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Gremlin t-shirt release fun for all

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
With 34 goals in the regular season, fans could see Michael Grabner’s confidence building as the season pushed towards its finish. But fans weren’t the only ones to take notice as he was named one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the rookie of the year.

And while Grabner quickly made a name for himself on Long Island because of his star power and breakaway speed, he’s also been extremely personable with fans through his Twitter account @grabs40.

Therefore, when his teammates Bruno Gervais and Andrew MacDonald presented him with a custom t-shirt on clean-up day (April 10) that adorned the catch phrase “Gremlin for Calder”, the Isles rookie was all laughs and even shared a photo with his fans on Twitter.

So what started as a locker room nickname quickly became popular amongst fans and those same fans quickly began asking where they could get a t-shirt of their own. With the buzz, the Islanders marketing department hopped on board and Gremlin t-shirts became a reality.

Islanders forward Michael Grabner signs autographs for fans at the Islanders Team Store in Massapequa on Saturday, May 14, 2011. Click photo for photo gallery.
“It’s cool,” Grabner said. “I didn’t know it was going to have such a quick effect when AMac (MacDonald) gave me this nickname, so it’s great to see. It’s great that the fans like it. I hope it carries into next year.”

To make Saturday’s t-shirt release more special, Grabner attended a signing at the Islanders Team Store inside the Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa. And by the time he arrived at noon, there was a line of adoring fans well over 200 people deep, many of whom had been waiting on line for three hours or more.

“It was a good turnout,” Grabner said. “I’m happy so many people showed up. You can see how great of fans we have on Long Island. Hopefully they’ll show up to a lot of games next season.”

Eighteen-year-old Anthony Tartamella from Rockville Center was one of those fans that waited on the long line. But it was worth it. Tartamella said he was a big Isles fan back in the ‘90s but that he lost touch with the sport in recent years. He couldn’t wait to tell Grabner that he’s the reason he has become excited about the team again.

“One day I went to my friend’s house (to watch the game) because he’s a big Islanders fan and I saw (Grabner) score a goal,” Tartamella said. “I said to myself, ‘wow, this guy is ridiculous.’ Then I went to a game and I saw him score again so I got excited again. He’s the first jersey I bought after I started going again. I definitely think they’ll make the playoffs next year.”

Another one of those fans was Ben Amodeo, who drove all the way from New Rochelle. He and his friends were the very first people on line at nine a.m. They arrived early because they didn’t pre-order one of the t-shirts and they wanted to guarantee an autograph with Grabner.

“Waiting was a little bit hard because I have my daughter with me,” Amodeo said. “But the (3.5 hour) wait was definitely worth it. It was a good time.”

Amodeo wasn’t the only father on line. Nine-year-old Kimberly Dallas, from Sound Beach, arrived at the team store with her father Keith around 10 a.m. She thought she was coming for the sale (as everything in store was 40% off), but her dad had something special up his sleeve.

“This was a surprise for her,” Keith Dallas said. “She had no idea that Grabner was going to be here. When I showed her the poster, she still didn’t believe it. It took her a little while for it to sink in that she was going to meet her favorite player.”

Islanders fans anxiously wait outside of the Islanders Team Store in Massapequa on Saturday, May 14, 2011.
Dallas continued, “But this is one of the things about the Islanders, the players always make themselves available to meet their fans, chat with them, sign autographs. It’s really special.”

Building up to the event, the anticipation was exciting. Fans anxiously waited to meet the Calder Trophy finalist, receive his autograph, meet his girlfriend and also get a glimpse of their newborn son Aidan, who is barely six weeks old.

“My girlfriend hasn’t been exposed that much to fans so she wanted to come too, so I brought the whole family,” Grabner said. “It’s good for the fans to see.”

After the event, @Grabs40 even Tweeted, “Best quote at the signing - lil (little) boy walks by Aidan and says ‘Hey dad, that's baby Gremlin’... hahah.”

The event truly was a wild success. And though fans were excited to meet Grabner and get their gear signed, most of them were there to extend their congratulations.

Of course, fans were applauding him on his Calder nomination and the recent birth of his son Aidan, but they were all exceptionally happy that the soon-to-be sophomore signed a long-term contract extension Friday afternoon, which will keep Grabner on Long Island for the next five years.

“Today made me feel good,” Grabner said. “They’re glad that I’m going to be back for a few years. Hopefully I can build on this season and put the same product on the ice.”

So while “Gremlin for Calder” is a catch phrase that became quite popular on Long Island over the last five weeks, Islanders Country is looking towards the future, which will most definitely include Grabner.
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