A Homecoming Like No Other

John Tavares plays his first game in Uniondale since his departure.


Photo by Eric Wertz

The most highly anticipated game of the year as the NYI fans "welcomed" John Tavares

February 28th. Islanders fans had the day circled and anticipated it for months. The game was initially scheduled to be played at the Barclays Center, but was moved to the Nassau Coliseum, which has provided a hostile environment, no matter who the opponent is.

This time last year, John Tavares was playing his games as a New York Islander under head coach Doug Weight and he swearing he wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than Long Island. He also put a special request in to general manager Garth Snow, specifically asking not to be traded even though he hadn’t signed a contract extension.

The uncertainty grew by the day on his signing until the deadline on July 1st when nobody heard from him, meaning he was done as an Islander. The beloved captain of the team had deceived and lied to the fanbase for months and was now on his way to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

When the schedule was released for the 2018-19 NHL Season, fans looked to see when Toronto would be visiting the Islanders. After the game on the 28th was changed to the Coliseum from Barclays Center, the anticipation shot up for that game.

Fans gathered in the parking lot hours before as their first place Islanders were getting ready to show their dislike and anger towards Tavares who believed the Islanders weren’t in a position for success. The game and the standings pretty much prove him wrong.

Even for the pregame warmups, the lower bowl of the arena was packed as fans were pressing signs against the glass and booing Tavares as he was warming up. A fan even threw plastic a couple of plastic snakes at him, as that is what fans identify him as due to his shady nature and lying towards the fanbase. A Tavares jersey was also thrown at him as he walked down the tunnel to the locker room.

The atmosphere was electric as 13,917 rowdy fans were ready to ‘Rock the Barn’ once again. As fans walked around the arena, they saw former #91 Tavares jerseys with tape over the name and replacements such as “Snake”, “Pajama Boy” and “Who?” being popular.

For the first commercial break of the first period, the Islanders prepared a tribute video for Tavares and was played on the jumbotron. Though these are usually followed by a standing ovation, this one was drowned out with boos and chants of “We Don’t Need You”. Regardlessly, Tavares saluted the crowd and took a skate out to center ice applauding the crowd.

The first period got off to a disappointing start which took the crowd out of the game as Zach Hyman chipped a puck past Robin Lehner to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. From there on out, it was all Islanders.

Shortly after Hyman’s goal, the Islanders had a 3 on 1 up the ice and Anthony Beauvillier one timed a Josh Bailey feed past Garret Sparks to tie the game up. The Coliseum was alive again and was debately as loud as a playoff game. The first period ended quietly after Beauvillier’s goal and it was a 1-1 tie.

The second period started with a bang as the Islanders replacement at captain, Anders Lee beat Sparks off a backhand pass from Brock Nelson to give the Islanders a lead they wouldn’t lose for the rest of the game. The goal was followed by chants of “That’s Our Captain!” as the fans continued to throw shade at John Tavares.

The Maple Leafs briefly tied the game as Zach Hyman appeared to have scored his second of the game; however, Islanders coach Barry Trotz challenged the play saying it was offsides. After a short review it was determined that Hyman was offsides entering the zone, restoring the Islanders 2-1 lead.

Shortly after, Leo Komarov was sent to the box on a call for holding. The Islanders killed the penalty off plus at the end of the kill, Casey Cizikas forced a turnover and slid the puck past Sparks for a shorthanded goal, while also extending his career high with his 18th of the year.

Entering the final minute of the period, there was a scramble in front of the net due to an Andrew Ladd shot and the puck ended up on the stick of Valtteri Filppula who ripped a shot into the net to give the Islanders a commanding 4-1 lead. This sent the crowd into a frenzy as the “We Don’t Need You” chants increased in volume.

The Isles wasted no time getting on the board in the 3rd period as a Nick Leddy shot hit a body in front and got past Sparks to give the Islanders a 5-1 lead, 33 seconds into the period. This was Leddy’s 2nd of the year off of a great forecheck and forced turnover from fan favorite Matt Martin.

Still piling it on, Brock Nelson picked up his second point of the game as he ripped a shot past Sparks off a Jordan Eberle pass to give the Islanders a 6-1 lead.

By now the chants were getting creative. Raining down on Tavares were “Where’s Your Jammies?”, “It’s Your Bedtime” and “Who’s Your Daddy?” as the fans make sure they communicate to Tavares that they don’t appreciate how he handled his decision to leave.

The game ended 6-1 as Robin Lehner finished the game with a solid 29 save performance as the Islanders seemed to close the chapter on the Tavares saga with a blowout.

After the game, Tavares said to the media “Obviously no one has to like my decision, but I just tried to explain what it is and how I got to that point. It is what it is. I made my decision. I’ve moved forward. Just trying to go out there and play.” His body language seemed annoyed with the constant talk of the topic by the media, especially after a big loss.

It seems like the whole thing was done, but the drama was not over on Thursday. Later in the week, Tavares played his first game into Toronto, which was against the Buffalo Sabres and he was in the starting lineup, which gets introduced to the crowd before each game to light applause.

The Leafs changed the way they announced their lineup so John Tavares would be announced last. It set up the crowd to give him a staged standing ovation after his feelings were hurt in the game against the Islanders. He tipped his helmet to the crowd and the cringeworthy gesture was torn apart on Twitter instantly.

The mayor also designated the day “Tavares Day” to ‘show appreciation’ for him. It gave fans of their respective fanbases an excuse to get in fights on social media yet again on Twitter.

The Islanders matchup against the Leafs again in Nassau on April 1st.