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Fans Win Big At Draft Party

by Brittany Cole / New York Islanders
Before Islanders star Kyle Okposo made the announcement that the Isles selected Ryan Strome fifth overall, General Manager Garth Snow announced that there were more than 10,000 fans watching back in Long Island.

To be precise, 10,326 pumped-up Islanders fans jammed into Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to witness the team make its fifth overall pick and participated in a showcase of Islanders interactive activities, events and displays.

The Islanders held their 2011 Draft Party Friday night in coordination with the National Hockey League Entry Draft, giving fans their first glimpse of the team’s top selection, Strome.

Fans young and old came from all over Long Island to take in the fun. A family-friendly event, the Draft Party featured activities that were suited for not only the Islanders young fans, but for the older ones as well.  Some activities included locker room tours, inflatable games, street hockey contests and video game tournaments, which proved to be crowd favorites.

John Bello and his six-year old son Joseph played in the street hockey competition.

“I’m here because of my son,” said the Seaford native Bello. “He just loves coming to the Coliseum, whether for the draft parties, the games or just seeing the players. We came to the party the last three years, and it’s gotten a lot bigger, that’s for sure.”

In addition to the street hockey games, two video game tournaments saw winners play Isles forwards Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. Moulson, who played as the Islanders, went on to win his competition and score an empty-net goal by none other than, Matt Moulson.

Along with Moulson and Grabner, Trevor Gillies, Travis Hamonic, Michael Haley, Matt Martin, Kevin Poulin and 2009 first overall selection John Tavares all took part in the fun and signed thousands of autographs. Melville resident Chris Zeh and his two sons were trying to enjoy the entire night by visiting each booth and hoping for a chance to see all of the Islanders players who made their way around the party for various events.

“We’ve been big Islanders fans the past couple seasons and we go to a bunch of games,” Zeh said. “We just like coming out. It’s a good time. We’re just playing some arcade games, having some food and enjoying the time. It’s a great time for the family. I think this is very fan-friendly and gets people involved and excited.”

The party seemed to cater to the young fans, many of which were taking in all of the sites with their families wearing their favorite Islanders jerseys. Bello’s son Joseph, whose favorite player is Tavares, was one of those fans.

“Basically, we love the Islanders,” the elder Bello said. “I’ve been going to Islanders games since I was five or six years old. Now my son is six years old and I want him to experience the same thing. Unfortunately, he’s seeing the same building, but hopefully we’ll have a new building soon.”

The Bellos weren’t the only fans who were hoping residents of Nassau County will go out and vote on August 1. Zeh agreed and not only believed in a new arena but also a playoff-bound team this season.

“Hopefully they’ll vote yes on August 1st to get the referendum passed in order and bring a winning team back to the Island,” Zeh said. “Everybody’s getting excited for next season.”

Thousands in attendance signed a petition to show their support of a new arena for Nassau County and the Islanders, and hundreds of residents registered to vote for the August 1 referendum.

Optimism was definitely in the 40-year-old Coliseum air.

“I’m here to see all of my fellow Islanders fans and cheer on my team,” said Amber Laukaits. “I can’t wait to see who they draft and get more players on the team.”

Laukaits of Lynbrook, who was visiting the social media table, said she’ll enter any contest that involves the Islanders.

“I’ll get on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare – anything I can, because I’m a big Islanders fan,” Laukaits said “This party is wonderful. Everything is great. I’m really happy I came out.”

In the backdrop of all the Draft Party fun, there was great cause going on. The Islanders hosted Long Island’s first major American Red Cross Blood Drive with their newest charitable partner and collected almost 200 usable pints of blood.

One surprise hit of the night was the tattoo booth that featured Tattoo Lou's of Suffolk County. General Manager Rich Arnao couldn’t hide his smile as he talked about the numerous fans in attendance who were getting Islanders tattoos, both permanent and temporary.

The Hockey Hall of Fame treated fans to displays of Islanders equipment and jerseys that are now featured in the Toronto museum. One display showed recent King Clancy Trophy recipient Doug Weight’s Team USA gear.

With thousands of Islanders fans in attendance, dozens of interactive games and activities and numerous business partners adding to the fun, the fifth overall pick was icing on the cake. Isles fans went home happy and can see more joyous June nights like this in their future, many lasting later into the draft as they await their team’s selection.
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