The third-to-sixth graders at Birch Lane Elementary school can't contain themselves on Wednesday afternoon. In high-pitched unison, they chant "Let's Go Islanders!" over and over at an empty stage, with hand-painted blue and orange posters draping the walls of the old gymnasium in Massapequa Park.
John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Andrew Ladd are greeted like superheroes when they finally come out from behind the curtain; played in by a highlight reel with a MARVEL aesthetic.
"It's great, just the energy and the enthusiasm," Tavares said. "We see kids at our games and at practice and we know how much they care and appreciate and love the Islanders. It's great to come back and interact with them."
The Islanders spread out to 10 elementary schools across Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens on Wednesday for Islanders School Day. The goal, pass on valuable lessons about healthy living, teamwork, anti-bullying and hard work.
"We want them to have fun and enjoy it and ask some silly questions and some good questions, but get across a point of working hard and teamwork and eating healthy and anti-bullying and some good messages," Bailey said. "Even if only one sticks, it's still worth it."
They hear these messages from their teachers and parents every day, but hearing it from their heroes goes a long way.
"[Athletes] are their biggest role models," said Birch Lane Principal Steven Aspetti, whose school was chosen for making a positive impact on the community. "When they hear those messages, the same messages we deliver every day, from their idols it makes it that much more powerful. That's why we were honored for them to come today."
Islanders School Day isn't a lecture though, it's also a chance for the kids to talk directly to the players. The kids have questions - so many questions - ranging from how they became hockey players to how many teeth they've lost. (Between Tavares, Ladd and Bailey - it's a lot.)
"Just allowing them to ask questions and meet us is fun for them," Ladd said. "For us, being able to see impact and see them excited to meet John Tavares and opportunity to get an autograph is fun to see."
While Tavares, Ladd and Bailey never had any NHLers visit their schools growing up, they know what it would have meant for their eight-year-old selves. Bailey figures he'd make a lot of noise in the crowd, but wouldn't be able to actually speak if called upon. Tavares said he'd have been blown away. So channeling the desires of their younger selves, they stuck around afterwards to sign upwards of 200 autographs for the kids.
"I was such a big hockey fan growing up, meeting any NHL player would have been special and to hear them talk, hear stories of where they came from," Tavares said. "For sure it would have been something cool, I'm glad I can do that now."
|Tavares, Bailey, Ladd ||Birch Lane Elementary School |
|Cizikas, Nelson ||Davidson Avenue School |
|Hamonic, Boychuk ||Robbins Lane Elementary School |
|Chimera, Strome ||Oceanside School #5 |
|Clutterbuck, Halak ||Sea Cliff Elementary School |
|Hickey, Pelech ||P.S. 19Q Marino Jeantet School |
|Beauvillier, Seidenberg ||Waverly Avenue Elementary School |
|Berube, Quine ||Oquenock Elementary School |
|Lee, Pulock ||Seth Low I.S. 96 |
|Kulemin, Prince ||PS 312 Bergen Beach School |