By Steve Mears
Islanders play-by-play broadcaster
(Yarmouth, Nova Scotia) "There are definitely some jobs here to be won or lost on this team." Ted Nolan
Islander players are currently fighting for those jobs at training camp in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia literally. With numerous veterans and several long-time Islanders in camp, you may have thought that vacant spots on the opening night roster were almost non-existent. But the team's coaching staff has made it very clear that many such opportunities are not solidified and that none will be handed out. "Earning your role" with this team won't just be reserved for the little-known prospect or walk-on. Under the Ted Nolan regime, it applies to everyone.
Obviously, you have your "givens" or players we can count on to be in the lineup on October 5th for the regular season opener and to make big contributions this season. But there are definitely some questions on the Islanders roster which will be answered in the next week.
"With some camps, due to contracts, you already have your team in place," said Islanders assistant coach Dan Flynn. "But there are at least three or four legitimate jobs open here, especially with a brand new coaching staff and GM. Some guys definitely have a chance to earn a spot if they're competitive and hungry enough. We haven't seen the good things or the bad things that they did last year, so everyone is coming here with a clean slate."
Among the forwards, a twelve-year veteran like Richard Park could earn a spot on Long Island. Park spent last season with the Vancouver Canucks and is using his past experience and applying it to this camp.
"It's somewhat of the same approach mentally," said Park. "No matter what the situation is with the team, you just do your best in the preseason and work hard to get better every day. I try not to worry too much about the other stuff going on. You just have to get better and make the most of this opportunity."
Or what about a sixth-year pro like Andy Hilbert, who had a strong finish to last season with 18 points in 19 games for Pittsburgh? Like Park, Hilbert has used his speed and creativity with the puck to open some eyes in Yarmouth.
Then you've got a much younger player like 2004's 8th round draft choice Jason Pitton, who was impressive in Sunday's Blue-White game. The 6'2 195-pound winger scored the first goal of the game for Team Arbour and used his size and strength to create other offensive chances.
"Jason's definitely played extremely well and one of our scouts who has followed him said that was the best game he's seen him play," said Islanders assistant GM Ryan Jankowski.
With such an intense battle for precious real estate on the Islanders and Bridgeport rosters, it's no surprise that tempers have flared on numerous occasions during the scrimmages. Speed, puck skills, size, and strength aren't the only ways to catch the attention of the coaching staff. Take Ronkonkoma native Joe Grimaldi for example. He's been involved in fights with Jason Blake and Chris Simon, both a result of the rookie delivering a big hit on the veterans.
"The fights just happened. I was just working hard and things happen," said Grimaldi after his battle with Simon. "I guess it just depends on how much guys want it. I'm a competitor and it's natural for me to play that way. Guys get irritated, but it's part of the game and I've played that way my whole life. If you really want something, you've got to do what you've got to do."
This week, Fifty-seven other hockey players at the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia also really want something..the chance to wear the orange and blue this season.
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