Despite sharing 82 games, 216 goals and eight NHL debuts, each member of the New York Islanders carried unique takeaways from the 2013-14 season. The shared experiences bred different memories for everyone involved, mementos to take with them going forward in their careers.
The magical moments were accompanied by all sorts of sights and sounds, from thundering chants in the Coliseum, to stunned silence in other rinks to the sheer scale of 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium.
As the Islanders looked back on the season that was, newyorkislanders.com asked Kyle Okposo, Colin McDonald and John Tavares about the moments that made their hair stand on end, sent chills down their spines and a rush through their veins.
Kyle Okposo had a career year for the Islanders, hitting new highs in goals (27), assists (42) and points (69). In the first half of the season, Okposo was driving hard to make the US Olympic team, but despite stellar numbers – he was third in scoring among American-born forwards – he was left off the team at the January 1st announcement. The Islanders winger was disappointed, but didn’t waste any time in sending a message to USA Hockey the next night, hammering home the OT winner against the Chicago Blackhawks and sending the Coliseum into a frenzy of “U-S-A!” chants.
Kyle Okposo: That overtime goal against Chicago… that was pretty special. I obviously was pretty emotional after not being picked for [the United States Olympic] team and I was disappointed about not being able to go to Sochi. To come out [the day after the announcement] and have a game like that, especially against a team like Chicago, was pretty special.
WATCH: Okposo scores the OT winner against the Blackhawks.
For almost all of the Islanders roster and coaching staff, the outdoor game at Yankee Stadium was a brand-new experience. Islanders-Rangers game are intense and memorable enough, but throw in the mystique and tradition of New York’s baseball cathedral, the freezing conditions and the spectacle of 50,000 fans; it becomes a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable night.
Colin McDonald: That’s something growing up that you never really dreamed about, but the last couple of years when they have these games, you watch them and I’ve always said that those outdoor games are our super bowls. To actually get a chance to play an outdoor game and to have it be at Yankee Stadium was just such a surreal moment. I wish that the game never ended. To have all our friends and family there, it’s the one game that everyone talks about. It was something I’ll never forget.
The outdoor game stuck out to John Tavares, but so did his “bittersweet” trip to Sochi. He won a gold medal with Team Canada, but also had his season ended in the quarterfinals against Latvia. Tavares was sidelined with a significant injury for the first time in his professional career, but it made him appreciate his daily routine in the NHL.
John Tavares: The Olympics, for me, speaks for itself – being there and winning a gold medal. It was bittersweet with the injury and there were a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of things going through me at that time, but certainly it was a high point in my career being able to win at that level.
I do cherish the small things like being on the road and being on the plane with the guys. Being in the hotel rooms and sharing dinners together; that’s where you get to know your teammates.
There is a learning curve for any rookie that makes it to the NHL and it usually begins with a tough lesson dished out by one of the league’s veterans, or as they say, “welcome to the show, kid.”
Ryan Strome: I got hit pretty hard in my second game against Tampa or Anaheim… My nose was bleeding a little bit and had my bell rung… After that I felt like, okay there’s my big hit and I could move on.
Anders Lee: I blocked a Dustin Byfuglien shot and even though it hit me right on the pad, it still really hurt. I was like, yeah, there are some guys that can shoot the puck.
Calvin de Haan: When Crosby scored that one overtime goal. I kind of tied his stick up, but good players will score those goals.
Brock Nelson: I know when I scored my first goal that was pretty cool and I was like wow, this is it.
WATCH: Strome, Lee, de Haan and Nelson reflect on their rookie seasons.