For a born winner and fierce competitor like John Tavares, a six-month summer break is just too long.
Sure, the weather’s nice and having some downtime with friends and family is great, but the Islanders captain would rather work through June.
“While the summer’s been good for other reasons, it’s been too long and I want to change that this coming season,” Tavares said. “It’s probably the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without playing. I’m looking forward to training camp and I want to finish off the summer strong and come into the year motivated with a lot to prove.”
Tavares sustained a season-ending knee injury while playing for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in February. He played his last NHL game on Feb. 8.
Tavares missed the Islanders final 22 games, but fortunately the injury didn’t require surgery and Tavares began rehabbing immediately following his return to Long Island. He progressed through his off-ice therapy and was cleared for full skating activity in mid-May, when he began practicing with the OHL’s London Knights.
Now, two-and-a-half-months later, the Islanders captain is working through his annual rigorous offseason training regiment and putting the injury behind him.
“It’s been a really good summer from a training aspect,” Tavares said. “It’s nice to focus on what I really need to work on, what I need to get better at and to get in the best shape I can for the season.”
As well as the summer workouts have gone physically, the long break can take a mental toll, especially on a competitor and leader like Tavares. He is chomping at the bit to get back on the ice with the Islanders, who have done their part to ensure a shorter offseason in 2015.
“The competition in camp might be the highest it’s been since I’ve been here,” Tavares said. “Certainly that’s going to push us individually and as a team. Not only are guys fighting for roles and ice time, but it also will help us as a team, bringing us together and pushing one another to be better as a group.”
Tavares said that he’s excited to return to Long Island and play with the Islanders new acquisitions; Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Halak and Johnson represent a complete overhaul of the Islanders crease, while Grabovski and Kulemin headline an influx of talent and depth up front. The Islanders also signed Cory Conacher, a speedy, skilled forward who will increase the competition at training camp.
“Goaltending was something [General Manager] Garth [Snow] addressed right away. It’s something he wanted to provide more stability with,” Tavares said. “I’ve always talked about the presence Evgeni Nabokov had in our lockerroom, but we’re bringing in a pretty young goaltender with some great numbers over his career. Year in and year out, he’s pretty consistent.”
Returning a healthy Tavares adds more to the Islanders lineup than any free agent could. The 23-year-old was the NHL’s third-leading scorer at the time of his injury, posting 66 points (24G, 42A) in 59 games, and was a Hart Trophy finalist for league MVP in 2012-13.
Training camp is a month-and-a-half away, so it won’t be long until Tavares trades off-ice workouts for morning skates and summertime blues for Islander blue and orange.