For Islander fans, the math is simple: 25 days until the start of the 2005-06 season in Buffalo, 10 days until the preseason opener vs. the Rangers at the Coliseum, three days until the start of training camp in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia...
...and ZERO days until the return of hockey.
Today was the day that many Islander fans had circled on their calendar. It didn't matter that Alexei Yashin and the rest of the veterans are not taking the ice offcially until Tuesday in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Seeing highly-touted prospects like Robert Nilsson, Petteri Nokelainen, Ryan O'Marra and Sean Bergenheim wear the Islander practice sweater was more than enough to whet their appetite for things to come.
For the opening of Islanders' Prospect Camp, a jam-packed crowd of more than 1,500 faithful fans filled Islanders Iceworks to get a glimpse of some of the organization's top prospects.
"Amazing turnout," said Islanders GM Mike Milbury said of the event that was promoted only through newyorkislanders.com and a mention in today's Newsday. "You keep hearing the skeptics wonder whether the fans are ready to come back to the NHL. All they have to do is be here to get their answer. Our fans really are a special group."
Those fans were not disappointed during the two-hour session which featured a highly-spirited scrimmage that saw Team Gray edge Team Blue, 5-4.
After several drills to open camp, the players were split into two teams for the 40-minute scrimmage with a referee and linesman. Following the scrimmage, the coaches put the players through more drills and skating.
Before the scrimmage, the players were shown a video about the new rules for the upcoming season. Maybe as a result of the new rules, the scrimmage was an especially fast-paced affair that featured numerous scoring opportunities and the exciting end-to-end action that the NHL anticipates this year.
Training camp invitee Frederic Cloutier started in goal for the Blue team, while Wade Dubielewicz started for the Gray team. Sean Bergenheim scored two goals in the first period, including the game's first goal 1:55 in to give the Blue squad a quick 1-0 lead. He would add his second goal of the period at 12:41, but O'Marra and Nokelainen scored for the Gray team to tie the game at 2-2.
Unlike the first period, in the second period the refs awarded penalty shots instead of two-minute power plays. Team Blue had four penalty shots, while Team Gary had three chances. 2003 first round pick Robert Nilsson put on a dazzling move, stopping on a dime faking forehand and then trying to slip it in backhand, but hit the post.
Midway through the second period, camp-invitee goaltender Tuomas Tarkki made a stop on Nilsson's breakaway attempt which led to an odd-man rush for the Blue team that resulted in a goal by Blake Comeau. With 5:43 left, Madden made a sprawling glove save on Jaroslav Mrazek's wrist shot from the high slot.
Chris Campoli and Luciano Aquino also scored goals for the Blue squad, while Jason Pitton scored for Team Gray.
An informal poll of Islanders scouts resulted in high praise for 2004 second round pick Blake Comeau. One scout estimated said Chris Campoli had three assists in the scrimmage and set up many more scoring opportunities.
Notes: The Blue squad was comprised of goaltenders Frederic Cloutier and Tuomas Tarkki, forwards Robert Nilsson, Sean Bergenheim, Mike Jarmuth, David Masse, Steve Reiger, Jeremy Colliton, Cole Jarrett and defensemen Vince Macri, Bruno Gervais, Nicholas Tuzzolino and Ryan Caldwell.
The Gray team featured goaltenders Wade Dubielewicz and Chris Madden, forwards Ryan O'Marra, Blake Comeau, Jaroslav Mrazek, Masi Marjamaki, Jason Pitton, Luciano Aquino and Petteri Nokelainen and defensemen Jody Robinson, Chris Campoli, Paul Flache and Dustin Kohn.
Near the end of the session, Mike Milbury met with the fans for 30 minutes, followed by Ken Morrow. After the players cooled down from their two-hour workout, Bergenheim, Nilsson, O'Marra and Dubielewicz posed for photos and signed autographs until the last fan went home.
The Islanders wrap-up the two-day Prospects Camp tomorrow with a morning session (10:00 a.m. - 12 noon) at Islanders Iceworks. Following the session, Islanders head coach Steve Stirling and assistant coach Brad Shaw will talk hockey and sign autographs for 30 minutes, followed by prospects Nokelainen, Campoli, Comeau and Colliton.
PHOTOS BY RICH STIEGLITZ
2005 NYI PROSPECT CAMP PRIMER