John Tavares (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The New York Islanders captain will help the team set up shop in Brooklyn next season, but his time in Nassau County was invaluable. Find out how the superstar grew up in Long Island.
It's a Tuesday morning in downtown Toronto and New York Islanders captain John Tavares is putting his star power to good use. A son of the city's suburbs, Tavares is promoting the Canadian Suit Drive, a charity initiative spearheaded by Moores, which aims to provide donated suits and other professional clothing to men and women seeking employment.
“It’s great to be involved and we’re hoping for a strong finish," Tavares said. "It’s an initiative that helps lot of people get back on their feet and back in the workforce.”
This is the John Tavares of now, the John Tavares who has already been through the wars in the NHL and is still just 24 years old. A phenom who entered the OHL a year early and set the template for exceptional players such as Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid (the exemption is colloquially called the 'John Tavares Rule'), Tavares arrived on Long Island during a time of chaos for the organization and is now the face of a franchise on the rise.
“I learned a lot living down there," he said. "Great people, certainly a great community. Even though you’re part of the metro area of New York, Long Island definitely separates itself from there and people are proud to be from Long Island. It’s been fun learning about myself and the growth of me as a person and player. It’s hard to believe it’s been six years already.”
Since he was 19 when he first skated in an NHL game, Tavares essentially spent his "college years" as one of the most talked-about players in hockey, in a market that hosted an incredible NHL dynasty in the early 1980s, with little success thereafter.
The 2014-15 edition of the team seemed bound for glory, with Tavares leading a young and exciting team with great new depth and experience sprinkled throughout the lineup. But the Isles lost a crushing Game 7 to Washington in the first round, due in part to the absence of top defenseman Travis Hamonic, who was injured in the second-last game of the regular season (MCL tear) and missed the entire series.
“We definitely thought we had something special and we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to," Tavares said. "The way we came together early in the year and where the team arrived from the ups and downs over the years, we were disappointed we didn’t get it done in the first round. We felt like we underachieved.”
Tavares noted that the team also had great successes, but the axiom of winning your last game also hangs above the heads of hockey players. Now, a new challenge will be piled on to the heightened expectations as the Islanders move west to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center.
New York needed a new home, as the Nassau Coliseum was far past its halcyon days as an NHL arena. Plans to build in that area hit snags on several occasions and the move to Brooklyn is an interesting one, since Barclays was not built for hockey – and is also a decent hike for the team's traditional fan base.
But Brooklyn also provides a great opportunity for the franchise, with its state-of-the-art building and unique (or gentrified, depending on your political disposition) culture. Plus, those hounding Rangers fans will be even closer.
“Going to Brooklyn, trying to draw new fans and connect with our fans there will be important for us to do," Tavares said. "We’ve done such a great job in the past and that’s a tradition with the Islanders.”
As the captain of the team, it may be expected of Tavares to do a little extra all the time, but my sense has always been that he welcomes the challenge. He made himself part of the Long Island community over the years and at least for now, plans to stay there, even though other teammates are checking out places to live in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
Long Island helped Tavares become the man he is today and he seems quite content to keep the place as a part of his life.