The Islanders' Feb. 28 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs will be played at Nassau Coliseum rather than Barclays Center -- and John Tavares, for one, is looking forward to it.
The former Isles captain knows he'll hear plenty of boos after leaving his longtime team to sign with the Leafs this past summer. But Tavares told The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun that he's nevertheless excited to return to where he developed into an NHL star.
"Yeah I mean, it's really out of my control,'' Tavares said of how Islanders fans will receive him. "However they feel is how they feel. All I hope is that they saw me give all I had for nine years and that I was completely invested in being an Islander. I loved it there. I made a decision that I thought was best for myself and my career. That place still means a lot to me. A lot of great people who had a big impact in my life and a big reason I am who I am today. But obviously they're very proud and protective of their hockey team and what it means to them. They're not very nice to the visitor, at least when I was still part of it, and I'm sure it'll be similar for myself. But it'll be fun to play in.''
Tavares played his first six NHL seasons at the Old Barn before the franchise moved to Brooklyn in 2015. The Islanders have 21 games scheduled at the Coliseum this season, as the organization eases its way out of Barclays Center with plans to move to Belmont Park for the 2021-22 season.
The 28-year-old will first face his old team in Toronto on Dec. 29, but Tavares said returning to where it all began for him will be something special.
"Certainly I think the real identity with the organization was always with the Coliseum," he said. "We played an exhibition game there last year which was a lot of fun. It's a hell of a building. It was a lot of fun playing there. Some great playoff series there. Hell of an atmosphere. I think it's going to be a lot of fun playing in it. Obviously I'll be on the other side of it now so that will be a different feeling. But I think it's a special place for that fan base and that organization and for myself, too. It's a place where I began my career, had my first goal, first game; it'll be fun going back there.''