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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
October 12: Shootouts, Home Run Passes and Breaking Up Lines

Good afternoon, Islander fans. As I get set to depart for the team charter to Washington, I'd like to thank the thousands of fans that have sent emails over the last month. The support has been amazing. I also appreciate hearing the nice things from people with connections to our players and staffers. I have received several kind notes talking about how fortunate we are to have people players like Mike York and coaches like Jack Capuano now in our organization.

Understandably, I have also received countless emails most genuine, a few not-so-kind suggesting roster moves and new line combinations. As I've said in the past, I'll read anything an Islander fan wants to tell me. Just keep in mind two things: I'm the coach, not the GM. Mike does an excellent job putting together this team and gets me anything I need. As for suggesting ideas, keep them coming. Just give me the benefit of the doubt that as coach, I know my players as well as anybody and I'm always going to do what I feel is best for our team.

October 12, 2005

Paul: Are you going to practice for the shootout?

Yes, we do almost every day. For starters, it's fun. It's a good way to break up a practice.

But now the skill is more important than ever. Our shooters and goaltenders need the work. I'm sure some very big points in the standings will be earned by teams that master the shootout. It's something we have to take very seriously.

Frank V.: Now that there is no red line, and passes can be made from blue line to blue line, how will you defend possible "home run" passes that could spring players in for breakaways?

That's something else we address every day in practice. The short answer is to make sure one defenseman is aware at all times that he has to have every opponent in front of him when we have the puck in deep. There's more to it than that, but I need to keep some of our plans close to the vest, as I'm sure you can appreciate.

Ray: My question to you is, do you manage to maintain a player-coach relationship with your team during the off season? And, if you do, do you see it as being an important part of your job and your success with your team?

Absolutely, Ray. Probably more than most coaches, I'm not only regularly calling my players in the summer, but I sometimes make visits to their off-season homes, whether they are in North America or in Europe. I always call first before I show up!

D. Byrnes: Didn't I see you score a goal against Northeastern while sliding flat on your back after being tripped up on a breakaway?

Yes. Thanks for remembering. I have a picture of that goal on the wall of my office at home. It was in the first round of the Beanpot Tournament a long time ago. We won the game 12-2, and I had two goals and two assists.

Drew: With "more open ice" being promised, many fans are wondering about what role Shawn Bates will play. Where does he fit in on your team as of now? Do you see him getting first or second line duty? Or is he at his best playing a checking forward role and killing penalties?

I think Batesy is at his best when we have him in all situations and take advantage of his versatility. The key is to not over-use him at times. You could see in the home opener why he is such a valuable player.

Mikegators: I know it seems silly to ask this question so early, but where's Weinhandl? He did well in the Swedish Elite League during the lockout. I was thinking/hoping he was poised for a breakout year. Nothing against Nilsson, who I think was very impressive in game 1, but why not try Weinhandl on the top line with Yash and Miro? I am surprised I haven't heard more about Weinhandl in the pre-season and am wondering whether he's in the doghouse. News about him has been strangely absent.

You said it best in your first sentence: it is early. Matty is an important part of this team. I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot about him as the season goes on. No, he is not in my doghouse. In fact, I don't have a doghouse. If I'm having trouble with a player, I will discuss it with him not bench him without communicating what I expect. Like every team is doing, we're continuing to look for the right combinations. Matty is a very good player, a very versatile player. If we are to be successful, we'll need big things from him.

Alexandre from Switzerland: I was wondering who was your idol growing up, was it a hockey player or not?

It was a hockey player, you bet. Gordie Howe, one of the best ever. There wasn't anything Gordie couldn't do. Perhaps the best at combining skill with toughness to ever lace up a pair of skates.

Joe from Astoria: Watching the past three games let me know what you think about possibly breaking up Yashin and Satan?

That is not our thought process. We want to build some continuity, let certain players such as Yash and Miro get to work together for a steady amount of time. We have no plans to break them up for the foreseeable future.

L. Greenberg: Now that the NHL has the new rules in place, what do you think will be he hardest rule for the players to get used to?

I think you're seeing it already -- dealing with the obstructions, the little tugs that are going to be called. For the D, no more hands wrapped around guys and you can't clear the puck into the stands without getting a delay-of-game penalty. Being a defenseman in the NHL, already one of the toughest jobs in pro sports, is even harder now.

Jimmie Atwood from Yarmouth: I have been an Islander fan since I was a kid. Never did I dream that "my" team would be having training camp near my hometown. It was fantastic. The players and staff were great and very approachable. I would just like to thank the Islanders and all of Long Island for letting us have the pleasure of having your team for a week.

Thank you, Jimmie. It was our pleasure. The people of Yarmouth could not have been more welcoming. We really enjoyed our week there.

Dan: What effect is the loss of Michael Peca having on this team? How do you replace that type of leadership?

You don't replace Michael Peca. He was an excellent leader for us and, as Mike Milbury said, we owe him a lot for bringing credibility back to our franchise and getting us back to the playoffs. What you do is you ask other players to step up. Leadership is not a factor on this team. We have too many leaders to mention. I understand your question, but I can tell you it's not an issue.

SPC Dina Levkova: I want to take this opportunity to say I'm extremely glad that hockey season is back. Right now I a soldier who is deployed in Iraq. I left last year at what was supposed to be the beginning of the season. I'll be leaving Iraq soon, so coming back to a new hockey season makes it better. I go to Hofstra, so I'm right across the street. Good luck with the whole season.

When you return, your first game will be as my guest. Please send over an email when you're back on Long Island, and I'll make the arrangements.

Mike D. from Monroe, CT: I'm shocked that you put Bergenheim back to Bridgeport.  He is by far the best player on the Bridgeport team.  This kid should be in the NHL now!!!  If I was Bergie, I would request to be traded.  Don't let the future of the Islanders slip away or go back to play in Finland.
It's a good thing for us you're not Bergie! Sean will be fine. He is a big part of the Islanders' future. We made the move because it was the right thing to do for Sean and the Islanders. Hang in there, Mike. You'll see him here.

Adam: I'm an 18 year old from Hamilton, Ontario. I was wondering if you had any advice for those of us who are trying to break into the coaching world.

The key, simply, is to find a coaching job anywhere and with any team. Be an assistant, a team manager, any place where you can help out. Work at a hockey camp. The more you work at it, the more you'll be able to see if it's the career for you and what you have to do to get better. I wish you the best of luck, Adam, and keep me posted.

TCgibber: Kevin Colley has more [pucks] than a lotto machine. Will he ever play in the NHL?

If Kevin continues to work on every facet of his game while playing with more passion than anyone as you so articulately stated I think he definitely has a shot.


Coach Stirling loves to talk to fans about the game of hockey and the Islanders. Now he's offering this unique opportunity to fans to send him emails with any questions, comments or thoughts they might have.

Every week we will post Steve's responses to the most interesting and appropriate emails he receives.

Whether it's on the Islanders, coaching technique, the rules of the game or even something fun outside of the sport, Coach Stirling is willing to tackle (just about) everything.

Send your emails HERE and keep an eye on the COACH'S MAILBOX for updates!


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