By Jason Lockhart
The Islanders returned home late Saturday night from training camp in Canada and immediately went back to what they miss most in the off-season, other than playing hockey: interacting with their fans.
On Sunday, the Islanders kicked off the 2006-07 season with an NYI 365 Season Ticket Holder Party in Eisenhower Park. Thousands of fans gathered to meet the 2006-07 Islanders, receive their autographs and take pictures with them.
The event opened at 11 am with fans given the opportunity to purchase special Islanders merchandise at a discounted rate, play on the blow-up rides and listen to live music as "The Touch" rocked out from 11am-3pm. Islanders sponsors were also on hand giving out gifts and talking to fans.
At 11:30 the players arrived and were announced individually to a roaring crowd, along with Sparky and the 2006-07 Ice Girls by first-year Bloomberg 1030 Islanders radio broadcaster Steve Mears.
"It was a cool day," said young Islanders fan Ben Fox from Port Washington. "It's great to see the players face-to-face."
And see the players fans did. With smiles on their faces all day the Islanders shook hands, signed autographs, took pictures and chatted with thousands of fans. Not a hat, stick, jersey nor picture was left unsigned by closing time.
Many members of NYI 365 seemed blown away by an extraordinarily generous display of appreciation by star goaltender Rick DiPietro. Although the Islanders' team bus was set to return the players to their cars at the Coliseum, DiPietro sent word to the Islanders staff that the bus should leave without him. For more than an hour past the official "end" of the event, DiPietro met every fan waiting in line to meet him.
"These people are our most important fans, the folks who pay to see us every night," said DiPietro. "There were still some people in line. It was no trouble at all spending a little extra time to thank them."
"It's a great day," said Bruno Gervais. "It's fun to see the people you haven't seen all summer and get a chance to meet some of the fans. It's good to see all the smiles on their faces."
"I have a lot of fun at events like these," said John Power from Floral Park. "Here's to a season as successful as today."
Our sentiments exactly.