Heading into last season, just about everyone that knew anything about hockey figured the Islanders were not going to be a very good hockey team.
The perception of everyone was, even though Lou Lamoriello had taken over as President and General Manager and that the Islanders were able to sign Stanley Cup winning Head Coach Barry Trotz after he left the Washington Capitals, that the team was in for a disaster of season after the defection of Captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But in this case, perception was not reality as the Islanders stunned the hockey world with a 103-point regular season and a first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. The Islanders had an us against the world mentality that they are bringing back for the 2019-2020 season. That’s because the naysayers and doubters are back after an off-season produced not much change on the Isles roster.
But the Islanders aren’t worried about what everybody else thinks.
“I think that’s everybody outside of the dressing room’s opinion,” said forward Casey Cizikas after the first practice of training camp Friday at the Northwell Health Ice Center on Long Island. “We had our expectations last year and we know what type of group we have.”
Cizikas was one of many Islanders who flourished under Trotz last season as he scored a career high 20 goals. On Friday, Cizikas was in the second of three groups that took the ice on both the Bill Torrey and Al Arbour rinks at the team’s practice facility. Having been through a Barry Trotz training camp last season, one could make the argument that this year would be easier because of familiarity.
But the Islanders aren’t about to rest on their laurels after last season because they fell short of their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Now it’s back to work and that means the rigors of the early part of training camp that features a lot of conditioning.
“You could know every drill and how to cheat every drill but it’s still going to suck out there,” said Cizikas who is entering his ninth season with the Islanders. “That was a good test. It’s meant to put us through the ringer and kind of get us back into that practice form and game form. The guys battled and it’s good to see.”
The Islanders will continue training camp through the weekend and then the pre-season schedule begins on Monday with game against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Then on Tuesday, the Islanders will play the Flyers again in the pre-season home opener at NYCB Live, Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
If the first day was any indication, Cizikas and the Islanders have set the tone for what they hope is an even better season than they enjoyed last year.
“(Friday) was the ideal day of getting out there, work your hardest and just try to get through that initial wave of exhaustion,” said Cizikas. “That’s what they want to see. They want to see how far you’ll push yourself and how hard you’ll go. I thought our group did a good job.”
The Islanders snuck up on a lot of people last season.
They almost finished in first place and then advanced to round two of the playoffs after so many people had predicted doom and gloom. The Isles’ roster didn’t change much other than Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner leaving for the Chicago Blackhawks and the signing of free-agent goalie Semyon Varlamov. The Islanders also signed former Rangers forward Derick Brassard to replace Valtteri Filppula who signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
Despite the lack of flashy free-agent signings or acquisitions, one might begin to doubt if the Islanders can take a step forward or even get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But to think that would mean that one wouldn’t know what this team is made of or what they’re capable of.
“I think now the whole world knows what type of group we have,” said Cizikas. “Going into this season, we’re just going to try and replicate that and outwork teams.”
The Islanders are out to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke and they bring back the most important components that made them successful last season.
Hard work from Casey Cizikas and the boys along with Barry Trotz, the NHL’s Coach of the Year.