Steve Webb surveyed the large crowd of smiling children (and parents) at the Mite/Mini-Mite Jamboree of the Long Island division of the Lighthouse Tournament at the Coliseum on Sunday and allowed himself a proud smile.
He had every right to enjoy the moment.
When Webb – the Islanders' fan favorite (STEVE WEBB! STEVE WEBB!) – met with the directors of every hockey rink on Long Island and told him the Islanders wanted to host the biggest youth hockey tournament ever on Long Island, he understood some of the skepticism he was met with. This was going to be quite an undertaking – and it would culminate with the championship games of the Lighthouse Tournament on the ice of the Nassau Coliseum, where legends like Bossy and Trottier played.
But on Sunday, they pulled it off. And by "they," that means Webb, the Islanders' operations staff and, of course, the youth hockey players, their parents and coaches.
"A true team effort in every sense of the term," said Webb, the Islanders' Director of Grass Roots Hockey. "This morning we had the Mites and Mini-Mites out there on the ice of the Coliseum and that was an event I don't think any of us will ever forget. It's not easy having hundreds of youth hockey players on the Coliseum ice all morning – we said it would be organized chaos – but everything was beautifully organized and you could see the smiles on everyone's faces. That's why we did it."
After the Jamboree, the youth hockey players stayed for New York Islanders practice. As the Islanders players and coaches took the ice, many of the children (and picture-snapping parents) lined the ramp to get closer to their heroes.
"That was very cool," said Islanders defenseman Bruno Gervais. "It brings a lot of us back to when we were in youth hockey tournaments and maybe we had a chance to meet an NHL player. These kids got the chance to see Ricky (DiPietro) and Billy Guerin and Brendan Witt and everyone on the Islanders and I'm sure it's something they'll remember for a long time."
Said Webb: "To me, the kids getting to see our players up close is what really pulls it together to make it a perfect day. When I was in tournaments as a kid in Ontario, my friends and I used to think it was the greatest just to get to play in one of the biggest rinks. But this is the Nassau Coliseum, where four Stanley Cups have been won and Billy Guerin and Ricky and all the other guys represent the New York Islanders. There's no question how much this means to the children."
Webb continued: "What I'm most proud of is that the youth hockey players, parents and coaches really understood the message the Islanders were trying to put out there – we care about our youth and their future."
Webb smiled again. The Islanders practice was winding down and the finals of the Lighthouse Tournament were about to begin. His day wasn't even half over, yet there was no place he'd rather be.