Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oops! Kyle Event Tonight!

Sorry friends, but sometimes we're human and forget things. We meant to mention this a week or so back, but forgot.

Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau will be appearing TONIGHT (6:30-7:30 PM) at the Islanders Team Store in the Westfield Sunrise Mall, located in Massapequa, New York. The details are on the official team site here and here, and this is Kyle's only appearance that is fully open to the public.

You still have time to get over there, especially if you live in or near Massapequa!

Next time we'll try to be a bit more timely with our Kyle alerts.

Politicians Support The Lighthouse...Do You?

(Picture used courtesy of the The New York State Executive Chamber)

This is a friendly reminder to all of our readers that we are exactly one week away (Tuesday, 8/4) from the Town of Hempstead's public hearing regarding the Long Island Lighthouse project. The project, in case you haven't heard, is a proposed $3.74 billion mixed-use development put forward by Islanders owner Charles Wang. Under the plan, the current Nassau Coliseum site would be completely transformed.

On Monday, July 27th, a host of politicians (including New York State Governor David Paterson, pictured above) held a press conference in front of the Coliseum to express their support for the project, which would include a new arena and practice facility for the New York Islanders. While it was a nice opportunity for them to be seen and heard, we believe the fans and citizens should be heard from as well. If you haven't done so yet, the last and best opportunity for that is nearly upon us.

As we have done in the past, we urge our readers to construct their opinions by learning the facts and then making their comments and/or questions known to those overseeing the project. There is no shortage of published information regarding the project on the Internet; the research can't get much easier.

That said, the place to make yourself heard will be at the aforementioned public hearing. It is set to take place on Tuesday, August 4 at 9:30 a.m. in the John Cranford Adams Playhouse at Hofstra University (marked by the green arrow on the map).

We hope you will exercise your right to be heard by attending the hearing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Isles Sign ... Martin Biron? Uh-oh...

The Isles made their second jump into the free agent market today with the signing of goaltender Martin Biron to a one-year deal. Judging from the draft and this month, apparently GM Garth Snow just can't have enough goalies on the roster.

In all seriousness, with this move, the Isles would seem to be admitting that Rick DiPietro's rehab is behind schedule in a best-case scenario as Biron is obviously not headed to the AHL. At worst, DiPietro will not suit up for 2009-10, and the questions regarding his career will continue to fester.

Be sure to check out B.D. Gallof's blog Islanders Independent for his take on the DiPietro situation, and I believe he will have much more on this in the hours and days to come.

Suffice to say, Mikko Koskinen was picked #31 for a reason. And welcome, John Tavares, to the never-ending craziness that is the Islanders.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Introducing: Shuhei Kuji

(Picture used with permission of Breakaway Magazine).

While this week’s Islanders prospect mini-camp has been beset by Tavares-mania, it has been a bit of a slow news period for Okposo Net. So while Kyle is presumably keeping busy this summer by golfing, video gaming, and attending weddings (Rick DiPietro will be tying the knot this coming Saturday), we went to the practice rink looking for a somewhat different mini-camp angle. And we most certainly found it in the form of Shuhei Kuji.

First, some background. Kuji developed his hockey skills while growing up in Tomakomai, Japan, situated on Hokkaido, the northernmost of that country’s four main islands. While ice hockey in Japan is certainly not followed at the levels of other organized team sports such as baseball and soccer, it is growing in the public consciousness. As one would imagine, the colder climate of Hokkaido lends easily to the playing of winter sports, and we're told that hockey's following is stronger there than in any other region of Japan.

After reaching high school age, Shuhei was a one-sport man. It was purely ice hockey for him. Luckily, his high school, Komazawa Tomakomai Senior High School (colloquially called 'Komadai Tomakomai') can boast of a pretty impressive sports pedigree, being famous throughout Japan for developing national championship-winning baseball teams, outstanding speed skaters, soccer athletes, and naturally, ice hockey players. One sports alumna has even parlayed her fame into a high-profile position in Japan's legislature.

As could be expected of any top athletic program, when we spoke with Shuhei at camp about his high school experience he first mentioned the strenuous practices he endured. However, and equally important to him, was an environment in which his head coach nurtured the young men, and provided as many lessons on "life skills" as hockey ones.

After graduating, Shuhei took these lessons and moved on to Tokyo's prestigious Waseda University, a radical departure from his hometown. Shuhei was able to adapt, though, playing well enough to earn steady ice time and eventually the captaincy of the Waseda hockey team. In his most recent campaign at Waseda, Kuji tallied 31 goals and 9 assists in just 28 games. He even played well enough to catch the eye of the Japanese men's national ice hockey team head coach, Mark Mahon.

In a limited 5 game stint, and by his own admission playing a bit nervously, Kuji netted two goals and an assist while playing for that team in the 2009 IIHF Division 1A World Championships this past April.

So it is with this history of success that Shuhei Kuji made his first trip to the United States this month, and by invitation of the Islanders was welcomed to his first NHL camp. And while he will readily admit that playing in the NHL some day is a goal of his, he still has some work to do.

He spoke of the step up in competition that he experienced when transitioning from the college game to the World Championships; however having now experienced a taste of it, he didn't feel that the NHL game's speed was beyond his ability. We were able to confirm this with veteran Inside Hockey writer Brad Kurtzberg, who said that Kuji certainly "did not look out of place" this week among the other Islanders prospects and draft picks. We too noted Kuji's acceleration, speed, and agility during one drill as he rushed down the right side boards. One thing that Kuji did express though was how much faster plays develop and decisions need to be made at the NHL level, echoing a sentiment we used to hear from Kyle back in his AHL to NHL days. However, the challenge of the NHL game is something that Kuji uses as a motivational tool to improve his own skill set, he claims.

If there is a 'knock' on Kuji, it would have to be his size. Listed in the camp's media guide at 5'7" and 160 pounds, he will have to bulk up in order to succeed in today’s rough-and-tumble NHL. There have, of course, been highly skilled smaller-sized forwards who have excelled in the league in the past (Theoren Fleury and Jason Blake quickly come to mind), but we imagine they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

When mini-camp closes on Wednesday (7/15), it's back to Japan for Shuhei. He has Waseda exams to conquer when he arrives in Tokyo, and a senior season of ice hockey to complete.

We will be watching Shuhei's career from this point forward, regardless of where it takes him. Hopefully, this delightful young man will reach his goal of playing in the NHL, whether it's with the Islanders or another team. As we concluded our interview, we wished him success for now and the future. It is our sincere hope that he was able to exhibit some abilities at this mini-camp that caught someone's eye, and that they have tucked his name away for consideration in the near future.

(We extend our gratitude to Shuhei, his translator Taka Shirai, and the New York Islanders for making this interview possible).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Isles Unwrap Their New Present

As you can see to the left, there's 2009 #1 overall draft pick John Tavares flanked by General Manager Garth Snow and Head Coach Scott Gordon. While Wednesday's (7/8) press conference at Nassau Coliseum was short and nothing new was revealed about Tavares, it was a nice chance for the fans to meet and greet the young prodigy. Tavares signed jerseys for kids and pressed the flesh with ducat-purchasing adults; a win for all involved.

While talking with Mike Carey from Islanders 360, we both agreed that whether JT turns out to be a marvel or merely run-of-the-mill, at least he will have had the support of the fans since Day 1. Howie Rose, Islanders announcer, even went so far as to call the young Tavares "The People's Choice" during his introduction.

It was a pleasant event despite the crush of media eager to hear Tavares opine on the Islanders, New York, and his perception of the future. A lot of the fans told us they can't wait until Opening Day. We agree with that sentiment.

We'll hopefully be checking in with John next at rookie camp, where perhaps we'll be able to hear his statements a bit better. Don't worry, Kyle, we didn't forget about you!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Scenes From A Draft

Here is a photo essay from Okposo Net's trip to Montreal, with a few captions (click to enlarge):

It was all business as soon as the bloggers hit Montreal.

When we entered the arena, Tavares highlights were playing on the scoreboard.

Our vantage point before the selections began.

The assembled media.

Okposo Net hard at work.

Pre-draft rankings.

The crowd gathers.

Someone you may know. It was definitely "nervous time." Here comes the pick...

It's Tavares! He dons the Islander jersey for the first time!

Tavares' first interview as a New York Islander.

As close as we could get during the media scrum.

The man of the hour.

The proud Islanders crest.

We know these guys.

Lastly, a very blurry Calvin De Haan, taken at #12.

It was a great trip, and we're glad we could be a part of it. We look forward to John Tavares' Long Island introduction on July 8th.