Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Clicking The Refresh Button

Like most Islanders fans this year, I portrayed some pretty high confidence before the first game of the season.  Hope was high and worry was non-existent.  There were some injuries to the defensive group, but thanks to GM Garth Snow's trades a week earlier, the team still had a good top-4 to start.  Plus, the Isles were not only playing a team that had their own mountain of injury issues, but one that most analysts didn't think was going to be that good anyway.  In previous seasons, most of us would've been happy with two or three points in the standings.  Not this year.  Nothing less than all four points should be expected.

Once I realized what I was expecting instead of what I was hoping, my Islander-fan psyche began to twist - just as it has in previous seasons.  As all fans know, it's much worse dealing with losses when your favorite team is expected to win.  Isles fans have dealt with that even though they weren't expected to win many games.  While it's rough fending off the trolls when these losses would happen, our internal realist always knew that such an outcome was very possible.  We would deal with it and move on.

But this time, I'm all in.  If this year's Islanders are truly...truly...a contending team then they win these two games.  Nothing less is acceptable.  Nor should it be excused.  They must win both.

"And if they don't?"

The opening game was on the road on Friday.  I was set to attend the Islanders' home opener on Saturday.  I wanted it to be memorable for many reasons.  I'm not sure the team being 0-1 after the first game would've made it any less memorable, but I really didn't want to find out.  The Islanders had their issues during that opening game in Raleigh, but they never trailed and displayed many more positives than negatives.  I smiled, knowing that I would be able to arrive at the gloriously loud and decrepit Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for one last opener and enjoy some happy (and hopeful) tailgating before the team played again.

And I did.  It was a fantastic day.  We ate and drank and played games in the parking lot.  We beeped our horns and chanted.  We apparently made the players notice.  New defenseman Johnny Boychuk said the crowd outside woke him up at 10am.  When the game finally started, it was loud.  As loud as I've ever heard, including Game 6 of the 2002 playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs (which is the best sporting event I've ever been to).  Chad Johnson, the new backup goalie, also noticed the noise.  Then John Tavares scored the first goal.  The arena shook.  I high-fived everyone I was within arms reach of.  I'm pretty sure the dude in front of me had a baby.  It was amazing.  Even though the team had some issues throughout the game again (I don't want to talk about the penalty-killing), they held on and finished off the Hurricanes on back-to-back nights.

Just like they should have.  My brain was all like...

The group of friends I was with went home and sat together in mostly silence.  It was probably the hours of tailgating, beer, food, cheering, beer, hugging and beer that did it.  I choose to think it was also a bit of guarded optimism.  That quiet feeling when no one wants to speak in fear of ruining it.  But, it was mostly (probably) the beer.

Getting back to work the next Tuesday after a fun day off with the family, the anticipation for the next game grew quickly.  Their third game was against the Rangers and they were much better than Carolina.  Plus...they were the Rangers.  Not only would losing to them put the brakes on all the giddiness, but it would spawn the Ranger fan trolls like a wet mogwai.

"This, " I thought, "could suck."

For two periods, it totally sucked.  The only reason the Islanders even had a chance to win was new goaltender Jaroslav Halak.  He was brilliant in the second period and once the third period started, the Islanders forwards woke up and scored in bunches.  I exhaled, took a sip from my frothy beverage and immediately went to every hockey web site I could find and furiously refreshed all pages to see what people were saying about my team.  I must've checked the Twitter feed roughly 3,419 times.  I wanted to see what everyone was saying about the new Eastern Conference powerhouse.  There was praise and adoration.  There were posts telling other teams to "watch out" and posts riddled with confused "who are these guys in the Islanders uniforms?" statements.  I couldn't get enough.

Because I deserved it.  Us Isles fans deserved it.  If only for a few moments at the start of a promising season.  Once my "Are you not entertained?" episode ended, I realized again why this team is different.  Their new goalie actually did what everyone hoped he would do.  He stole a game.  Granted, there were times even last year where the Islander goalie played over his head and was the main reason the team won.  However, those games were rare.  Very rare.  This time, it happened in the third game of the year.  It happened during the prototypical, "Oh you think this team is going to be good, huh?" game that the Isles seem to dump on us fans each and every year.  I have little doubt that in previous years, the Islanders lose that game.  Because in 19 of the last 20 season starts...they have.

But not this season.  Not yet anyway.


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