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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Isles’ Draft Party

Is it going to be John Tavares, Victor Hedman or Matt Duchene?

The question has nothing to do with TV’s American Idol, even though all three are 18 years old. Tavares, Hedman and Duchene are among the top amateur hockey players in the world, and one of them will be joining the New York Islanders, which has the first overall pick in the National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft.

Tavares, a center, holds the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) single-season scoring record. Hedman, a defenseman, has starred in the Swedish Elite League. And Duchene is another center who has received high marks from NHL scouts for his outstanding OHL play.

Islander general manager Garth Snow is going to announce the team’s choice on Friday, June 26 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. But the Islanders have launched an amazingly successful marketing effort to fill the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum when they make their selection around 7:15 p.m. Within the past few weeks, more than 17,000 free tickets have been distributed online to Islanders fans who want to witness a pivotal moment in the team’s history. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. The Coliseum’s doors open that night at 5:30 p.m.

Billy Jaffe and CJ Papa, members of the Islanders MSG broadcast team, are serving as the evening’s co-hosts. Jaffe and Papa will preside over a draft overview starting at 6:30 p.m. and the broadcast of the 2009 NHL draft begins at 7 p.m. The Coliseum crowd will also get to hear and watch Steve Mears and Chris King, the team’s announcers on the Islanders Radio Network. Mears, who is off to Montreal, will interview the newest Islander live around 7:30 p.m. as well as Islanders’ front office personnel and NHL experts throughout the first round. The interviews will take place prior to the Islanders’ second first round selection, the No. 26 overall choice. King will host a live webcast originating from the Coliseum.

Despite struggling this season, the Islanders have shown they have an eye for talent in recent years. Kyle Okposo (2006’s draft) and Josh Bailey (2008) are, for instance, already major contributors to the team.

Now, you may ask, what is a fan to do before and after the 7:15 p.m. No. 1 pick announcement? Beyond the news coverage, the Islanders have mapped out a family-friendly agenda, with interactive games available for children, such as an inflatable moon bounce, obstacle course, slide and slap shot booth. Youngsters aged 14 and under can also obtain information about, and sign up for, the Islanders Kids Club. Sparky, the team’s mascot, will be there, too.

Locker room tours will be given, as well. Draft night attendees will also have access to the same type of food and beverage service they’d have at a typical Islander game.

In addition, current players, such as Tim Jackman, and former ones, such as Islander legends Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom and Bryan Trottier, are scheduled to attend.

The NHL draft coverage will, however, be the centerpiece of the proceedings. If the Islanders get this right, their No. 1 pick will be one of the NHL’s top players for at least the next decade.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net