In the most anticipated game for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, John Tavares makes his long-awaited return to the Island where the greeting will be less than friendly.
When a video surfaced with Islanders fans talking about their feelings towards Tavares’ departure, it came as a reminder that we should expect a hostile environment on Thursday evening. In a way, it will be a great primer for the Leafs because the atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum will be like a playoff game.
To get an idea of what this crowd could be like, Toronto sports fans probably remember when Vince Carter played his first game at the Air Canada Centre since requesting a trade out of town. Understandably, the crowd didn’t show Carter any mercy and booed him and gave him hell the entire game. Here is a video below to give you an idea.
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Islanders fans on Twitter have been vocal about their displeasure with Tavares’ decision, saying they felt betrayed by him leaving when he said in the past that he wanted to stay for his entire career. It is understandable why the fanbase would be upset, but now it’s getting over the top.
To have a celebrity like Kevin Connolly come out and ask fans to take the high road and show some class should show the concern some are having ahead of this game. Sportsnet‘s Eric Francis wrote a piece where he interviewed Islanders fans as a scene setter for the game and some of the responses were interesting.
"“Pajama boy is gonna get exactly what he deserves from us,” spat Joe Bucca, who was wearing a No. 91 jersey at Tuesday’s Islanders game against the Flames with “TRAITOR” splashed across a duct-taped name bar.“Every time he touches the puck we’ll let that traitor know you can’t treat New Yorkers that way. You can’t lead us down the garden path and say you want to retire an Islander and then pull the rug out from under us. Actually, I can’t talk to you anymore because I have to rest my voice for him.”"
First off, Mr. Bucca, it was Leafs bed sheets, not pyjamas and secondly, considering he gave the team nine years of his career and they didn’t do anything with it should speak more to the organization than the player. Also when he was saying he wanted to stay with New York, that was before any word of the Leafs wanting to sign Tavares was a possibility.
Blame the team for letting Tavares get to that point, considering his agent pushed him to take free agency meetings where he was given better options to win a championship. Sure, the Islanders have been a surprise this season but it is tough to see them being able to sustain this, considering their lack of scoring and both goaltenders having unreal seasons.
Now Leafs fans have had a similar story when it comes to a former captain returning, when Mats Sundin played his first game in Toronto after signing with the Vancouver Canucks. This was a player who wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause in the final year of his contract, leaving the Leafs with nothing when he left at the end of the season.
What was the response in his return? The former captain was given a fitting tribute and ovation, because Leafs Nation remembered everything he gave the organization rather than how it ended.
Have Leafs fans been tough on former players when they return to Toronto? Well, Dion Phaneuf gets booed every time and Phil Kessel got some, although not as much in his first game back. However, fans never took it to the level as Islanders fans.
This game should be a must watch for both fanbases and while the result of the game will be important for each team, Tavares will be the focus all game long.
What are you expecting in Tavares’ return to New York? Will it be as hostile of an atmosphere as what Carter encountered? Let us know in the comments below.