On Feb. 28, 2019, former New York Islanders captain John Tavares returned to Long Island after signing that summer with his childhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the boos reigned from the crowd, especially during his “Thank You” video, all the Islanders tapped their sticks on the ice.
All but Mathew Barzal.
It was a tough time for the New York Islanders faithful, who felt that John Tavares had abandoned New York and made that feeling known every time he faced them. But as time goes on, and the years continue to pass, maybe Islanders fans will appreciate the Tavares era a bit more–maybe–doubtfully.
There’s no way to know what was going through Barzal’s mind then, but he had always shown respect and appreciation for what Tavares did for him and the Islanders during his tenure.
Up in Toronto Monday, Barzal spoke about his former captain.
“Johnny’s well-liked in this locker room, and he was an awesome captain for my first year when he was there,” Barzal said. “It’s just fun to compete against him. He’s such a competitor and really is like one of the most focused guys I’ve ever seen.”
“When you play him, you got to be on.”
Tavares currently sits tied will William Nylander for the team lead with 10 goals and his second in points, just one behind Mitch Marner with 21.
Barzal played with Tavares for one season, his rookie season, and he learned a lot from his then-captain.
“I mean, just when I was there, he was, still, is such an elite player in the NHL for so long, and when I was there, just getting to see him day in and day out, just what it takes to be so elite and that longevity and maintaining your body…he is definitely I’m the poster boy for recovery and working hard for sure.”
Tavares, especially in the media, has never been an enthusiastic person. That’s not to say he was robotic, but he rarely showed emotion. Behind the curtain, only the players he played with know what he as really like, and Mathew Barzal shared that Monday:
“I don’t think that he changes wherever he goes. He’s always authentic, and I think that’s what I really liked about him as well,” Barzal said. “You get Johnny at all times.”
“He was a great leader. And like I said, his work ethic was extremely contagious.”