arguably the best player in his sport.
When Tavares hits the ice at the Barclays Center on Oct. 9 for the team’s inaugural regular-season game in Brooklyn against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, he will be the best player a Brooklyn team has put in a game since the days of Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and all the storied legends of Brooklyn’s baseball past.
“No matter who’s on [his] line and when they’re going, he finds a way to get it done,” Capuano said of his top scorer and locker room motivator.
Tavares has already picked up a gold medal as a member of Team Canada in 2014, though he was forced to miss the final two games of that tournament due to injury.
His No. 91 jersey figures to be a best-seller at the Modell’s just across from Downtown’s state-of-the-art arena, and throughout the borough, especially if the Islanders continue to be one of the league’s top up-and-coming teams.
He’s also single, which instantly makes him one of Brooklyn’s most eligible and sought-after bachelors, and a multi-millionaire, thanks to a six-year, $33 million contract extension he inked back in 2011.
But what current Islanders owner Charles Wang, a Brooklyn Tech High School alum, and his associates like most about the face of their franchise is his demeanor off the ice.
“He’s one of the elite players in this league, for sure,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow noted on the team’s website. “We were very fortunate to win the lottery the year (2009) that we had the first overall pick. His hockey game speaks for itself. Anyone that watches him play realizes he’s a special talent.
“But behind the scenes, the character that John is, it’s probably the biggest attribute he’s brought to our organization,” Snow added. “He’s a class act and a wonderful person. We’re glad he’s our captain.”
Tavares has already graced the Barclays ice with his presence twice, skating there for preseason games against the New Jersey Devils in both 2013 and 2014.
Though he admittedly had strong ties to his former home, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Tavares told the Eagle he is looking forward to making his mark in Brooklyn following his first-ever game at the arena.
“I think it’s going to be great,” Tavares said after joining his teammates on an LIRR ride to the Islanders’ new home. “We could have been playing in Canada or somewhere else. It’s going to be an adjustment, but we’ll make that transition and maintain a strong connection with Long Island. Our fans (on Long Island) can take public transportation here just like we did today. There’s a lot of history in that old building.”
That history has doubtlessly haunted Tavares and this current group of Islanders at times as the dynastic team of the 1980s, which won four consecutive Stanley Cups, continues to be the franchise’s bench mark for excellence.
If the Islanders are ever to lift that hallowed cup above their heads again, it will be Tavares who leads the charge, and it will be Brooklynites cheering him on.
For a borough that hasn’t claimed a world title since the Dodgers finally overcame the mighty Yankees back in 1955, John Tavares appears to be the player most capable of leading our borough back to the promised land.
And doing so in a manner befitting a true captain.
Make that Brooklyn’s captain.
“We want to make [the Barclays Center] a tough place to play right off the bat,” Tavares told NHL.com. “I don’t think too many teams enjoyed [going to the Coliseum last season], so you want to bring that same kind of feel to [this] season.”
Before hosting the Blackhawks on Oct. 21, the Islanders will play three preseason games at Barclays Center, beginning with a Sept. 21 showdown — one day after Tavares’ 25th birthday — against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Isles will also host the Devils on Sept. 23 and the Washington Capitals, who ousted New York from the first round of last year’s playoffs in seven tough games, on Sept. 28. All three preseason contests are scheduled for 7 p.m.
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