For the Islanders, there wasn’t supposed to be a day off or even two days off between games two and three of their second round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Philadelphia.
But with the sports world’s reaction to the continuing subject of systemic racism and social equality, hockey joined into the reflection and discussion that is going on as the NHL postponed all games that were scheduled for Thursday and Friday. So, the Islanders and Flyers will resume their series, currently tied at 1-1, with game three on Saturday night at 7pm and game four set for Sunday night at 8pm.
In the Eastern Conference bubble in Toronto where the Islanders are and in the Western Conference bubble in Edmonton, the players throughout the league have been having meaningful discussions about what the NHL can do, not only to support the minorities within the league, but also what they can do to help.
Between the social discussion and getting ready for playoff games, what is the role of the Head Coach during times like this?
“Listening,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “Trying to understand and be supportive. (You’re) trying to be sort of almost like a parent role. Listening is a skill. This is a good time for everybody to listen because there’s stuff in this world that everybody pretends they understand but we don’t understand. It is time to listen and support.”
Revised Islanders/Flyers Series Schedule:
Game 1: Monday August 24th…Islanders 4 Flyers 0 (Islanders lead 1-0)
Game 2: Wednesday August 26th…Flyers 4 Islanders 3 F/OT (Series Tied 1-1)
Game 3: Saturday August 29th…Flyers vs Islanders….7pm
Game 4: Sunday August 30th…Flyers vs Islanders…8pm
Game 5: Tuesday September 1st…Islanders vs Flyers…7pm…
Game 6: Thursday September 3rd…Flyers vs Islanders…TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Saturday September 5th…Islanders vs Flyers…TBD (if necessary)
The Islanders players have been meeting as a team but they’ve also been able to chat with players from other teams in the bubble as well as via zoom with the Western Conference players in the Edmonton bubble. The Hockey Diversity Alliance, a group whose mission statement is “eradicating systemic racism and intolerance in hockey”, has also scheduled sessions with the players to determine a course of action going forward.
“Our team and guys inside the bubble are trying to listen as much as possible to our minorities and our guys that are really going through tough times right now,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “We feel for them and we want to support them.”
From a hockey standpoint, the Islanders will be trying to bounce back in game three after a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss in game two on Wednesday. The Islanders had rallied from a 3-0 hole to tie the game, had a chance to take the lead during a late third period power play, but ultimately lost in OT and now the series is deadlocked.
But with the pause for listening and discussion about the social issues, one has to wonder how the players, not just on the Islander…all of the teams, will handle getting back to action.
“The games are going to be just as intense,” said Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. “That doesn’t change anything. We’re professional athletes, we step on the ice, and we go out there to win. It’s different times right now. It’s hard to put a finger on it. There’s a bunch of issues out there.”
In terms of taking the temperature of his Islanders as they prepare for game three, Trotz has a tremendous amount of trust in his players, particularly in the leadership group. The players have to find that balance of dealing with the social issues, as well as their task at hand on the ice.
“The social issues are up front but are in the bubble to try and win a Stanley Cup,” said Trotz. “Getting the players to understand that you gotta park it for the three, four or five hours whatever it is and then got the job done and then get back on task on the issues at hand. It’s learning to be in the moment. (When) the moment calls you to play hockey, you play hockey. (When) the moment calls you to stand strong for a social issue, that moment they stand strong.”
The Islanders have been standing strong throughout the post-season since they arrived in Toronto. And now after a couple of days of reflection, discussion, and listening, they have to regroup from a tough loss and get ready for another battle with the Flyers.
These are tough times in our country and sports is certainly playing a role in how the discussions are taking place. Ending social inequality and systemic racism are among the bigger issues in front of us, but sports has always been an escape from reality. That can still be the case, but the Islanders and the NHL took a pause to realize that the chase for the Stanley Cup is not the only challenge these days.