News bulletin: Rick DiPietro skated with pads, but did not face shots. John Tavares, recovered from the flu, practiced.
I spoke yesterday with Richard Park, a player I respect as much as anyone on the Islanders. When he says his team will compete - and specifically outlines the reasons why – the opinion has credibility. Here are some excerpts from our conversation…
What’s your reaction to having most of last year’s team back?
Keeping everyone is huge. Having stability, having a system, is crucial. We have a coach coming into his second season in the league and with us, and essentially the same group is with him. That steadiness is so important when you’re building a team. There won’t be a transition for Scott and the team like there was last year. Scott will be even more confident in his teaching and his leadership because of the challenges we faced last season.
As someone who’s now been in the league a long time, how do you address the low expectations most of the forecasters have for the team?
(Laughs) You don’t read them! Look, all that stuff is fine. The media has a job. They dissect and analyze, and many of them do it well. But they are not psychics. I really believe in our group. No matter what’s said about us outside our room, our expectations are rising.
Besides the stability factor, what gives you reason for optimism?
Our goalies alone will give us a chance to win on almost any given night. That’s not a slight to Joey (McDonald) and Yann (Danis), but they were players at different stages of their careers than the veterans we have now. I played with Dwayne (Roloson) in Minnesota and he is outstanding. He’ll also be a top leader for us. I didn’t know Marty (Biron) until this week, but I’ve faced him enough to know he’s a top-quality NHL goaltender. Having both of them is a huge plus for us.
I’m also counting on being a healthier team. That was crazy last season. If our D can stay healthy, they’ll show everyone how solid they are in all areas.
You’re in the last year of your contract. Would you like to stay with the Islanders and be part of the process?
This is where my loyalty is. For my family, Long Island has been terrific. We love it here. Loyalty grows, which is why it’s exciting I’ve been able to stay here and why I believe it’s the right thing keeping this group together. It makes you want to be a part of it and see the job through to the end.
Can this team be successful this year and beyond?
I know I mentioned last year’s injuries because that was off-the-charts, but there really are no excuses for not winning. There are many different formulas to be successful, but I know we can do it our way. The number one thing for us is stability, adding a piece here and there and growing together. I’m very optimistic.
Are you convinced the Islanders will be competitive this year?
I don’t think you can ever say how a season might end, but I’ll give you this: when April comes around, I expect us to be in position to compete in the playoffs.
Mears to Pittsburgh: From change comes opportunity. Steve Mears, out when the Islanders dumped their radio team to simulcast the TV broadcasts, has landed on his feet spectacularly. He’ll be the lead voice on a HD radio network created by his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins. Among his many roles, Steve will host a daily radio show on the Pens. Amazing team, new arena next season, working with one idol (Mike Lange) and for another (Mario Lemieux). Fair to say life worked out just fine for Steve, who deserved it.
Deb Returns Home: Point Blank has learned that the reason Rob Carlin is the sideline reporter only for Islanders road games is because Deb Placey is returning to the Coliseum to take over the home games. Welcome back, Deb.
Camp Windfall: The Penguins are having their training camp at the Igloo. The first four days are open and free to their fans. The Flyers’ camp is at their nearby South Jersey training facility (I’ll be there Monday and Tuesday for Fanhouse). Check out the week-long lineup of Flyers fan-friendly events. Washington’s camp is at home, free for all fans. The Wild are practicing in front of large crowds in Minnesota. The Devils are in New Jersey, the Rangers are in New York. The Bruins are in Boston, serving breakfast to fans at camp. After hosting an 8-team prospects tournament in Traverse City, the Red Wings open camp this weekend . Tix for fans - including a Red & White game on Tuesday – are $5.
By now you get the point. Without question, the Islanders are making some good money this week with camp in Saskatoon and some games in the West. The revenue might even cover the price of a seventh defenseman. However, you have to wonder what the Islanders are losing. If good marketing isn’t important, how come so many teams with ticket sales at 99% capacity continue to do it?
Cue the chorus: “When the Islanders get the Lighthouse Project…” C’mon. (Talk about serving up artificially-flavored fruit drinks!). I’m as pro-Lighthouse as the next person, but you can’t explain everything away on the lack of a new arena. Only the Islanders and Florida Panthers are far, far away from home. If it wasn’t for Newsday spending the money and Katie Strang blogging and Tweeting her brains out in Saskatchewan, no one would know Islanders training camp existed.
Maybe the Islanders can give their die-hards a good show when they return from the Canadian Prairies. In the mean time, it’s quite remarkable how all these teams win Stanley Cups without traveling thousands of miles from their fan bases for training camp.
A Note to Readers: While my trip to Flyers camp will prevent me from hosting live interactive Comment-ary with readers during the Hockeyville game on Monday, I still will be posting stories throughout the week. To talk about the games and enjoy day-long conversation with fellow fans, if you don’t know by now, Islandermania is one of the best places to be. For up-to-date news, Katie will have it all from Saskatoon and elsewhere.