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New York Islanders find early success with players others let go

NHL.com @NHL

TORONTO - It's almost as if a ship full of NHL castoffs washed ashore and decided to dock in Long Island.

Just take a look at some of the players the New York Islanders have on their roster: Mike Comrie and Josef Vasicek are each now playing for a third team in less than a year; veteran Bill Guerin is skating on his fourth since the lockout ended; and then there's Jon Sim, who was wearing his eighth different NHL jersey since 2002 before injuring a knee last weekend.

"You forgot probably the most important guy," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said Thursday morning. "Mike Sillinger. I think he's played on 14 teams (actually, it's 12)."

Even Nolan is something of a castoff. He spent nine years out of the NHL before the Islanders hired him to be their head man before last season.

Nassau Coliseum seems to have become a safe haven for those seeking refuge.

"The one thing we want to try to establish here in Long Island is that when they come to us they want to stay with us," said Nolan. "I think coming here and having the opportunity to play - Long Island's a great place to play. We want to make sure the players enjoy themselves and stay around a long time."

The results have so far been favourable. There weren't many hockey observers who thought very highly of last year's team and it managed to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

After buying out Alexei Yashin and losing Jason Blake to free agency this summer, those same critics came out with more dire predictions about this year's Isles - and they were 3-1-0 heading into Thursday night's game against Blake's Toronto Maple Leafs.

Perhaps it's time the team received its due.

"We're a real hard-working group," said defenceman Chris Campoli. "We go out there, we compete every night and we make things difficult for other teams. That's why we're having success."

Nolan believes his team's good start can be linked back to its decision to hold training camp in Moncton, N.B., the city where he coached the QMJHL's Wildcats before getting another chance in the NHL.

The Islanders also started in New Brunswick last year and found it to be an ideal place for players to bond.

"The guys really got together - more so off the ice than on the ice," said Nolan. "We had a lot of team building, guys went golfing. We had the community open up their arms for us, we had parades downtown. It gave the guys a chance to get to know each other on a personal level."

It was also the place where Comrie, Guerin and fellow free-agent Ruslan Fedotenko first became a line. They've remained together ever since.

That unit had combined for 17 points through four games.

"What can you say? They've been one of the best in the league easily," said Campoli.

The Islanders aren't just a one-line team. Defenceman Bryan Berard scored the winning goal against the New York Rangers on Wednesday in his first game of the season.

He's also fairly well-travelled, having now played for five different teams since returning from his serious eye injury in 2001. Berard attended Islanders camp on a tryout and was offered a contract earlier this week.

"He really wanted to be a part of us," said Nolan. "He paid his own ticket to stay with us. He really enjoyed coming back and having this opportunity."

Forward Richard Park was in a similar situation a year ago. He made the team after attending camp on a tryout and is now signed through 2009-10.

The 31-year-old exemplifies this Islanders group. Park is playing for his sixth NHL franchise and has never scored more than 26 points in a season, but still has something to contribute.

"We want the identity of being a well-balanced team," he said.

That's certainly how others around the league have come to view them.

"I think they're very comfortable with who they are as a group," said Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice. "They look like they're playing a pretty meat and potatoes game - doing simple things and doing them hard."

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