The NHL Lockout has gotten out of hand. I don’t believe many people would have guessed it would have come to this. It has been almost three months since the NHL shut its doors, and I don’t think the NHL and NHLPA are any closer to an agreement than they were on September 15th. It’s a damn shame.
All we have, for now, are our memories. Islanders fans: some may argue that recent memory hasn’t provided them with the best feelings, and unfortunately, the Islanders attempt to rebuild the positive vibes from its fan-base are currently on hold; so, instead of dwelling on questions of “what if,” or focusing on the Islanders’ recent past, let’s go back to a time that made us feel good.
Ten years ago, the New York Islanders were a playoff-team. Ten years ago, the Islanders brought excitement to the Nassau Coliseum. The games were sold-out, and the old barn was loud. The Islanders were winning games behind their new stars: Alexei Yashin, Michael Peca, and Chris Osgood. It was a great time to be an Islanders fan.
The 2001-02 Islanders were one of my favorite Islanders teams in my twenty-two years, and it wasn’t just the new stars that made them that way. This team had a lot of players that you just had to root for. Mark Parrish went 30-30-60. Jason Blake scored 8 goals and 10 assists. Roman Hamrlik and Adrian Aucoin were playing high-quality defense, providing solid play on both ends of the ice. The list of Islanders that played a sizable role for the 2001-02 team goes on, but one player reached the hearts of Islanders fans more than any as the season progressed. Let’s talk Shawn Bates.
A low-key free agent acquisition by the New York Islanders in the summer of 2001, Shawn Bates wasn’t expected to play a huge role for the team. No, those responsibilities belonged to the stars the Islanders picked up in the offseason. Shawn Bates, who had a grand total of 28 points in 145 games, had no expectations at all for the New York Islanders. A career fourth-liner, Bates was just supposed to blend in, except Bates tended to be one of the Islanders most noticeable players night-after-night.
Bates was the surprise Islander on a surprise Islanders team, which jetted out to a 11-1-1-1 start. Through the team’s first ten games, Bates scored three goals and ten points while playing for the Islanders newly formed “Lucky 7s” line (Bates (17)- Peca (27)- Parrish (37)). That doubled his output for the Boston Bruins during the previous season, and led the entire Islanders team to start the year.
Credit Peter Laviolette, the Islanders former head coach who pushed for Mike Milbury to go out and sign him. Laviolette saw something in Bates during his time coaching in the Bruins organization, and felt he was worth a shot.
“I was curious whether he could do it, because he was one of the most highly skilled kids I saw go through (the AHL) when I was there. I’m just happy for Shawn because he’s made the most of his opportunity and I’m happy for the organization because it shows you can take a chance on guys sometimes.”
Bates truly made the most of his opportunity. He finished the year with 52 points – more than double his career-total – which was good for fourth on the entire team, behind Alexei Yashin, Mark Parrish, and Michael Peca. He scored 17 goals and 35 assists.
Bates was available for the Islanders in all situations, especially on the penalty-kill, where he further made himself a top-player for the Islanders organization. His speed helped him score four shorthanded goals in 2001-02, and helped the Islanders penalty-kill improve from 22nd (82.2%) to llth (85.7%). During the 2002-03 Season, Bates continued his exciting play while a man-down, leading the NHL with six shorthanded goals.
During his first year on the Island, Bates cemented himself as a fan-favorite during the Islanders’ first playoff series since 1994. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs was an instant classic. The Isles were down 2-1 in the series. They were also down 2-1 going into the 3rd period. With less than 10 minutes to go, the Islanders scored two goals in a 1:40 span, only to lose the lead less than two minutes later. It was what happened fifty-six seconds later that made all the difference. Shawn Bates was tripped up by ex-Islanders defenseman Bryan McCabe on a breakaway. He was awarded a penalty shot with the game tied at three, and only 2:30 remaining.
The Coliseum was louder than I ever heard it, and even louder when Bates converted low on Curtis Joseph. Islanders’ fans lost it. Thinking about that moment still gives me chills. The Islanders went on to win the game 4-3, and Bates earned first star status.
“It’s hard to tell you in words how I feel” – Shawn Bates after the game.
I can tell you, Islanders fans everywhere still remember how they felt.
Bates’ effort, speed, and story made him likable. His incessant mouthpiece-chewing made him recognizable. As of that very moment, Shawn Bates became a bona-fide fan-favorite among Islanders fans.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment.
Filed Under: New York Islanders
About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants