The New York Islanders, like the rest of the hockey world, reacted to the news that Boston Bruins goaltender Tuuka Rask had opted out of the remainder of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Rask made the announcement before the Bruins were slated to face the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the First Round. Rask and his wife, Jasmiina Nikkila, recently had a baby girl and they also have two other young daughters at home.
Islanders captain Anders Lee certainly understood where Rask was coming from. Lee and his wife welcomed their first child to the world in March right before COVID-19 paused the season.
“I don’t know Tuukka personally, but he’s making the best decision for himself and his family,” Anders Lee said. “I think that takes a lot of strength to do that in a situation where he wants to be there for his teammates and they’re going through a run.”
Several members of the Islanders organization can sympathize with the position Rask found himself in. Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle all had new additions to their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Martin and his wife Syndey welcomed their first child as well during training camp in July.
That’s not to mention the other players on the team that also have families that they had to think about when they committed to playing the 2020 postseason in the Toronto bubble.
“It’s tough being away from the family and your kids,” Lee said. “You have to do your best. All the FaceTimes and staying in touch. It’s not easy, but (our families) couldn’t be more supportive to us. We are blessed enough to have this opportunity to come and play here.”
The Islanders captain later added: “It’s a pretty special time, but at the same time it can be difficult being away from your family and not being able to see them.”
The Islanders did not have any players opt out of the NHL’s return to play. As a whole, the NHL had very few players decide to opt-out of playing.
Calgary Flames defenseman and for Islanders Travis Hamonic had been the most notable player to opt-out before the NHL began to play again earlier this month.
The Islanders to their credit made their players well aware of the realities of the situation well before they left for Toronto. Islanders head coach and general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted to make sure both the players and their families understood the commitment they were getting into.
“That was discussed thoroughly with our leadership group and our team as a whole,” Trotz said. “I think Lou was very clear to everybody that the commitment had to be there. If not, just (opt-out) early rather than late. We talked about that and our players understand that.
“We have a really good set of wives and girlfriends that understand the process that there is commitment.”
The Islanders bench boss noted that the players and coaches miss plenty of moments with their respective family and friends, but they are able to give them certain moments back. Trotz recalled being able to share his Stanley Cup Championship with his family in 2018.
“That’s a gift you can give to your family,” Trotz said. “I think being a spouse or family member of an athlete takes a lot of commitment and understanding. I think we’re in a good place with our group.”