Kids around the world who grow up playing hockey dream of playing in the National Hockey League. Each of them has a favorite team and everyone hopes to play for that organization. Sometimes those hopes and dreams come true; just ask Islanders prospect Tony Romano.
“I grew up an Islanders fan and to be part of the organization is a great honor for me,” Romano said. “It’s a dream come true. We play in my backyard.”
Romano grew up playing hockey in Smithtown and attended dozens of Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum. He was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2006 and traded to the Islanders in 2009.
During the NHL’s 2004-05 lockout season, ex-Islanders center Alexei Yashin skated with Romano and his teammates to stay in shape. Once the NHL resumed play the following season, Yashin gave Romano and the rest of the team tickets to Islanders games, so the up-and-coming hockey player made sure to attend as many games as possible.
Since Romano is so well acquainted with Nassau Coliseum, the downside is he knows how outdated the facility is.
“This place (Nassau Coliseum) has a lot of history, but I think it needs to be updated just like a lot of the other teams in the NHL,” Romano said. “It would also bring a lot of high-end talent back to Long Island.”
He continued, “(A new arena) would change everything. I think it’s something that the area definitely needs, Long Island definitely needs and the team needs.”
The Islanders are in the midst of a major campaign which would allow the team and their hometown to undergo major changes in the next few years. Romano’s current team and Islanders American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, has already undergone some recent changes of their own.
Depleted with injuries last season, the Islanders called upon a bevy of their young prospects from Bridgeport. In turn, Romano was called upon to step into one of the Sound Tigers leadership roles.
“I sort of became a leader at the end of the year,” Romano said. “There weren’t those veterans there anymore to assume that role. It was cool though. I really enjoyed it and it’s something that I look forward to doing again.”
Another change the Sound Tigers faced last season was the departure of their head coach as Jack Capuano took over the Islanders head coaching job in November of 2010. Romano said it is nice to work with Capuano again at this year’s Islanders Mini-Camp.
“Playing for Cappy the last two years was a great experience,” Romano said. “I’m very happy for him that he got the job here.”
The Sound Tigers recently named former NHL defenseman Brent Thompson as their new head coach and Romano is thrilled with the team’s decision.
“He (Thompson) comes with a lot of experience and also Eric Boguniecki, our assistant coach, he’s a great guy and he’s also an NHL player,” Romano said. “So there’s tremendous knowledge all around us now and it’s something to be said about the organization.”
Romano will look to improve on a solid 2010-11 campaign with the Sound Tigers where he posted seven goals and 12 assists in 67 games. For now, though, he will have a few challenging days of practices to focus on.
“It was pretty tough and high-paced; guys were flying out there,” Romano said. “Pucks were jumping around, but for a first practice, I thought everyone skated hard and it was pretty successful.”
Romano will be on the Blue Team for this Saturday’s Blue and White Scrimmage & Skills Competition and is looking forward to lacing up the skates with all of the Islanders prospects.
“The game is a lot of fun,” he said. Last year there was a good crowd here.”
Even though this is not Romano’s first mini-camp he said there is always more to learn when he steps on the ice. Islanders Skill Development Coach, Bernie Cassell, gave Romano a new tip on how to drive to the net more effectively at this morning’s practice.
“There are a lot of things that you can pick the guy’s (Cassell) brain about,” Romano said. “He’s a wealth of knowledge.”
Romano will be sure to pick up some more tips as the week progresses, but will also continue to embrace the opportunity he has been given. It’s not everyday that a professional hockey player gets to play for his hometown team.
“Ever since I was five, I always wanted to play in the NHL, but I went so far as to say I want to be an Islander,” Romano said. “So to be so close and to just be a part of the team right now is a dream come true.”