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Islanders Pick A Puppy

Matt Martin and Thomas Hickey pick up a seven-week old yellow lab to start the team's Puppy with a Purpose program.

by Cory Wright @WrightsWay /

Matt Martin and Thomas Hickey had a tough task on Tuesday as they approached a pen of four Labrador puppies - a pair of black and a pair of yellow labs, respectively - all just seven weeks old.

The two Islanders had to pick up a puppy from the Guide Dog Foundation for the team's Puppy with a Purpose partnership, as the Isles will help raise a puppy to one day become a guide dog for the blind or visually impaired. 

The hardest part, picking one. The second hardest part, picking just one. 

The Islanders did their due diligence, picking up and holding each one, feeding them kibble, giving belly rubs and evaluating how they'd look in orange and blue. 

Did they want a rambunctious pup? The one nipping at the other's ears, or did they want the chill one, who plopped down for a nap before having the other three lay around him. 

"Can't make a bad decision," Hickey said as he scouted the bunch. 

That counted as tryouts and after careful deliberation, Hickey and Martin decided on the sleepy yellow lab - after all the calmer dogs tend to perform better in loud, stimulating situations, like Islanders games. 

And the dog dad's name - believe it or not - was Sparky. Fitting. 

Martin picked the puppy up, put an Islanders jersey and hat on him and asked if he was ready to become an Islander, the newest - and cutest - member of the team. 

"It wasn't easy," Martin said. "A lot of flip-flopping every time you picked one up. A few people fell in love with the one the yellow lab that we picked - the boy - and I'm excited to see him grow." 

This lab has quite the journey ahead of him. He'll spend the next 14 months under the care of the team as he's raised to become a guide dog to a blind, or visually-impaired child. This path will include training milestones along with socialization, including bringing the puppy to Islanders games and events - and will be documented on and on social media. 

Martin and Hickey got a look at the end result as they went on blindfolded walk with two labs further along in the program. The labs - Perry and Willie - led them through an obstacle course. 

"It's rare that you trust a person after a couple minutes, let alone an animal and I just felt like it stayed clear of trouble," Hickey said. "It was really impressive to take the blindfold off and see the ground we covered and obstacles and putting trust in a dog that's been very well trained." 

"It's an amazing cause," said Martin who has previously worked with service dogs with his own foundation. "They do a wonderful job here." 

The immediate thing is to give this good boy a name - and Islanders fans will get their say. The voting is open until September 4, with the team revealing the name of the puppy with a purpose on September 5. 

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