Late summer, 2011. As the Mets slipped into irrelevance for the third season in a row only after 2 epic collapses towards the end of the season before that, I questioned my own existence in the realm of sports. I pondered more than my own fanhood, but the very reason why I follow sports or care to begin with. I wondered if I would outgrow sports. For the first time in my life, I wanted nothing to do with competition on any level. I would always be let down in the end. I would always lose. I panicked; who would I be without the Mets, let alone sports? Both have defined me as a person for so long...who am I? Why am I here? With famine, war, poverty and other seemingly very important things that deserved my attention, how could I even bother giving my time to such an endeavor?
The reason is because in theory, sports represent everything great about our species. Competition, rising to the occasion under pressure, exerting oneself in a team atmosphere towards a goal, etc. It gives us reason to rally around a cause, to bond with our fellow fans. The Mets had rarely given me any reason to love sports. Save for the beginning of this season, the Mets over the past few years have been lazy, unprepared and untalented. More than that, they didn't care.
Tonight, I realized that there are a group of individuals who care. A group of individuals who play a sport that embodies everything great about sport itself. Hustle, determination, passion. That group is the New York Islanders. Things like grit and the will to win don't matter in baseball. They do in hockey.
My faith is restored. For the first time in a long time, I feel like my passion, my enthusiasm, my determination has been reciprocated.
I received a text today from Mike that read as follows: "This is a real rivalry. An original rivalry. No bullshit, watered down nonsense like the Yankees and Red Sox. This is legit." I was expecting a fun game and boy did I get one.
Pregame started and the first story was that Nabokov (who hasn't played in an NHL game in a year) would be starting as opposed to Montoya who had played well the previous game. I figured he deserved to start again, but apparently in hockey it doesn't work like that. Different situations call for different goalies and lines. Understood. Gillies was announced to be in the lineup as well and I was excited to see an enforcer who I've heard so much of from my friends.
The game started and I never had my eyes glued to the screen this much in such a long time. My heart was continuously pounding. I'm not used to this.
Moulson got it started on an assist from J.T. and like last game, J.T. would prove himself to be the Chosen One and deliver when he was called to duty.
The Islanders controlled the puck for most of the first period and had a great penalty kill (a concept I learned tonight) after Streit left the game.
J.T. is the chosen one.
I noticed that you can't blink in this game - ever - or you miss everything. The pace is astounding. I still don't understand late calls, nor can I comprehend which player plays what position, but I'm sure that will come with time. I also can't tell who players are for the most part which almost endears me to the team even more; because I can't tell (and thus don't care) about who's getting the puck or making stops, I can just sit back and root for the team.
Gaborik's game tying goal was a shame. The Islanders controlled the puck for what seemed like an eternity and after one mistake, the entire game changed so quick. Damn, this sport is dynamic.
The Chosen one came out and tied the game after he missed an easy shot on a 5 on 3 which caused Nassau to explode.
I find that I am constantly screaming and losing myself in the game. I haven't felt this way since the Mets of 2006.
The game was tied again after a puck deflected off of Neilson. That would be the last goal the Rangers would score, for tonight belonged to the Islanders.
Mark Streit laid a pass right into Tavares (shocker) later on which caused my heart to literally flutter like a 1940s cartoon. If that wasn't enough, Tavares scored AGAIN on an empty net, giving him a hat trick, his third in his career. Nabokov played his ass off and deserves all the credit in the world for playing so well in his first NHL start in over a year.
I received a text from my buddy Matt right before the beginning of the third period: "20 minutes left. Who wants it more?" The teams didn't fight, but the game was intense. Everyone hustled. Everyone cared. Quite frankly, I'm not sure who wanted it more and I think that's a good thing and truly indicative of the sport.
It felt like a rivalry. An original rivalry. No bullshit, watered down nonsense like the Yankees and Red Sox.
As for the Mets? Well, right now they don't matter. I'm too busy having fun.
Final Score: Islanders 4, Rangers 2.