UNIONDALE, N.Y. – John Tavares entered the ice 18 seconds after Thursday night's game at the Nassau Coliseum. During the first nine years of his NHL career, this would have encouraged the supporters of the New York Islanders. Except that now, for the first time, Tavares was on Long Island, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, after leaving the Islanders for Toronto as a free agent last summer.
So the fans hooted Tavares, loudly and at length. They chanted "JT sucks!" and "We do not need you!" with a few more anatomical sentences. Whenever he was near the puck, they made fun of it.
John Tavares, who left the Islanders for the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, returned to the Nassau Coliseum for the first time on Thursday night.
It was during the match. Before the match, the car park was filled with admirers who had degraded their Tavares Islanders jerseys with plates bearing the inscriptions "Traitor", "Judas" and "Better without you" and turned his number 91 into images of snakes . They put their jerseys on the road where the cars could pass over – according to an Islanders fan, cars that missed the jersey on their first pass would have been instructed to replay it. They burned his shirts and sweaters in effigy in large gas bottles.
During the warm-ups, they chanted and hooted Tavares. Panels covered the glass, the denigrant. An Islanders fan threw his Tavares jersey on the All-Star six times as he left the ice to get to the Leafs locker room.
It was a whole scene, but one to which Tavares, a former captain of the Islanders, was waiting.
"I do not expect a very welcoming return," he said before the match. "I'm just going to go and play the best I can without worrying about what I can not control."
Tavares was selected for the first time by the Islanders in 2009 and quickly became the face of the franchise. The next nine years were meager in terms of the team's success – Tavares played only 24 playoff games – but he scored 272 goals and 349 assists in 669 games.
After stating that he wanted to stay with the Islanders in the months leading up to free will, Tavares decided to hear several team launches in his agents' offices. The Leafs had one to win, and Tavares, from Ontario, signed a $ 7 million, $ 77 million contract with his youth team.
The Islanders fans felt betrayed.
"I tried to be open and honest about my decision," Tavares said before the game.
Fans of Islanders present felt the opposite. Just 10 minutes into the first period, the team made a 60-second video tribute to Tavares. Fans drowned her with panties and "We do not need you!" chants, before their quips reached their climax when "Thank You, John" appeared on the video boards.
Moments later, they chanted, "You're a liar."