Isles Alumni Provide A Great Evening Of Hockey
After the New York Islanders hosted the Florida Panthers this afternoon, MET-Rx sponsored a "Skate With The Greats" game where lucky, everyday hockey players that won their sweepstakes got the chance to play against Islanders alumni and other sports celebrities. Among the active participants were goaltender Chico Resch, forwards Doug Weight, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom and Butch Goring, defenseman Eric Cairns, General Manager Garth Snow (who skated out instead of playing net), and TV host and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason.
Boomer's son Gunner, who battles cystic fibrosis, dressed for the game as well and played on the same team as his father. Both of them were on the white team which also featured Bossy, Gillies and Snow. The blue team had Cairns, Nystrom, Weight and Goring dressed as the opposition. Resch played between the pipes for the first period with the blue team but then sat out for the remaining two periods in favor of another goaltender.
Each period was 15 minutes long in running time with a three minute intermission in between each period. Penalty shots were awarded if penalties were taken; believe it or not, two were called. The first came when Boomer wrestled Weight in the corner, yanking his stick out of his hands and throwing it over the glass. Weight managed to get his stick back from the fan, who returned it willingy, and then failed to convert on the penalty shot, rifling a one handed shot over the crossbar.
"Yeah he [Weight] was trying to cheat and I just got to make sure that he knows that there's a guy out there that's got a presence," Boomer told me after the game. "I want to make sure that he recognizes, I know he's got a bad back and some concussion problems, so I figured I'd take that to him and play to his weakness which is my strength just throwing the body around. That's what I do. I'm a grinder."
The game was incredibly fun to watch since you could see everyone on the ice was having fun. Snow and Cairns hacked and hawed at each other a couple of times and Nystrom and Gillies looked to have a few words with each other after certain plays. Goring looked like he could still skate with the current Islanders team with his speed, but Weight said that Nystrom was the one calling the shots for their squad.
With his team down 7-4 in the third period, Nystrom's blue team decided to pull out all the stops. Weight began to dangle through every skater and set up his linemates, eventually getting the game-tying goal with two seconds left. A skater who was placed on Weight's line got the puck out from the corner to Cairns high in the slot. The former Isles enforcer blatantly redirected the puck behind the goalie with a distinct kicking motion. But when the goal judge decided to place the verdict in the hands of the fans in attendance after he had it reviewed on the overhead scoreboard, a decisive cheer went in favor of the illegal goal.
The game went all the way to the shootout, featuring some of the lucky locals getting to participate in this game. Bossy eventually would go in effort of getting the win for the white team, but it was Goring's quick wrister that would put the game away for the blue team, completing the comeback.
In the end, it was just a fun night of hockey for some guys getting a chance to relive the glory days or have a great time with their families and heroes.
"Awesome, awesome. Anytime that Gunner and I can get on the ice together, it's a dream come true for me given what he's fighting and everything and he's out there sweating and it just looks great, as long as he's happy, I'm happy," said Boomer.
Boomer Esiasion is a well documented Rangers fan, but he said that couldn't stop him from enjoying himself on Coliseum ice.
"I'm first and foremost a hockey fan. I'm a tried and true Ranger fan because I was going to Ranger games well before the Islanders were even in existance and I used to hate Gillies and Nystrom and Bossy, I used to hate those guys. But you know now that I've gotten to know them in their older age, they're so much nicer than I could have ever imagined. But you know what it is? It's really a respect for who they were, you know four time Stanley Cup champions and you know playing on a line with Mike Bossy, 50 goals, nine seasons, that's insane. So it's a dream come true regardless of what jersey you wear."
I approached Gillies after the game and asked him what he would say if I suggested that Weight fixed the game with his questionable plays in the third period. Weight was actively jumping into the play and might have gotten away with a few questionable decisions, with and without the puck.
"I think you're right," he said. "I think Dougie had this whole thing planned all along, it was a total scam on his part. But it was a lot of fun. That's the way it should end up."
Weight wasn't shy when I asked him to respond to Gillies' accusations, throwing back a few fighting words of his own.
"You know, unless he can prove it I'm gonna take the fifth on that one" said Weight. "But you know he's always complaining about something. Because when you're bigger than everybody else you can always make those chirps. It was fun, we got down 6-3 and 7-4, and Bobby Nystrom's the head of our team and he said 'hey we got to get some goals' so we went out and tried to get some and we got a little lucky at the end and we won in the shootout, so it was fun."
Gillies had a few points of his own for the night that helped his team take the early lead. But goals and assists didn't matter; he was just happy to be back on the ice with his former teammates.
"It was great. It's great. My legs don't feel as quite as frisky as they should but it was fun. I always have a good time when I get out there. Kinda dreaded thinking about it but once I got out there it's fun. Good stuff."
Having the chance to wear an Islanders sweater again gave Gillies the opportunity to think back to what it was like to battle it out on the ice during his time here back during the Cup years.
"I do get a little chill once in a while," he said. "You walk down the hallway going onto the ice and you obviously can't help but think back to the old days. 14, 15,000 people, whatever this barn holds. All having a good time and waiting and hoping to see us win another Cup. So you do remember that kind of stuff and it gives you a good thrill."
Weight, who is currently an assistant coach with the Islanders after retiring last year, had the chance to skate against his boss, Garth Snow. I reminded him that he had just beat the guy that hired him this summer.
"Geez, I can't stop smiling when you say that," he said.
After he probably realized he was being recorded, Weight suddenly changed his stance and said "it doesn't feel good to beat Garth...it hurts," with a sarcastic grin.
"He owes me dinner, so we'll see how seriously he took this game when it's time for negotations in the summer," he continued. "It's fun, it's great, like I said, to be out here with all these guys, it's a thrill for me too. You know coming out, it's always fun. A lot of great people at MET-Rx and getting Boomer out here and his son, Gunner. It's a lot of fun."
Weight still wasn't done trash talking the other team though, as he was visibly upset with Boomer's goonish antics.
"He knocked me around three or four times," he said.
But it clearly was all in good fun.
"We loved having him out here and he's got a great family so it's always a pleasure to see Boomer."
One thing that I think is missed in the Islanders locker room is the way that Weight would answer questions after a game. Like tonight, he was always full of personality, respectful to the media and just a real class act. Although he loves coaching, lacing up the skates was bittersweet for him.
"I've been missing it since the day I retired," he said.
"Every game that I'm behind the bench, it's a wonderful experience, I love it. But you'll never have those days back but that's why they call them memories and I'll have them forever. Life is full of chapters so I'm excited to be a part of this one and hopefully I'll be on Long Island with the Islanders for a long, long time."
Well, for the lucky guys that got the chance to skate with these great hockey players, they created some great memories for them too.