Vincent Piazza is no stranger to being in front of the camera. He’s been a part of big Hollywood shoots, playing gangster Lucky Luciano on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and played Tommy DeVito in the adaptation of Jersey Boys.
But on Sunday morning, burrowed deep inside Barclays Center, Piazza was working on a passion project, shooting a hype video for the Islanders’ opening montage ahead of Game 6 against the Florida Panthers. Wearing a blue Islanders t-shirt with a faded logo, he’s emphatically yelling Let’s Go Islanders into the camera, his job to rev up the crowd before game-time. He’s an actor, but this isn’t acting. Passion oozes out of Piazza because he’s a die-hard Islanders fan. A chance to be a part of the playoff run makes this the role of a lifetime.
“It’s part of my DNA, watching this team,” Piazza said. “This is a treat, it’s so much fun to do anything I can for this team and it’s nice that I can do something beyond just screaming my head off at games, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Piazza’s been a fixture at Barclays Center during the playoffs, waving his orange towel and getting the crowd fired up during stoppages. But between whistles, Piazza resembles his character Lucky Luciano, focusing intensely on the ice, saying little. Perhaps it’s a side effect of being a former player himself, as the actor was once a Division-1 winger at Villanova. Shoulder injuries ended his career, but it was watching the Islanders dynasty that started it.
“I grew up watching the Islanders, so the bar was set high,” Piazza said. “I grew up in the 80’s watching the Cup teams, the [Pat] LaFontaine days and the [Pierre] Turgeon days. It was a lot of fun. As a player, I was always inspired to try to play with them.”
He remembers the 1987 Easter Epic, when LaFontaine scored in the fourth overtime period to beat the Washington Capitals. There’s Pierre Turgeon’s series-clinching goal against the Capitals in 1993 and of course, all the memories from the four Stanley Cups.
But like all Islanders fans, Piazza is making new memories this season. He was at Barclays Center for Thomas Hickey’s OT winner in Game 3 and flew down to Sunrise, Fla., for Alan Quine’s double-OT winner in Game 5. He said those are top-10 playoff moments in the post-Cup era.
Even though Piazza – a winger in his hockey career – didn’t want the defensive responsibilities of a center, his favorite Islanders – John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Casey Cizikas – are all centers. He’s especially fond of Cizikas because he plays a fearless game, going up against much bigger players like Erik Gudbranson. Cizikas’ heart-and-soul, compete-every-night mentality also reminds Piazza of his favorite Islander growing up, John Tonelli.
“Cizikas is the Tonelli of this team,” Piazza said. “He just has that engine, his legs are always moving. You can have all the skill in the world, but it’s the heart that wins a Cup.”
Piazza’s heart is in it too when he locks eyes with the camera, touches the logo on his shirt and says “Let’s Go Islanders.” He adds a fist pump for good measure. Fired-up Islanders fan is a natural role for Piazza and one that he’ll play with pride Sunday night.