Tavares 'loves' being an Islander

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:38 PM ET

TORONTO - UNIONDALE, N.Y.— There was a time when, if you heard John Tavares claim he “loves” being a New York Islander, you would have figured he’d be more suited to be fitted for a straight jacket than a Stanley Cup ring.

Just months removed from his teenage years, Tavares, 20, has been through more in his almost two NHL seasons than many veterans have in their entire careers.

As part of the soap opera unofficially dubbed “As The Isles Turn,” Tavares already has experienced a coaching change, numerous losing streaks, countless roster changes, endless debates over the need for a new arena, and even a veteran goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, refusing to report to the club after being plucked off waivers.

No one would blame him if he, at some point, wanted to escape this blue-and-orange asylum. In fact, earlier this season, even Tavares himself heard the rumours that he wished to get out.

Now, months later, John Tavares wants to set the record straight.

He does not want to be voted off the Island, let alone flee it, when he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2012.

Nor does Tavares know where the scuttlebutt came from concerning his alleged unhappiness in Uniondale.

“I was aware of (the talk) and, a lot of times, I just ignore that stuff,” Tavares said on Monday, one day before his Islanders host the Maple Leafs at the Nassau Coliseum.

The rumblings suggesting Tavares might be unhappy began surfacing during the Isles horrific 14-game winless skid earlier this season, a free fall that saw coach Scott Gordon replaced by Jack Capuano.

“Obviously, when you are losing, it’s not easy,” Tavares said. “It’s a tough thing to go through. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it here and don’t want to play here.

“I love being a New York Islander.”

There are plenty of reasons Tavares should be optimistic.

As he is quick to point out, two more goals from Blake Comeau would give the Isles four 20-goal scorers, joining Tavares (24), Matt Moulson (28) and Michael Grabner (26). Defenceman Andrew MacDonald (25 points) is enjoying a breakout season while goalie Al Montoya, the first-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2004, seems to have salvaged his career with the Isles.

During one sizzling stretch last month, the Islanders scored at least three goals in nine consecutive games, an impressive streak that finally ended with a 2-1 setback at the hands of the Maple Leafs on Feb. 22 at the Air Canada Centre.

Suddenly, the words “Islanders” and “losing” no longer seemed synonymous.

“A lot of the stuff I’ve been through here, you learn from it,” Tavares said. “You just hope it makes you a better player and a better person.

“The games are always fun but it’s obviously more fun when you’re having success. We seem to be getting better every day. The emergence of Grabner has been fantastic. Kyle (Okposo) has come back from surgery and is almost back to full form. Josh (Bailey) is at the top of his game after kind of a slow start. By the time the season is over, we might have three 30-goal scorers.

“It’s been fantastic. It’s amazing to see the depth we have. We’ve come a long way from that losing streak. At one point, I think we scored just 10 goals in 10 games.”

With 55 points to date, Tavares is ahead of established names like Joe Thornton, Daniel Briere and Dany Heatley in the scoring race. In the process, he’s also doing it with flair, as exemplified by his incredible goal against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday when he deked both Alex Pietrangelo and T.J. Oshie out of their respective athletic supporters.

When told the goal made ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the weekend, Tavares asked what was picked No. 1.

“Not another dunk, I hope,” he said.

Nope. It was, in fact, a nifty soccer play by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez in a 3-1 win over Manchester United.

No worries. Tavares will have plenty of chances to get Highlight of the Night honours.

Most, if not all, as a member of the New York Islanders, he hopes.


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