Just as quickly as the 2018-19 hockey season wrapped up and the offseason set in, the upcoming 2019-20 season is just around the corner. For Islanders seasoned center Casey Cizikas, he's itching to get back at in the game action.
Cizikas, who is coming off of a career-high, 20-goal season - a first in his eight-year NHL career, doesn't feel pressure to duplicate his production from last season. Individual numbers do not align with the Islanders' team-first culture that was adopted by the arrival of Barry Trotz last summer. Rather, Cizikas' singular strides were a byproduct of the entire team's collective commitment towards a united goal.
"It's not easy to score 20 goals in the NHL," Cizikas said. "I'm doing everything this summer to put myself in a position to succeed. Going into this season, that's not my goal. That's not something I'm only trying for. I want to do everything possible to help this team the best way I can. Whatever the coaches ask of me and whatever management asks of me I'm going to go out there and try and do that."
As far as training standards, this summer the Toronto native continued his regular trainings at the Athletic Training Center (ATC) located outside of Toronto. Cizikas trains alongside a group of players playing abroad in the KHL, fellow NHLer Mark Jankowski of Calgary and Bridgeport's Matt Lorito. While Cizikas explained he's hasn't deviated too far out his ordinary trainings to help garner his most recent offensive surge, he has incorporated an emphasis on recovery and heightened his attention to how his body feels.
"It's a fun group [at ATC], we always push each other which I love," Cizikas said. "As I've gotten older, I've become more aware of what my body needs. When something is bothering me or when something is lingering, don't let it get too far. You've got to hop on it right away to get rid of it instead of letting it linger. When you're young, it feels like you can recover from anything in two days and be fine, but as you get older it's definitely tougher. It's something I've tried to gain and be on top of myself about just to make sure when the season does start or when camp does start, I'll be ready to go, and everything is feeling OK."
Cizikas, who prides himself on his relentless pressure and smothering forecheck, attributes his personal success to not only the newly implemented structure, but having been reunited with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck on his wings. The trio quickly recaptured their old synergy and was referenced by coach Trotz as the 'Identity Line' for encompassing the work ethic, physicality and intensity of the new Islanders culture.
"I think things just all came together," Cizikas said. "Last summer was a big summer for me personally. I was just bearing down and doing the things that I needed to do. When camp started, I was confident in myself and the summer led into the season. That's what I've kind of done this year. Being reunited with Marty and Cal was just that comfort level. It was something that all three of us were looking forward to going into camp. We were ready. I think going into this year we have that same feeling about us three."
Part of the "Identity Line's" impressive success was attributed to the chemistry between the three best buds. The offseason presents an opportunity for the guys to return home and spend some time outside of the rink, but it doesn't take too long for pals to reunite in some capacity.
This summer, Martin's wedding in the Hamptons brought the trio together - and pretty much the entire Islanders team.
"You don't really get to see a lot of the guys throughout the summer just because we kind of all go our separate ways," Cizikas said. "But when we have weddings and stuff it's fun to catch up and see each other. You go from seeing each other every day in the season to not seeing each other for a few months. It's nice to catch up, see how each other's summers are going and see what's going on."
While the countdown until the home opener on Oct. 4 is officially underway, Cizikas is relishing in the waning remainder of the offseason and being proximally close to friends and family. The 28-year-old new father is especially enjoying spending valuable time with his son Jack.
"He's 17 months now," Cizikas said. "It's a lot of fun. He's a lot more aware and a lot more interactive now, which is exciting. We got to take him to a Blue Jay game with him one day which was a lot of fun, it was his first baseball game. We've really just had a lot of family time with him. Our families don't really get to see him very often. He's a good reason for our families to come over and spend some time with us and get to see him and interact with him. It's tough during the season, especially for the grandparents. He's the first grandchild on both sides, so for them to get to see him and spend time with him; it's fun to watch."
With another summer in the books, Cizikas is eager to get back to the grind of the season. For Cizikas and the Islanders, there is a strong foundation to build off of from last season's success and to continue to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the NHL.
"I think the expectations are definitely higher for our team," Cizikas said. "I think if you ask any single guy in the room, he's going to say the exact same thing. We know what we can achieve, and we know what we can do. It's just a matter of repeating it and making teams come into our building feeling like it's going to be a tough game. We want them to come in and say, 'This is going to be a tough game. This isn't going to be easy. These Islanders are a hard-working group and they don't really give up much.' That's something that we are looking forward to getting back at and getting back into the grind of the hockey season; that's what we're all looking forward to."