The New York Islanders are set to play in their first exhibition game of the 2011 preseason against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins, Friday night at TD Garden. After winning a championship, a city rallies behind their team and the first home game of the season – preseason or otherwise – is nearly guaranteed to be a sellout.
“The building should be pretty awesome,” said defenseman Dylan Reese
. “This is their first home game after winning the Cup, so I can imagine it will be a pretty good crowd, energetic. We have a lot of young guys playing, some of them getting their first taste. I think we’re just excited to get going.”
|Dylan Reese #42 of the New York Islanders skates with the puck against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on April 6, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) |
With two games in as many nights, Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano spoke with General Manager Garth Snow and split the 50-man roster in half. This way, each player (excluding the injured) will have the chance to see some ice time and show management and the coaching staff why they deserve a spot in the Opening Night lineup.
“We prepared,” Capuano said. “Now they’re trying to win a job. There are spots available. They’re there for the taking. We have these five games and I know in training camp, it’s not as physical as it once was, but now the bodies will be flying. Guys are going to do everything they can to make our hockey team.”
The way the pack was divided, Friday night’s roster is loaded with players on the cusp, players that need to shine if they want a chance to make the club. Mike Mottau – a Boston native – will be the only defenseman with a one-way contract to suit up against his hometown team. Although, Capuano said that no one is safe. Not even the veterans.
The young kids have just as good a chance as some of the older guys, it’s just a matter of where we see them after the five games. Is Bridgeport going to be a place we feel they’re going to develop and help this organization in the future or is their time now? That is a decision that Garth (Snow) and management will sit down and talk about. - Jack Capuano
“The young kids have just as good a chance as some of the older guys, it’s just a matter of where we see them after the five games,” Capuano said. “Is Bridgeport going to be a place we feel they’re going to develop and help this organization in the future or is their time now? That is a decision that Garth (Snow) and management will sit down and talk about.”
Also defending the blueline Friday will be Steve Staios
, who is on a tryout; Reese, Calvin de Haan
, Ty Wishart
and Matt Donovan
. The latter four defensemen are all signed to two-way contracts.
“There is definitely healthy competition, no question, with all the youth,” said Reese, who spent time as a call-up in both of the last two seasons. “There are a lot of young guys who look great so far and the guys that were here last year, coming back from injury, haven’t missed a beat. So it’s healthy competition. There is no hostility between anybody. We’re all teammates at the end of the day. It’s just a matter of playing well for the team and for yourself.”
Islanders forward Blake Comeau remembers what it was like coming to camp and trying to earn a spot. In his first three seasons with the franchise, the sixth-year Islander spent considerable time floating between the minors and the NHL.
“It was obviously nerve-racking when you get to your first couple pro camps and you see some of the players you grew up watching,” Comeau said. “I guess the biggest thing is you have to go out and play with confidence and play the way that you know how to play.”
About to begin his third full NHL season, Comeau will be one of the longest-tenured Islanders to dress Friday, but that doesn’t mean he should be complacent.
“I think everyone has to compete hard,” Comeau said. “I don’t think any of them can get comfortable. There is always someone trying to compete for a spot, so I think that’s part of the whole exhibition process, is to show that you can play and go out and compete. Everyone is playing for a reason.”
|Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders looks on during warm-ups prior to their game against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 24, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Thrashers defeated the Islanders 2-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Everyone, including goaltender Rick DiPietro
, who said he’s learned a lot in the last three years.
“As bad as it was being injured, it really gives you an opportunity to sit back and realize how lucky you are,” DiPietro said. “Every time I get a chance to play an exhibition or any kind of NHL game, is a huge thrill.”
Competing against the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup Champs in his first game of the preseason will not affect DiPietro’s approach. He’s got one thing on his mind and that’s proving he’s worthy of the number one spot.
“It’s an exhibition game, so the main focus is feeling comfortable, working on getting a chance to work on communication with the defensemen, our PK and all those little things you have to fine tune before the season starts,” DiPietro said.
No matter what the situation, the Islanders goalie loves going back home to play.
He said, “I enjoy every time I get the chance to play back in Boston, but this is exciting because this is the first exhibition game and an opportunity to put all our hard work over the summer to the test.”