The New York Islanders play hockey. But with the acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the versatile forward brought more than just his hockey skill set.
He brought a love for ping pong.
Due to COVID-19, the 2019-20 regular season was put on hold in mid-March, with the expanded Stanley Cup Playoffs eventually starting on Aug. 1.
The Islanders faced the Florida Panthers in the Qualifying Rounds, taking them down in four games, winning Game Four 5-1 on Aug. 7.
With an off day on Aug. 8, the Islander elected to host a ping pong tournament, some high-level team bonding, which ended with newcomer Jean-Gabriel Pageau taking home the crown.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) August 8, 2020
Following Thursday’s practice, NYI Hockey Now caught up with Jean-Gabriel Pageau to discuss his love for ping pong, how it has helped him in hockey, and some details about the ping-pong bonding in the bubble.
Let’s start with the tournament.
“I think we all just came up together to do it,” Pageau said. “We had a lot of time on our end to kill, and we got kind of bored of playing cards and watching movies in our room.”
For Pageau, he had only been a member of the Islanders for a month in person, before the season was put on halt. He then went to war with his new teammates but saw the bubble as an opportunity to get to know everyone a bit more.
“I really think it was a good time to get together, to get to know the whole team, and kind of brought everyone together,” Pageau said.
We know Pageau won the tournament, but was it smooth sailing for him through the bracket?
“I mean, there was a lot of good players on the team,” Pageau said. “I’d say [Mat] Barzal [was the best]. In the semi-finals give me a lot of…it was a tight match. I think he had me at some game points a couple of times. I think it still haunts him. He should have beaten me. Like I came back and won it.”
“I think he was the hardest, and then [Adam] Pelech in the Finals, he played a really solid game also. But I was better than him.”
From that moment on, ping pong became a part of the Islanders, as you can hear a ping-pong ball bouncing often following practices and morning skates.
“We have a table now upstairs [at Northwell Ice Center],” Pageau said. “And Zach [Parise] bought paddles for everyone, all custom-made. So it’s pretty cool.” “We enjoy playing it when we have time.”
Zach Parise was not on the Islanders during the 2020 bubble, which shows how that fun, time-killing tournament had affected that group as a ping pong game has become a common theme on a daily basis.
Growing up in Ottawa, Pageau was not only a hockey player. He played baseball as well, along with tennis and ping pong. He shared with us a few weeks back that he only decided to focus solely on hockey in his final few years of high school.
“I played tennis growing up, and I played ping pong also. I had a table at home,” Pageau said. “So I was playing a lot with my dad. At one point, we were playing so much that we got tendinitis on both of our right arms, so I think that’s when we took a little break.”
“I was big into sports and still like to play tennis.”
Pageau shared that while he still plays tennis, he does not play as much since his Achilles injury in 2018 at Ottawa Senators training camp, sidelining him for over four months.
Pageau has tremendous hockey sense, is strong positionally, and plays a handful of roles for this New York Islanders team. His biggest strength may be in the face-off dot, as he currently leads New York with a 56.4 percent face-off percentage. He also has a knack for deflections, which has earned him the net-front spot on the Islanders top power-play unit.
Has ping pong helped his hockey game?
“I believe it’s good for the hand-eye coordination,” Pageau said. “I don’t know if it makes you better, but I like to think it does. I think it’s good for the coordination for sure.”
Back on Oct. 13, the New York Islanders season opener against the Florida Panthers, Pageau made a heck of a play to take the puck off the goal line.
Did the skills from playing ping pong help? They very well may have.