Byrnes was originally scheduled to drop a ceremonial faceoff at a previous Islander game, but was readmitted to the Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park the day of the game. The Islanders made good on their promise to Byrnes and he got the chance to drop the puck in a ceremonial faceoff at the Islanders’ game against their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers. Prior to the game, he informed Islanders’ Director of Community Relations, Ann Rina that his favorite player was Richard Park. As the time came for Byrnes to walk to center-ice and drop the first puck, team captain Doug Weight made a quick switch. Weight had heard that Park was Byrnes’ favorite player and told him to take the face-off against Rangers’ captain Chris Drury. As Park skated up to the face-off dot, Byrnes was blown away to be standing alongside his hockey idol.
Byrnes, wearing his Islander jersey and a winter hat, was released from the hospital specifically for the game but had to return immediately following. The experience of dropping the puck before the game floored Byrnes, a native of Melville, NY, who thought that the fact that his night came against the Rangers made it extra special.
“Awesome and intense,” was Byrnes’ reaction shortly after he left the ice at a crowded Coliseum.
“The fact that they were playing the Rangers, who are the Islanders’ biggest rival, made it a little extra special for me,” Byrnes said.
Just before Byrnes dropped the puck he was treated to seeing the Islanders walk right by him to take the ice for pre-game warm ups. Byrnes demonstrated his outgoing character as Islanders forward Jon Sim was stretching with a weight on his stick, the 16-year-old was undeterred and was curious of Sim’s pre-game ritual, so he asked and Sim told him that his weighted stick helped him like a weighted bat helps a batter in baseball.
Byrnes’ determination in his fight with leukemia is something that he shares with his favorite Islander, Park, who plays a dogged and tireless two-way style. Byrnes was attracted to Park’s work ethic and his ability to utilize his speed.
“I like his fluency and I like the way that he passes the puck around,” Byrnes said. “He’s a good passer and a speedy player, which helps the team in all ways.”
Prior to Wednesday night, five of the Islanders visited Byrnes in the hospital and presented him with an autographed jersey and picture.
“When we were at Schneider House they all came and signed a jersey,” Byrnes said. “Five of them came into my room and they also signed a picture and spent some time with me, which made it a memorable day for me.”
Byrnes is very optimistic about his favorite team’s future and sees Islanders’ new center John Tavares
, as a catalyst for the turnaround.
“I don’t know what to make of Tavares because I haven’t seen him that much yet,” Byrnes said. “I do look forward to seeing more of Tavares and what he can do with the puck and how he will become such a key player for the Islanders.”
Tavares has needed little time this season to leave an impact on the ice and after the Islanders completed their 3-1 victory over the Rangers, he wasted no time in leaving his mark on Byrnes. As each player exited the arena, they stopped by to sign Byrnes’ jersey and say hi. Tavares went the extra mile. As he learned of the boy waiting to meet each player, he went into the equipment room and got one of his brand new sticks, personally autographed it and went to meet him. Byrnes’ face lit up when he saw Tavares and the brand new stick that he signed for him.
As Byrnes finally left the arena, walking out with his brand new stick, he knew he was going back to the hospital, but that didn’t matter, he had memories from the night that he will never forget.