Following New York Islanders practice Saturday, future Islanders of a different sort found themselves on Nassau Coliseum ice. Young hockey players aged 4-9 participated in the sixth annual Islanders Youth Hockey Jamboree.
Twelve teams from across Long Island and Brooklyn partook in the afternoon of fun, which also included a rinkside view of Islanders practice prior to the youth games. Following practice, members of the Islanders signed autographs for their young fans.
The Coliseum ice surface was separated into three smaller rinks so six teams could play at once. Although the speed of Michael Grabner, the shot of John Tavares or the physical presence of Matt Martin may not have been on display it was still a terrific occasion for all the kids involved along with their families.
Vinny Messina, the coach of the Islanders Iceworks team, was excited to see his young stars participate on the Coliseum ice.
“A lot of the boys that are here, they play in Islanders jerseys at every clinic and they’re Islanders fans,” Messina said. “They all feel like they’re the home team.”
Nine-year old John from the Iceworks team loved skating on the same ice as his favorite NHL squad.
“It’s pretty awesome and fun. Getting to meet the players was very cool too.”
One of the Islanders that the young athletes had the chance to meet was Joe Finley. The Minnesota native fondly remembers his days growing up attending Minnesota Wild practices and knows just how special of an occasion it is for the young admirers to participate in a day like this.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Finley said. “You get to see a lot of kids with big smiles on their faces. I remember being that age and thinking how cool it was. Just having a little interaction goes a long way with them.”
The 6’8, 249-lb defenseman may have been more than twice the size of most of the jamboree participants, but he fit right in during the jamboree sessions, sitting on the bench and trading some hockey stories with those waiting for their next shift.
Islanders Manager of Amateur Hockey Development, Jocelyne Cummings was thrilled seeing the youth players grinning from ear to ear on the ice.
“All pro hockey players start at this level, so it’s fun to see the development from when the kids start here to where they eventually end up playing,” Cummings said. “The kids faces are the priceless. Getting on the ice and saying to their friends ‘the Islanders play here!’ is exactly why we have this event.”
Maybe when these youngsters are draft eligible in a decade, they’ll be able to once again play on the same as ice their favorite team, but this time as a member of the Islanders.