While the words were few, the emotions were plentiful, and the memories were priceless for Cole Bardreau, his mom Debbie, father Scott and friends that were in attendance for his second-career NHL game on Thursday night at NYCB Live Nassau Coliseum.
Bardreau, a native of Fairport, New York, had quite the overjoyed and exuberant posse to play in front of as the Islanders topped the Arizona Coyotes 4-2. After making his official NHL debut on Saturday in Columbus with just a couple of hours' notice, as Leo Komarov was ruled out with illness, Bardreau had a few days to prep for his return to New York. The chance to play in front of friends and family cemented the dreams he had envisioned his whole hockey career.
"It felt like another first game," Bardreau said after the game. "I saw [family and friends] in the stands, they were coming down and banging on the glass. They're my best friends in the world. One of them came all the way from South Carolina and has to go to work tomorrow. That support has been unbelievable. To see my parents also, there just aren't words. It hasn't set in still."
"It's still not sinking in," Debbie said. "You wait for this. You've watched your son grow up and dream of this day. It's unbelievable. There's no words."
Bardreau's road to the NHL has been anything but easy, but much like his style of play, the 26-year-old grinded through the adversity and put forth his best effort with every opportunity to make his dream become a reality. After suffering a C-7 fracture in his neck during his sophomore season at Cornell, an injury that nearly paralyzed him and forced him to wear a neck brace for four months, Bardreau subsequently tore his MCL, twice.
The injuries cost him more than his time on the ice, Bardreau ended up going undrafted. Despite the situation he found himself in, his perseverance never wavered. He made the most of his opportunity within the Philadelphia Flyers organization where he compiled 41 goals and 57 assists in 230 AHL games, before signing a two-year two-way contract with the Islanders in July.
"I think about some of the injuries and the setbacks along the way," Bardreau said. "To be honest, you kind of come to terms that it might not happen. To actually be here and having played an NHL game; I still don't have words, it's crazy."
For his parents, the journey has been just as taxing, every early morning practice, shuffling from game-to-game and the worries they've encountered along the way. But to finally witness, in person surrounded by close friends and family, as Bardreau lived out his NHL dream, it made every twist and turn of his winding journey worth it.
"His story is an inspiration," Debbie said. "He's made us so proud. He's an incredible role model for young kids today. First of all, never give up on your dreams and preserve despite any obstacles or challenges that you face. The opportunity just might present itself when you least expect it.
"He set goals for himself coming into training camp and made them happen," his mom added. "The entire time he's been here has been even more amazing than he ever could have imagined."
With his biggest supporters cheering him on, Bardreau didn't disappoint. The right-shot center logged 7:53 time on ice, including 51 seconds shorthanded and centered a line with Oliver Wahlstrom and Michael Dal Colle. Bardreau went 75% on faceoffs, threw three hits and registered one shot on goal. Bardreau nearly buried a breakaway midway through the first period. Wahlstrom sprung Bardreau, but his backhander was denied by Arizona goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
"The big thing about Cole is that gives you a sense that you can trust him," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "He's got a little bit of bit to his game. He airs on the edge a little bit."
With Komarov still on IR with illness and not making the trip to Ottawa for tomorrow's game and confirmed to be doubtful for Sunday's game against Philadelphia, Bardreau is relishing in the opportunity he dutifully earned.
"I don't know what the plan is yet, but I'm just taking it all in," Bardreau said. "It's been so great and unbelievable to be here. We'll see [what happens], but I'm just still trying to enjoy it and keep playing my game."