Of all the people stuck in traffic heading to Tampa Bay Times Forum for Thursday’s Islanders game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, no one was more worried about missing puck drop than John Persson.
Persson, an emergency call up, was a game-time decision for the Islanders; the decision largely based on whether or not he would make it to the game on time.
The Islanders took their pre-game warm-ups without Persson; unsure of whether or not their new winger would make it on time for faceoff.
Essentially, John Persson was late for his first day of work – in the NHL.
It wasn’t exactly Persson’s fault, as time and distance were both factors working against the emergency call up. Persson was practicing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Yale’s Ingalls Rink in New Haven, CT, when head coach Scott Pellerin told him he had been called up by the Islanders.
“You’re going up,” Persson was told by his coach. “Get moving, you’re in a huge rush.”
The 11 a.m. announcement kicked off the rat race from Connecticut to Florida, as Persson needed to be in the Sunshine State for the 7:30 p.m. puck drop. There were a number of check-points and potential pit falls along the way: traffic jams, flight delays – Persson’s luck and Murphy’s Law were about to be put to the test.
I remember looking up at the clock at 6:50, I still didn’t have my bag and the guys are going out for warm-ups. - John Persson
Persson showered, changed, grabbed his gear and rode a limousine down the I-95 to Kennedy Airport for a 3:00 p.m. flight. Luckily, Persson – and his oversized hockey bag – made it through check-in and security on time to get to the gate, allowing a little time to catch his breath.
“I just wanted to get there, that’s all I thought about,” Persson said. His only thought being, “am I going to make it?”
If Persson found any Zen at 30,000 ft. it was extinguished when he landed in Tampa, where his flight arrived behind schedule – at approximately 6:10. If that wasn’t bad enough, he spent at least another 30 minutes waiting at baggage claim, desperately whispering to the carousel to hurry up. Unfortunately for him, oversized bags were the last to come off the plane.
Persson had one eye on the carousel not delivering his bag and kept the other on Twitter, following as the Islanders began their pre-game preparation.
“I remember looking up at the clock at 6:50, I still didn’t have my bag and the guys are going out for warm-ups,” Persson said. “That’s not good.”
Then finally, with his bag in hand, Persson hopped into his second limo en route to the rink. The 8.4 mile drive along I-275S should take about 15 minutes, but took close to a half hour for Persson. Normally, the goal-scorer loves seeing red lights, but these one’s were holding him hostage in downtown Tampa with his NHL debut hanging in the balance.
He pulled into Channelside Dr. at 7:20 p.m., handed his bag to the Islanders equipment staff and busted into the locker room to get dressed. His gear was still wet as the sticker on his helmet was being dried on. Luckily for him, the equipment staff carries jerseys of all players under contract, so he was fitted in his new threads as he walked through the visitor’s tunnel. As he made his way out to the ice to the sound of a packed NHL building, equipment manager Scott Boggs handed him one freshly-taped stick. Armed with his lumber, the travel-day odyssey came to an end and Persson fulfilled a life-long dream of skating in the NHL.