Sport: Maple Leafs' John Tavares readies for return to Long Island: 'I was proud to be an Islander' - - PressFrom - US
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SportMaple Leafs' John Tavares readies for return to Long Island: 'I was proud to be an Islander'

18:06  28 february  2019
18:06  28 february  2019 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Maple Leafs' John Tavares readies for return to Long Island: 'I was proud to be an Islander'© Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited

The next game at the "Old Barn" in Uniondale, N.Y., will have a different feel. It pits two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, two veteran coaches and two young superstars in Mat Barzal and Auston Matthews.

But those storylines are completely irrelevant. Feb. 28 has long been circled on the calendar of Islanders fans and all their focus will be on No. 91, John Tavares. The expectation is it won't be a warm, thank you for your nine years, welcome.

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"The fans can boo and all that stuff but that’s because they’re Islander fans," commented former NHLer and current NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick when asked recently during an exclusive Q&A with Sporting News. "I think John Tavares is going to love them and respect them and understand that situation

Tavares on Long Island return: 'I really embraced being an Islander'

Tavares on Long Island return: 'I really embraced being an Islander' After leaving the New York Islanders for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs this past summer, John Tavares will finally return to Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night. "I grew a lot in my time there and really thankful for the impact a lot of people had on me," Tavares said on Tuesday, according to TSN's Mark Masters. "I'm not trying to overthink it. I just try and go out there and be myself and play and help the Maple Leafs." Tavares gave the Islanders new life, and his decision to leave cuts deep among fans of a team that hasn't experienced much success in several decades.

"I’m sure that when the game is over the fans will still love John Tavares even though they won’t show it to him and John Tavares will still appreciate and love the Islander fans."

Ten years ago this June, then-GM Garth Snow walked to the podium at the Bell Center in Montreal. The words he spoke next forever changed a franchise desperate for a return to its dynasty days.

"With the first overall pick, the New York Islanders select John Tavares."

Maple Leafs' John Tavares readies for return to Long Island: 'I was proud to be an Islander'© Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited tavares-islanders-draft-022719-getty-ftr.jpeg

As confetti rained down on the 10,000 fans — some already sporting Tavares jerseys — on the floor at the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, their eyes lit up with the prospect of the team having its first homegrown superstar since the days of Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier.

Jilted Islanders Fans Have Harsh Words For John Tavares In Extremely Long Island Video

Jilted Islanders Fans Have Harsh Words For John Tavares In Extremely Long Island Video Thursday is a very special day in Nassau County. John Tavares returns to the Coliseum (where the Islanders are playing half their home dates, because that Brooklyn thing really isn’t working out) for the first time since leaving the Isles after nine seasons and signing with the Maple Leafs. But it’s not happening under the circumstances most would’ve expected last summer. The surprising Islanders are in first place in the Metro—Tavares’s exit has not left the team nearly so bereft as predicted—and so, the erstwhile captain comes back to a fan base that isn’t merely heartbroken, though they are that, but is feeling pretty damned feisty about it.

He was anointed as the savior of the franchise.

"John Tavares is the second-best Islander in the post-Cup era, behind Pat LaFontaine," said Noel Fogelman, a co-host for the Isles Buzz podcast. "Tavares did what every superstar player is expected to do: make the players around him better. Tavares never played with a superstar on his wing but made players such as P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson rich. The captain often had to carry the team on his back."

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Fast forward to 2019 and Tavares is now set to return to the Coliseum wearing a different blue uniform. He will enter the doors, walk down the stairs and, for the first time in his career, step inside the visitor's locker room as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I really embraced being an Islander, I loved it," Tavares told reporters Tuesday. "It was a great place to play. I never didn't enjoy my time there even when things weren't going well. I did everything I could to just help the team hopefully win the Stanley Cup and unfortunately we weren't able to do that and I take responsibiity, especially being the captain."

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Johnsson scores twice, Leafs use 4-goal second to top Oilers Andreas Johnsson scored twice during Toronto's four-goal outburst in a seven-minute stretch to open the second period and the Maple Leafs cruised past the Edmonton Oilers 6-2 on Wednesday night.Mitch Marner

"I gave it everything I had on a daily basis and tried to do the best I can for the Islanders and was proud to be one."

Over the course of nine seasons with the Islanders, Tavares was a five-time All-Star, a two-time Hart Trophy finalist and led the team to three postseason appearances, including the second round of the playoffs in 2016 with the game-tying goal and double-overtime winner. In 669 regular season games, he netted 621 points (272 goals, 349 assists) and 42 game-winning goals.

But the good times could not outweigh the bad — three head coaches, two arenas and a team that struggled to find its way. While he maintained that he wanted to be an Islander, even saying following the morning skate prior to what would be his last home game, "I hope it all works out too and I’m back as well," Tavares packed his bags July 1. ​

"The blame for Tavares leaving is 50 percent Tavares for holding the team hostage throughout last season and 50 percent the owners for allowing that, not pressuring him into signing the extension, and failing to trade him at the trade deadline when the Islanders were out of playoff contention," Fogelman said.

John Tavares booed mercilessly by Islanders fans in return to Nassau Coliseum

John Tavares booed mercilessly by Islanders fans in return to Nassau Coliseum John Tavares left the Islanders to sign a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs this offseason. He said he knew he was going to be in a hostile environment, but expressed excitement for Thursday's matchup between two potential playoff teams. "It's hard to believe we're back here for an NHL hockey game, a game that has a lot of meaning," he said, via TSN. "Certainly, the set-up is a little different, but it's a special building. I love this place.

"I have absolutely no regrets," Tavares said on Feb. 10 regarding signing with the team he grew up cheering for. "When I made the decision, it felt right to me. I felt it was the best thing for me and my career."​​

Obviously, the best thing for his career does not sit well with those who ​root for the Islanders, but there is more to the game then what happens on the ice.

"Business is business," Roenick said. "John Tavares doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of for what he gave to the Island. He represented as best as anybody could ever do as a captain. He was as consistent as he could as a player, especially when the team didn’t give him any help, and he never complained.

"He just did what he was able to do in business and that is [to] be able to go to a team that he thought was better suited to win a Stanley Cup."

Tavares has flourished in Toronto. The pressure to be an entire fan base and franchise's savior is removed. While he always put up solid numbers for the Islanders, it's fair to say that he never had the same star power he is suiting with on a daily basis this season. Entering Thursday, he has 68 points (36 goals, 32 assists) in 63 games.

"To me, he just does it right every day," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said Feb. 10 prior to Toronto's 4-1 loss to the Rangers. "He’s an ultimate professional. Loves hockey, tries to get better every day. Anything we’ve asked him to do he’s done it in spades. ... He’s a great pro. So he’s a good example for our young, high-end quality players to look up to, to watch and to see what he does and get an understanding of what you have to do if you want to be great every day in the league.”

Cizikas helps Islanders beat Leafs 6-1 in Tavares' return

Cizikas helps Islanders beat Leafs 6-1 in Tavares' return Casey Cizikas scored twice and the New York Islanders beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 in former captain John Tavares' first time back as a visiting player. 

Now the player nicknamed J.T. will face the toughest test of his career. He will "try to treat it like any other game," though he acknowledges it won't be, and "focus on playing and trying to play well."

This game will definitely not be like any other game. Based on social media, the expectation is that the Coliseum will be an extremely hostile environment. He may have some cheers but he most likley will be booed every time he touches the puck, fans will be sporting jersey's with his name crossed out and replaced, signs will line the rink and fans will be wearing pajamas.

"It’s very hard. It’s unbelievably hard. It’s one of the hardest things you do as a star athlete is to go back to your the town that made you famous," Roenick acknowledged. "The Island made John Tavares famous. That’s where he played, that’s the fans that loved him. And all of sudden he’s not there anymore.

"Fans don’t care about the business side, they care about the sports side, they care about the winning side. That’s always got to be understood by the players and it always is."​​​

Tavares understands — and hopefully the fans will understand he gave them his all.

Related slideshow: Scenes from the NHL season (Provided by imagn)

Maple Leafs' John Tavares readies for return to Long Island: 'I was proud to be an Islander'
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