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CANADA'S PASSION FOR HOCKEY

by Jason Lockhart / New York Islanders
Islanders travel across the country to experience Canadian’s devotion to the sport

4 Ice Centre in Moncton
Tonight the Islanders are in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland for their second exhibition game. After basing in Moncton, New Brunswick to start Training Camp, 25 players, plus the coaching, training and equipment staffs find themselves in the third Canadian city in three days.

The Islanders easily have the most traveling by any team during the exhibition season. By the time Training Camp is over in Canada, some of the team will have traveled to five different provinces in a week and a half. They will ultimately travel to nine cities – including Uniondale – to participate in nine preseason games.

The amount of traveling is reminiscent of the players’ minor league and junior days. It’s extremely common in the AHL to play in three different cities over a weekend.

“I think it’s good to travel this much,” said Andy Hilbert, who will suit up for tonight’s game. “It gets you prepared for the travel during the season. I like playing in these smaller Canadian cities because the fans deserve these games. Everyone has been so nice. They just like talking to you and getting to know where you’re from.”
Memorial Gardens in North Bay


Moncton and St. John’s have been described as smaller versions of Buffalo to make a quick comparison to an American city. Downtown Moncton and St. John’s is modern, more so in St. John’s, which is a bit larger – 100,000 – as opposed to Moncton, which is listed at 64,000. North Bay is only slightly smaller than Moncton with a population of 54,000, but it feels much smaller. With everything a good 15-20 minute drive away, it’s more like a small suburban town in upstate New York.



Despite being hours away from the nearest NHL city, the three are equally hockey crazed. They know all about the NHL stars. When Jon Sim went outside to mingle with Josef  Vasicek and his friends from Sault Ste. Marie, Nathan and Schuyler, who have muscular dystrophy, Sim was surprised to discover how much they knew not just about his NHL career, but his days in junior.

One Mile Centre in St. John's
“It’s amazing to see how much knowledge of the game people have here,” said Sim. “They have a true passion for the game in these smaller towns in Canada.”

Freddy Meyer had the privilege of playing in North Bay for the Hockeyville tilt between the Islanders and Atlanta. The crowd was no less than spectacular and the players certainly appreciated it.

“The atmosphere was great last night,” said Meyer. They had obviously been waiting for a long time to play that game. They were fired up for the game, and it was a good atmosphere to play in. I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It should be like this again tonight in St. John’s. They love to see hockey and it’s great for smaller towns to have an NHL game there.”

There is no denying the passion the fans in these cities have for hockey. Whether they’re Islanders, Leafs, Canadiens or Boston fans, that’s really all that matters. No one said it better than Chris Simon when he took a picture in North Bay with a couple of youngsters sporting Carolina and Edmonton hats. When someone said the kids should be wearing Islanders hats, Simon replied, “Nah, all that matters is that they’re hockey fans.”


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