Though hockey season ended on Long Island almost two months ago, chants of “Let’s Go Islanders” filled Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale Friday evening for the New York Islanders annual draft party.
Over 13,000 fans attended the event as the Islanders prepared to make the fifth overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, held in St. Paul, Minn. at the Xcel Energy Center—home of the Minnesota Wild.
Eight current Islanders—right winger Michael Grabner, center John Tavares, left winger Matt Moulson, right winger Matt Martin, goalie Kevin Poulin, left winger Trevor Gillies, defenseman Travis Hamonic and center Michael Haley—signed autographs and posed for picture with fans.
“It means a lot to us,” Martin told the Press. “They come out and support us every night and treat us like family. It’s nice to give back to them and show them that you really do care about all the support.”
With the pick, Islanders general manager and former goalie Garth Snow announced over the scoreboard that the team had drafted 18 year-old forward Ryan Strome. The Mississauga, Ont. native finished third in the Ontario Hockey League with 106 points (33 goals, 73 assists) last season for the Niagara IceDogs.
The Islanders players are excited about the addition of Strome based on his skillset.
“He has pretty sweet hands,” said Haley. “He’s only going to get better and have a great career.”
“He’s a great pick for us and hopefully another building block to making this team great,” said Moulson.
Other Islanders are encouraged that Strome bodes well for the team’s future.
“It just brings more depth to our organization,” said Tavares. “Having a lot of high-end picks the last few years really does that for us. We’re excited about getting a guy like Ryan and the future he is going to bring to our hockey club.”
“This is an organization that the young guys want to be a part of,” said Hamonic. “We’ve gotten an opportunity to play here. I can’t say enough good things about this organization.”
Grabner, who was in Strome’s position not too long ago, offered the young forward some advice.
“This is just the first step to getting here,” he said. “If you get drafted that high, obviously you’ve accomplished a lot already.”
In addition to the hype surrounding the draft pick, fans met former Islander greats Benoit Hogue, Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies and Butch Goring as well as Islanders top prospect Kirill Kabanov.
Fans were also afforded the opportunity to purchase game-used memorabilia, view a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit, donate blood to the American Red Cross and partake in the numerous interactive festivities.
“The goal for tonight is to keep rebuilding,” said Adam Fisher, a lifelong Islanders fan. “We have a good team; we have some young guys. We just want to keep bringing in the talent and building up the team, and hopefully get a new arena.”
Most importantly, fans signed a petition to “Vote Yes!” on Aug. 1 for a new Nassau Coliseum. Although it is only late June, the fans already seem passionate about this year’s team.
“This is a well put together event,” said Eugene Costelloe, an Islanders fan for over 30 years. “It brings all the fans together. It gives us something to hope for with [Ryan] Strome coming to the team.”
The Islanders begin their 2011-2012 season at home against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 8.