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New York Islanders

Offside Tavern Takes One Last Shift with Islanders Playoff Run



New York Islanders fans watch Game 3 at Offside Tavern in New York City

NEW YORK — It’s a Friday night and the New York Islanders are trying to fend off a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That means at the Offside Tavern in Manhattan that every TV is tuned to the game and nearly every customer seated outside the bar is wearing some sort of Islanders paraphernalia.

In the heart of New York Rangers country that might seem like an odd sight, but it’s the norm at the Islanders-themed bar, which has become a staple among Islanders fans. And it’s why the news was so heartbreaking to many when they announced on Sept. 3 that they would be closing their doors for good once the Islanders playoff run came to an end.

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“Yeah, it’s hard,” Offside Tavern manager Thomas Fischetti told NYI Hockey Now. “Last Game 7 channel 2 news came by and I was just pausing and stuff. I don’t want to cry on the news. … It’s hard. The only reason we’re open now is it’s a labor of love and keeping it going for that.

“It’s emotional because you know no matter what it’s the end of our era for now.”

Like many other restaurants and bars in New York and around the country, Offside Tavern took a hit financially when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown non-essential businesses earlier this year. The timing couldn’t have been worse as the 3-year-old bar started to hit its stride.

Fischetti described the bar as a “mom and pop shop.” He said it had been a group of friends that dropped what they were doing to join Offside Tavern owner Nick Costa to open up the bar in 2017.

“We didn’t just go without a fight,” Fischetti said. “We didn’t take it sitting down. We tried everything we can (to keep Offside Tavern open). The tables you see outside, the barrier, the rink, the partitions between those people, we built those by hand. Everything we’ve done has been hard work and labor.  I’m glad we did so we get to have this at least.”

For the fans that have called Offside Tavern home, the news was saddening. While the Islanders don’t have the biggest fan base, they do have one of the more passionate ones in the National Hockey League.

And Offside became one of the few places where the Islanders community felt at home.

“It really became a huge refuge for Islanders fans,” Will Stevens, 32, said as he watched Game 3 with a group of friends. “It wasn’t just the once every three months you’d run into somebody with an Islanders hat on the subway. You actually get to see and talk with people. And remember Tommy Salo and Brian Strait and just random stuff. … Have these very niche sports conversations that only other Islanders fans really understand.”

Jack Herter, a 29-year-old who became a fan of the Islanders by the threat of disownment by his grandmother, echoed a similar sentiment on Friday night.

“It’s been really special to have a place that’s really embraced Islanders culture, Islanders fans,” Herter said. “The energy, the vibe, the camaraderie. Having drinks named after Islanders players and jokes and food. It really, really embraced everybody. That was really special. It is really special. It’s sad to see it going away.”

He added: “It really fostered a lot of really, really strong relationships and friendships. It brought people who were part of the same community, but maybe didn’t know it, together. That’s really special, especially for Islanders fans.”

That has come to light even more so than before since the announcement earlier this month. The outdoor seating area was filled at Offside Tavern on Friday night for Game 3 as the Islanders defeated Tampa Bay 5-3.

On Saturday, the bar announced on social media that they had been booked up for the remainder of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Offside Tavern will ride out the highs and lows of the Islanders postseason run with them with an even deeper meaning behind it. The bar made the decision to remain open through the playoffs so that everyone could have one more happy memory at Offside and as a way to say goodbye to the customers who have turned the bar into a home.

“(The Islanders) run is now our run and that’s the best way for it to be,” Fischetti said. “It’s a way for us to see people we may not see again. It’s a way for us to just give people a home. The people out there, those are our family. … It’s more just celebrating the place than anything else.”

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[…] playoff run. Going to be sad to see them go. I gotta make sure I get there one more time. [NYI Hockey Now] Today is September 13. But yesterday, September 12, was the 14th anniversary of the signing of […]

New York Islanders

Bruce Bennett Remained in Moment While Capturing Islanders Conference Finals Run



Bruce Bennett captures handshake line

When the New York Islanders playoff run shifted to Edmonton there was only one person who regularly covered the team inside the bubble with them. It wasn’t the regular beat writers who often traveled with the team, nor was it the broadcast crew that covers all 82 of their games, plus the postseason.

No, it wasn’t any of them. Rather, it was hockey photographer and Getty’s director of hockey photography Bruce Bennett, who in four decades of shooting hockey has seen just about everything.

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“Being the only Long Island guy in the bubble is kind of bizarre,” Bennett told NYI Hockey Now during a Zoom interview from his hotel room in Edmonton. “But, to succeed in this business you need to put that wall up. Whether you’re blocking the fans out or you’re blocking the noise in the building out, which obviously we don’t have to do here. I have to block out that Long Islander in me and go ‘it’s just about you and the game and capturing the scene.'”

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 09: Pat Maroon #14 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is checked into the goal as Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders tends net during the second period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on September 09, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The laser-focused approach that Bennett brings to his work is something that even Islanders head coach Barry Trotz would admire, and it’s what has made him one of the best to capture some of the Islanders’ and hockey’s biggest moments. Bennett is in the middle of his 45th season photographing hockey and the 40th Stanley Cup Final he will have covered.

This one will certainly be the most unique one he’s had to work.

Bennett is just one of only a handful of photographers capturing one of the most historic Stanley Cup playoffs that the NHL has put on. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett has been forced to snap pictures from the last row of Rogers Place because he not permitted inside the more secure areas of the bubble that the league has created around the unique 2020 postseason.

That means Bennett’s usual spot on the glass is off-limits for him.

Similar to what the players experienced, Bennett went through his own adjustment period when he began shooting games on Aug 24. Bennett arrived in the Edmonton 14 days earlier but was forced to quarantine in adherence to Canadian restrictions for anyone entering the country.

“I guess I’ve come to the realization that with that crowd going crazy that not only gets the players into the game, but it gets my head into the game more,” Bennett said. “It’s like a bubble hockey game where you’re outside looking in. The distance is a big thing. Shooting from so far away and seeing the tops of heads is odd, instead of seeing faces.”

Bennett did get a little bit of a break when the Islanders entered the Edmonton bubble for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Having that knowledge of the players and their movements made Bennett’s job easier. Similar to how a linemate gets to know a teammate’s pattern, it was the same for Bennett when he was shooting pictures.

“Where there most likely to go on the ice, where there passes are most likely to go,” Bennett explained. “Having a little bit of familiarity and being the hometown Long Island boy, trying to take the fan out of it, that’s definitely helped. It piqued my interest and getting the razzing from the two other photographers who are beside me when the Islanders give up a goal. It’s all good natured fun, but it’s definitely got my head back in the game.”

Bennett’s connection with the Islanders runs deeper than just the visits to Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center to photograph the Islanders. Bennett served as the team’s official photographer and has captured some of the most iconic images in the team’s history.

His photo of Bobby Nystrom following his Stanley Cup Winning goal from 1980 remains one of Bennett’s top memories

Bobby Nystrom

Even with that connection to the Islanders, Bennett maintained an emotional distance from what was transpiring on the ice with the Islanders. New York had been competing in the conference finals for the first time since 1993.

“I remove myself from the situation. It’s the only way to do this job,” Bennett said. “The only positive is my 95-year-old mother back in East Meadow gets her Newsday everyday and she’s clipping out my pictures with the photo credits on them. I guess that’s what I’m shooting for. … I’m very close to (the Islanders), but when I get into that arena it’s really just about the best images.”

And getting that iconic image, as Bennett has done so many times, is a simple formula for the veteran photographer. For him, it’s just about remaining focused during the course of the game and outworking the photographers around him.

Bennett does the homework before going into any game he covers. He reads newspapers, checks the hockey websites and looks at the media notes. “I’m prepared and I’m hoping when I get to a game they’re not prepared,” Bennett said.

“For us, you have to be in the game,” Bennett said. “It’s a little bit of a formula. A goalie save. A hard hit, jubilation, dejection and then you run back through it. Some creative images. Some that are off center, white ice and player on the side of the image. There is a little bit of a formulaic progression that you go through during a game.”

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New York Islanders

Islanders Fans Give Team Warm Welcome Following Surprising Postseason Run



Islanders fans

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — For a moment, standing in the parking lot of Republic Airport you would have sworn that you were at the Nassau Coliseum.

Fans walked about in New York Islanders jerseys and chanting “Let’s Go Islanders!” Motorists in their cars leaned on the horn to the same tune. That was the way Islanders fans welcomed the team back to Long Island on Friday afternoon following their Game 6 elimination loss to Tampa Bay the night before.

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What started as a post on social media about trying to welcome the Islanders home after a month and a half in the NHL’s playoff bubble, led to a sizable crowd waiting just outside the airport gates to greet the team.

“They played with a lot of heart,” Islanders fan Rich Alonzo said. “It was just an amazing thing to see how far this team has come over the 30 years of my life and just the effort they gave. They gave it their all and this is what I could do to give back to them. I’d do anything I can for this team.”

The Islanders charter flight from Edmonton landed on Long Island just after 4:15 p.m. The players disembarked to rousing cheers from the fans that tracked to the small Long Island airport, located less than 15 miles away from the Nassau Coliseum.

One fan NYI Hockey Now spoke with made the trip all the way from Patchogue in eastern Long Island. Another had left school early so he could get to Farmingdale in time to welcome the Islanders home.

Fans carried flags and homemade posters and waved them as the players got off the plane. Chants of “Varly” and “Lou” echoed around the area on several occasions, as did chants for Islanders coach Barry Trotz and star forward Mat Barzal.

“Just how hard the boys worked, they deserve a good welcome home,” Nick Wolf said. “Especially for everything they sacrificed to give us some more Islanders hockey this season. They played amazing. It’s the least we could do.”

For a number of fans on hand on Friday, this year had been the first time they had seen the Islanders go as far as they did. The Islanders hadn’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals since 1993.

So for fans like 19-year-old Taylor Hackal and her 17-year-old sister Brooke, it had been a season like no other.

“I think it’s so cool for us to be a part of it and to be young fans,” Taylor Hackal said while holding a Fathead cutout of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “Moving forward and as we grow up we can always remember this as one of the best seasons that they’ve had. I think it’s really great.”

It was a similar feel that Anthony Galanoudis expressed.

“I was bord in 1995, so this is the deepest I’ve seen them make it,” Galanoudis said. “A lot of young fans here that missed the glory days, the dynasty days. This is our first taste of success and ever since Lou and Trotz came along I think it’s here to stay.”

Several of the Islanders waved to the fans as the got off the plane. Cal Clutterbuck motioned to the crowd several times.

And Pageau thanked Islanders fans for their support in a tweet he sent out while sitting on the bus at Republic Airport.

That surely was to the delight of Brooke Hackal, who called the addition of the centerman one of her top moments this season.

“We were automatically obsessed with him,” Brooke Hackal said. “He’s one of our best players and I think just seeing him be so successful in this playoff series is just really exciting. Looking forward to the future.”

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New York Islanders

Arnold: Islanders Have Plenty to be Proud of Following Postseason Run



New York Islanders handshake line

Even 2,400 miles away, Anders Lee’s emotions were palpable as he addressed the media after the New York Islanders 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It was the farthest Lee had gone in his career in the playoffs and it was the most significant step the franchise he captains has taken in 27 years. Ironic, when you think about, considering that it’s the same as the number on the back of his jersey.

“I can’t speak volumes more about this group and our guys,” an emotional Lee said. “The pride we take in going out there every night and playing.”

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