Friday, September 14, 2007

Isles invade the Hub City

Want to meet a true professional hockey player?

If you’re kicking around Moncton for the next 9 days, then you just may be in luck.

Ted Nolan has brought his New York Islanders to the Hub City for training camp and an exhibition game against (who else?) the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday the 19th.

Nolan is no stranger to Monkey-Town. He was a top-notch coach in the NHL back in the mid-1990s, but was let go from the Sabres in 1997, the same year that he won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach. He turned down a couple of offers and then had to wait eight years before the NHL came knocking on his door, but it was Moncton that paved the way for Nolan’s return to the big league.

In April of 2005, Nolan was hired to be the head coach and director of hockey operations for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. It was a big year for the Cats, as they were hosting the Memorial Cup in May 2006. Nolan had quite the task ahead of him, and he passed with flying colours. The people of Moncton fell in love with the new coach of their team, as he brought them the President’s Cup and led them to the Memorial Cup final, where the Cats eventually lost to Patrick Roy and his Québec Remparts. It wasn’t long after that the Isles came and stole Nolan away from Moncton, but Nolan didn’t forget the city.

“That was probably one of the best years of my life, both professionally and personally," Nolan said.

Fast forward to last night. About 100 people associated with the Islanders (including 60 players) arrived at the Greater Moncton International Airport and headed for downtown Moncton.

You would think that they players would lock themselves in their hotel rooms when not practicing with the team, but you would be wrong. Seems as though Ted Nolan told the boys to go out, see the city, and meet some good Maritime people.

Who knows, you just may see Mike Comrie hanging out at Champlain Place, or Rick DiPietro grabbing a bite to eat at Doc Dylan’s on Main Street. Maybe Bill Guerin will be stopping by Tim Horton’s to buy the guys coffee before practice. It shouldn’t be hard to carry 60 cups of coffee, eh?

Even if you don’t get a chance to see the guys around Moncton, there’s plenty to see on the ice. All of the Isles’ practices and scrimmages are open for the public (and free!). All you have to do is snag one of the 1,500 seats at the Tim Horton’s 4-Ice Centre.

The festivities started this morning with breakfast hosted by Bryan Trottier at the Moncton Coliseum, and tonight will be “Hockey Night in Downtown” on Main Street, with a barbecue, music, and autograph signings by the players.

The rookies are also scheduled to play two exhibition games against the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds (Monday) and Les Aigles Bleus of l’Université de Moncton (Thursday).

Thursday is also the day of the Ted Nolan Moncton Classic Golf Tournament at Royal Oaks Golf Club, with all proceeds going to the Magnetic Hill Zoo.

It sounds like the next week will be crazy in Moncton, and I wish I was back home to witness all the fun. They’re not my Pens, but I still think it would be a grand ol’ time in hockey-crazy Monkey-Town.

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