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Skate with the Greats: Fans Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

by Tiki Selimaj / New York Islanders
Boomer Esiason battles for position with Chico Resch at last year's event (Photo: New York Islanders)

Remember admiring your favorite hockey players growing up? Maybe you’ve pictured yourself dishing the puck to a streaking Mike Bossy for a Stanley Cup-clinching goal. Even better – what if you could pick up a tape-to-tape pass from Doug Weight to bury it yourself?

With the help of MET-Rx, the New York Islanders are making these dreams come true for a few lucky fans, thanks to the Skate with the Greats Sweepstakes. Eight winners have been selected for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with Islanders greats Doug Weight, Butch Goring, Mike Bossy and other legendary Islanders alumni. Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton, hosts of MSG/WFAN’s Boomer and Carton Show, will also participate.

The sweepstakes attracts fans of all ages and skill levels. Some have played hockey their entire lives, while others typically indulge as spectators. The participants’ excitement and energy, according to the legends, more than compensates for on-ice ability.

This year’s winners are: Adam Fritzen of Manorville, Andrew Benazzi of Locust Valley, Keir Johnson of Breezy Point, Keith Stewart of Centereach, Michael Messina of Levittown, Raymond Navaro of Massapequa, Tom King of West Babylon, and Peter Arculeo of Medford.

“I’m impressed with the people who come out and play,” Bossy said. “They’re 100% committed to doing the best they can. You’ve got guys of all kinds of skill levels, going from beginners to some pretty skilled players.”

The program is Bossy’s brainchild, as he developed the idea with MET-Rx four years ago. It’s since grown into a yearly bonanza and a significant source of recognition for the charity NBTY Helping Hands.

“This is probably the only time I lace up my skates anymore,” said Bossy. “It’s a lot of fun and I enjoy doing it. Best of all, the winners are always very excited to come out.”

The game is a showdown between two mixed teams of legends and winners, with three ten-minute periods of action. Leading up to the game, the contest winners will have a chance to participate in four workouts at Islanders Iceworks, the team’s official practice facility in Syosset. It’s a small glimpse at the preparation that is involved in playing a National Hockey League game, complete with hockey gear and dressing room banter.

Last year’s contest saw the Blue Islanders topple the White Islanders 8-7 in a shootout. The winning goal? Provided by none other than 1981 Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Butch Goring.

“This game is in my DNA,” said Goring. “It was a really fun time, which holds true for anytime you can get back on the ice. I don’t skate as much as I used to, but the mind always knows what it wants to do when you’re out there. Problem is, the legs don’t want to listen!”

The 63-year-old MSG broadcaster relishes the opportunity to rehash the glory days with former teammates. The participants’ energy and excitement is delicately balanced with a deep-rooted sense of nostalgia brought by the legends.

“I always look forward to seeing the guys,” Bossy said. Then, a chuckle: “Butch is actually still quite shifty for a 60-year-old and moves much quicker than you’d think. Among the others you end up hearing the same stories that have been told since the 70’s and 80’s, only they’re so embellished now that everyone’s gone their separate ways. They’ve been exaggerated ten-fold!”

Goring: “Bossy can still score from just about anywhere on the ice. And you can’t expect the puck back from him because you know he’ll shoot it. It makes me wish we could get everyone from the Dynasty Years and play a game one day.”

Doug Weight, the “youngster” of the bunch, won’t be taking the 60-goal scorer lightly.

“Mike won’t know what’s coming,” Weight said. “He’s been known to throw a few cross-checks around so I might put Butch on him to get under his skin a bit.”

Just as Goring was winding down his playing career in the late 80’s, Weight was beginning his as a junior in Michigan. The age gap played no role in their ability to earn the victory last year, and they look to continue their momentum in 2013.

“Butch sealed the win in the shootout with a great shot,” Weight said. “We’re looking to hang onto our title!”

Playful ribbing aside, Weight has received praise for his ability to involve fans in the action, skilled or not. Known as a playmaker throughout his professional career, you can count on Weight to rely on his relative youth and selfless play to power his team to another Skate with the Greats victory.

“Doug is still fresh out of the game, so you know he’s still got it,” Goring said. “Not to mention he’s got about 20 years on most of us. You better be aware of his presence on the ice because he’s a tremendous passer who will definitely get you the puck.”

Weight never hesitates to show his competitive streak. After all, these legends are still chasing a victory, something they experienced plenty of during each of their Stanley Cup conquests:

“Of course I’m still worried about making sure my line scores!” Weight said. “It’s such a fantastic atmosphere and it really gives you that one-of-a-kind feeling again. Getting everyone involved makes it a blast.

It’s the attitude that elevates the event from good to Great, and turns a dream into reality!

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