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Islanders name four Assistant Captains

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
After Thursday’s practice, the Islanders coaching staff held a half-hour meeting to name the team’s Assistant Captains for the 2011-12 season. The honor was bestowed upon Islanders young guns John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, as well as veteran leaders Brian Rolston and Steve Staios.

“It was pretty tough (decision),” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “There are other guys we know are going to lead. They don’t have to lead because they have a letter on their sweater… We just thought those (four) guys would fit in well with Mark (Streit),” who was named Islanders Captain on Sept. 21.

At this point, how the four Assistant Captains will share the role is unclear. Capuano said he’s leaning towards having a set pair for home games and a set pair on the road, though he’s undecided how they’ll split. Each pairing may showcase one of the younger players with a veteran.

Okposo is the lone returning A. He wore the letter on his sweater at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, but earning that responsibility for his third straight year was just as much an honor as the day he started wearing it.

John Tavares scores a first period goal against the Boston Bruins and is greeted by Frans Nielsen  in their game against the Boston Bruins at the Webster Bank Arena on October 1, 2011. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“I’m excited about it,” Okposo said. “It’s definitely an honor to be singled out and called upon as a leader in this group, especially with so many veterans on this team.  All the guys who got them are excited.”

With just two days until Opening Night, Okposo added, “I’m ecstatic about the upcoming season. I’m healthy and Mark (Streit) is healthy. We are in pretty good spirits and just excited to get the season under way.”

Okposo wasn’t the only young player to receive the honor. Showing his dedication to the franchise by signing a six-year deal Sept. 15, 21-year-old Tavares was all smiles in the locker room just a few brief moments after being named.

“Entering my third year, it’s a new responsibility,” said Tavares, the 2009 first overall NHL Entry Draft selection. “I’m excited about (being named an alternate captain) and to have the trust from the coaches and players that way. It’s a huge honor and I’ll do the best I can to provide leadership and play hard every time I’m out there.”

The team’s top scorer in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, Tavares’ work ethic is one to watch, admire and follow.

“I’ll mostly lead by my actions,” Tavares said. “I’ve already been a little more vocal than I was in my first year, just when I feel it’s necessary to speak up or talk to the guys and give my input. Not much is going to change, but I’ll definitely lead by example.”

With a combined 31 years in the league, veterans Rolston and Staios were made to lead. Though Rolston is the only player who has hoisted the Stanley Cup, they have tons of experience, including a combined 18 playoff series. Rolston came to the Islanders by way of a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Aug. 26.

“It is always an honor to wear a letter on your jersey,” Rolston said. “Our young guys are ready to go, ready to be leaders. Obviously, I have a lot of experience and I’m here to lend a hand when it’s needed and to lead by example.”

Steve Staios skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on September 30, 2011. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Staios came to Islanders Training Camp on a tryout basis and after a solid performance in preseason, he was awarded a one-year contract Sept. 30. Earning the A is one more positive to add to the 15-year NHL veteran’s action-packed month on Long Island.

“I feel humbled that I was named assistant captain,” Staios said. “Whether I was going to wear the A this year or not, it wouldn’t have made a difference with the way I approached the season. I was going to be a big part of this team from the beginning. It’s a big responsibility, but with my experience and the experience we have in our leadership group, I think it’s a good mix.”

Each player, if he’s wearing a letter or not, still gets Opening Night jitters.

“It’s one of my favorite nights of the year,” Tavares said. “It’s like Christmas for us. You get excited about the first game. You work so hard in the offseason to prepare and go through a lot of hard work through Training Camp, getting back into shape, getting our systems down and getting a routine back. It’s what we play for and it’s always so exciting at home and having a full building.”

Okposo said he has plans to watch both season openers tonight.

“I’ll watch both games on Versus and probably fall asleep during the second one, but it’s going to be fun,” Okposo said. “I’m going to get butterflies just watching them play. So when I play on Saturday night, it’s going to be something special.”

Staios said those feelings are natural and necessary.

It’s different every time, but if you don’t have those jitters and those feelings you probably shouldn’t be playing. I get them before preseason games too. It’s just my makeup. I love to compete and I’ll do everything I can do to contribute to this team. - Steve Staios
“It’s different every time, but if you don’t have those jitters and those feelings you probably shouldn’t be playing,” Staios said. “I get them before preseason games too. It’s just my makeup. I love to compete and I’ll do everything I can do to contribute to this team.”

Rolston shared that same mantra, adding, “They day you don’t have those jitters and the day you don’t want to succeed is the day you’re out of the league.”

So when the Islanders suit up for their first game of the 2011-12 season, they’ll all be pumped and ready to go. So grab your friends and Isles gear and pack the house, these guys feed off that energy.

Okposo said, “We want to get this barn rocking again and we are excited to do that.”

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