One of the noticeable differences from last season's Islanders to this current one is the energy they have brought to the rink on most nights. Leading the way has been young center Casey Cizikas, who I was fortunate enough to have seen drafted in person (2009).
I had a few moments after Tuesday (2/5) night's 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh to chat with Casey. I appreciate him providing me some post-game time, and we touched on a few aspects of his young career.
Having scored his first goal exactly one week earlier (1/29) against the same Pittsburgh team, he stressed several times how fortunate he felt to be playing in the National Hockey at this point in his career.
Cizikas defined his role, other than being a ball of energy on the ice, as one not of finesse but rather physical strength, hard work, and going hard to the net at every chance. He stressed that he needed to take the body, keep moving on the ice, and finish his checks. "That's my role here," he summarized fairly confidently.
He wished to emphasize the faith and commitment that the Islanders have shown in him throughout his career, from draft day until now. He mentioned many coaches and mentors specifically, including his former minor hockey coach, Ontario Hockey League coach, (former Islander) Eric Cairns, Bridgeport head coach Matt Bertani, and of course Islanders head coach Jack Capuano.
Casey added, "I'm lucky to be here. I'm not going to take anything for granted." He
continued, "There are a lot of guys in Bridgeport (the Islanders'
American Hockey League affiliate) that could be in the position I'm in right now."
Though he was drafted 91 spots below John Tavares in Montreal, he said the organization that gave him his chance to become an NHLer means everything to him.
"They stuck by me my whole career," he said. "I've got to go out and battle every night. They gave me a chance...an opportunity."
Getting back to that first goal, he said it was something kids dream about. He'll remember it along with his first NHL game for the rest of his life, as anyone would expect.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have that first goal puck in his possession and doesn't know where it is. He said he's not worried about it, but come on, whoever has the puck needs to get it to him ASAP!
"It may have taken me twenty games to get it but it was definitely an exciting moment," coolly describing his accomplishment.
Let's hope it doesn't take twenty more games to get that disc back in the hands of the Toronto native.
As for closing thoughts, I can only say that he so far has lived up to the things he told me. He's hard hitting, high energy, with a nose for the puck. Nobody is going to confuse him with Matt Moulson or John Tavares on the score sheet, but I can see him playing a vital role on this year's team and into the future. He's a humble kid with a handshake like a bear. He's only 21 but wears several scars on his face from his rugged style of play.
"I'm going to try make it hard on the [Islanders] coaching staff to take me out [of the lineup]."
If he continues at his current pace, it won't even be an issue.
You can follow Casey Cizikas on Twitter at @zeeker11 and the author at @RealKenDick.