Sabine Vockins’ mission to bring Islanders players to her school started as a solo job. She approached her teachers at P.S. 31 in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn and suggested entering a contest to bring the Islanders to their school for the team’s annual school day.
Of course, she needed help to make her school stand out from the rest, so she enlisted hundreds of students to get decked out in orange and blue and make their case. Weeks went by without word, so she thought she was in big trouble when she was called into the principal’s office. Instead, she got the terrific news that her campaigning had paid off.
“I was really excited [when I found out they were coming],” she said. “I thought I was in trouble when I went to the principal’s office because it was my first time. She told me and I went crazy. I was really happy.”
So on Wednesday morning when Casey Cizikas, Steve Bernier and Marek Zidlicky walked out to a roaring crowd at the P.S. 31 auditorium, the beaming fifth-grader – decked out in a John Tavares jersey – was sitting in the front row, waving a “Yes! Yes! Yes!” sign she had handcrafted.
On the stage, Cizikas was overwhelmed by the response they received in Brooklyn. Nearly all of his teammates were at Long Island schools, where the Islanders have been adored for years, so this was new territory. While he was optimistic after the team’s first two months in Brooklyn, he didn’t know what to expect.
“It made my morning,” Cizikas said. “When we first walked into the auditorium, the kids went nuts, started screaming, cheering and doing the Islanders chant it was pretty special.”
Cizikas, Bernier and Zidlicky weren’t just there to meet the kids and sign autographs; they were there to teach kids about values, relating their own experiences.
“We tried to teach them about anti-bullying, eating healthy and trying to be a good person,” Cizikas said.
After the life-advice portion of the day, the Islanders opened up the floor to the kids, who lined up single file at the one-height-fits-most microphone in front of the stage. The questions ranged from gameday routines to alternative careers and everything in between, as the kids relished their moment to talk one-on-one to NHL players.
The best question? Too many to count, Cizikas said.
Even though the Islanders were there to teach the kids, Cizikas said he learned something from the event. The support from the students showed that the Islanders are cultivating new fans in Brooklyn, and that inroads are also being made in the local hockey community.
“One teacher told me they just opened an arena nearby in Long Island City,” Cizikas said. “That’s cool that hockey’s starting to get big out here and starting to grow. She was telling me how a couple of years ago, there weren’t many kids playing hockey and now there’s a bunch. That’s something special.”
Wednesday was extraordinarily special for Vockins, who hand delivered cards to Cizikas, Bernier and Zidlicky in exchange for pictures, autographs and memories that will last a lifetime. She said she felt a special kinship with Zidlicky.
“Nobody can pronounce my name, nobody can pronounce his name well, so we have something in common,” Vockins said.
She may have been the first one to want the Islanders to come to her school, but no one in the packed gymnasium wanted them to leave.