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British Isles

Midnight puck drops and annual pilgrimages make up life for Welsh Isles fans

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

Jonathan Hagerty and Kevin Rowe blend in with all the other Islanders fans in section 210 at Barclays Center during Sunday's 5-4 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. 

They both have jerseys, Hagerty in a blue Boychuk, Rowe with Tavares and the captain's C, cheer wildly and are talking about Scott Mayfield's new five-year contract extension. 

The only thing that's differentiates them from everyone else are their accents. See Hagerty and Rowe are big time Islanders fans, they're just from a different island. 

The two fans are from Wales across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, where soccer is king and hockey isn't on most people's radar. For these two though, who follow the team religiously from afar and make Islanders pilgrimages at least once every year.

"I just love following the Islanders and it's become a bit of an obsession really," Rowe said, who is on his second trip this season after following the team on a four-game trip in December. 

So how did a pair of Welshmen from Blackwood and Rhondda Valley fall in love with the Islanders? 

Hagerty was in New York during April 2014 and was deciding whether to take in a Mets or Islanders game. The Islanders tickets were $15 and that value was one of the deciding factors, though he undervalued how far Nassau Coliseum was from Manhattan. A couple of goals, a couple of fights and an Islanders win later, he was hooked. 

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For Rowe, he had seats on the glass at a game in 2013 and all it took was one Matt Martin hit into the boards and he was all-in. They both cited the fluidity and intensity of the game, which is a common thread between hockey and soccer. 

"It seems that everyone who watches hockey and even the Islanders, it just draws you in, I don't know what it is, I genuinely can't explain it," Hagerty said.

Rooting for the Islanders from the UK is a commitment - even a lifestyle. Puck drop is usually at midnight, so the games don't finish until 2:30 or 3 a.m. They're unfazed by the long hours.

"I'm pretty sure my employer is not so keen on my love for the Islanders. Going to bed at 3 a.m. and getting up at 6, but you have to do it," Rowe said. "We're very committed sports fans. If you support a team you have to stick with them, thick or thin and if that means getting up at midnight, or staying up till 3 in the morning, that's what it takes."

Rowe has seen the Islanders play in nine arenas across the league, from Florida to Calgary, while Hagerty has even made a trip up to Bridgeport to see the Sound Tigers, the Isles AHL affiliate. 

This year they both braved the cyclone bomb and took the snowy train ride to Philadelphia last week, a scene that resembled something about out of the apocalyptic action movie Snowpiercer.

"If you're up at midnight watching a game till 3 a.m., you've got to be committed," Rowe said. 

"Or crazy," Hagerty joked. 

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They didn't know each other prior to a chance encounter on the platform of Penn Station heading out to an Isles game a couple of years ago, but it makes the trips and games more fun. On Sunday, they took in an Arsenal game before heading over to Barclays. 

"We're both from the same country. We both support the same football team in the UK [Arsenal]," Hagerty said. "Having those things in common, this has been a normal thing. When it comes to planning the trip we don't even have to think about it. It's just that simple. We just sit here, pick a run of games and just do it. Thankfully we get on alright."

Sometimes their Welsh shows when they're talking hockey - schedules are "fixtures" and they sometimes refer to Anders Lee as a "fox in the box," a soccer term for a player who does his work in front of the net - but don't be fooled, they're knowledgable fans.

They are up to date on all the latest news and have done deep dives on the team's history, watching old games and reading about the dynasty years. They said they've been embraced by the Isles fans they've met over the past few years and are always looking for good Isles stories from the dynasty era. Safe to say, they don't need the qualifier of being big fans from Wales, Rowe and Hagerty are just as dedicated as fans from Wantagh. 

"I didn't think I had room in my life for two big sports teams, but it seems like the Islanders are very close to being on par with that," Hagerty said. 

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