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In the Trenches with the New York Islanders

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Hiding in the digital trenches of your television set, bombs explode in the distance, but you’re still covered in filth of dirt and blood. As you grip an M16, the screen is lightly tinted red, reminding you that you’re an inch closer to being killed from a stray bullet or mortar flying about. But you’re so engulfed in the game that you forget to notice.

Using a headset from his home 3,000 miles away, your ally yells “Cover me!” And as you pull the trigger spraying bullets in the direction of your enemy combatants, your adrenaline is pumping because you don’t want to be shot. Then you remember, this is just a game and you can push pause, put down the controller that is gripped ever so tightly between your fingers and shut off the video game console.

Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey playing Call of Duty in the Islanders player lounge on Saturday, November 8, 2010.
That’s Call of Duty in a nutshell; a fictitious warfare battled out in the midst of cyberspace.

But it’s also the favorite video game of more than half of the New York Islanders roster. And while many of them played alone or played different games of similar attitude and style, the whole lot decided to generate a team and together they battle different video game junkies from around the world.

“There are probably eight guys that play every day when we’re at home,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. “It’s pretty popular within the team.”

Other members of the Islanders COD clan include Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Andrew MacDonald, Michael Grabner, Matt Martin, Rob Schremp, John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Bruno Gervais – but with players recalled to and from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, that number is in flux.

“I play a lot,” Grabner said. “I’ve played the old games. And when I got here, a lot of guys already played so I think we convinced some other guys, (like) Moulson and JT (Tavares), who used to play a different game before, to come over to the bad side. There’s like 10 or 12 guys that play.”

While a large group of them play, some players are more experienced than others.

“I can tell you who is the worst,” Grabner joked. Then he continued, “I’m pretty good, but Okie (Okposo) is real good too and his buddies are really good. The other guys just started playing. They didn’t play the old games. So they’re still getting used to it. Comes (Comeau) is also pretty good.”

Blake Comeau's Frech bulldog Reed snuggles up close with the Isles forward while he plays Call of Duty on Saturday, February 19, 2011.
Even though they all just saw each other at practice, they’ll each go home and jump online to start playing COD together. It’s all in good fun, but they get a good kick out of the headsets especially because the group enjoys poking fun at the team’s youngest player.

“There’s a lot of chirping going on, especially towards John (Tavares),” Grabner said. “He gets pretty mad about losing, so we just try to give him a hard time and he takes it to heart.”

Since each player is different, they all have their own techniques, favorite weapons and kill tactics as well as strategies.

“We play different games and there are different modes,” Grabner said. “Sometimes there are three flags and you have to protect them, so I just try to cover the flags while AMac (MacDonald) and Moulson are getting flags. I’m trying to protect my teammates, but I’m also trying to get as many kills as I can.”

Schremp and Grabner both enjoy using the Famas, a three-round burst assault rifle, but Grabner said his gun is souped up with all the different bonus options. Moulson and Tavares both prefer the Galil, which is also an assault rifle.

Blake Comeau playing Call of Duty on Saturday, February 19, 2011.
Bailey’s preferred method to kill is stabbing the unsuspecting combatant who walks around the corner. “Bailey is the best at it, but it’s the most gratifying to sneak up behind someone,” Schremp said.

Even though Bailey’s method might be gratifying, it’s not that easy to do. Moulson said Bailey is the sneakiest sniper, but Schremp disagreed, saying that MacDonald is the most devious killer. Grabner didn’t agree with either of his teammates and said Schremp is the slyest player.

Grabner did the honors and elaborated when he said, “(Schremp) just hangs out in corners and waits until people come around the corner.”

Schremp said he recently changed his game strategy, though.

“I realized my game needed to change,” Schremp said. “Camping out wasn’t working for me. So now I don’t really play defense, I just try to get as many kills as I can.”

So even though the team goes on their own way after practice each day, they all meet up again online to relax and kick some virtual butt.
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