Disappointment and Promise The Key Words For Fans
by Francis Rizzo

The experts used a lot of adjectives to describe the 1997 NHL entry draft in the years preceding it.
"Amazing."
"Spectacular."
"Unbelievable."
"Deep."

One word can also be used to describe the reactions of Islanders fans to the first round of the draft.

"Disappointing."

The Islanders, the team ESPN’s draft coverage described as having "the best young defense in the NHL", chose a defenseman and a goaltender, though not in that order, shocking the throng of fans seated in the Nassau Coliseum.

Before the future of the Islanders was chosen the fans were given a look at the past and the present. Islanders television broadcaster Howie Rose brought Isles' legend Clark Gillies onto the stage for a plodding question and answer session, made difficult by a lack of microphones for the questions and the "Let's Go Islanders" cheers filling the Coliseum. The session did bring an interesting tidbit to light though, as Gillies responded to a question about Islanders GM Mike Milbury by saying that he did not agree with how Milbury handles player negotiations and that he did not like his style of business.

After Gillies left the stage Rose introduced the current Islanders. In attendance were Ken Belanger (a sign that contract negotiations are going well), Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, Zdeno Chara (who towered over his teammates), J.P. DuMont, Sean Haggerty, Eric Fichaud, Dan Plante, Tony Tuzzilino, Jeff Libby, Steve Webb, and Jason Holland.

An interesting mix of players that were met with applause and cheers of "Fich-aud", a show of which goalie has the fans approval. The fact that Haggerty, Tuzzilino, and Libby were at the Coliseum was met with speculation by the fans that McCabe or Kenny Jonsson was going to be traded to make room.

One fan commented that Gordie Clark, the Islanders head scout, may not have had a big impact on Milbury, as Holland, a player Clark said, "should be in the AHL another year", was in attendance, and the fact that ESPN displayed a quote from Clark, saying that the Islanders weren't taking a goaltender or a defenseman.

As the first three picks took place the tension grew in the Coliseum. Fans were sure that Daniel Tkaczuk was next in line. Applause came from the crowd as a tape of Tkaczuk's play was shown. The crowd cheered loudly as Milbury said hi to the fans on Long Island, awaiting the GM's choice. When the name "Roberto Luongo" was called, the fans' reaction was mixed. Some applause was heard, including one young woman who ran around leaping in joy at the pick. It was a bit of a surprise though Rose had said that Milbury reported he wasn’t letting Luongo get past him at number five.

As the Islanders took a time-out before their next pick and a tape of Bryan Berard's acceptance speech was played on the screens, fans were chatting back and forth praising and burying the choice of Luongo and discussing the good points of Tkaczuk.

When the draft coverage continued, the fans cheered as Milbury was shown talking with the GMs from Calgary and Tampa Bay. The trade of the number five pick seemed imminent when Milbury walked toward the stage and grabbed a jersey and hat just as he passed the end of the Isles’ table.

A resounding "WHAT?!?" filled the air as he announced his choice of Prince George's Eric Brewer, a talented and gritty defenseman. With the Islanders' need obviously in the front line, Milbury strengthened a defense that may be, in time, one of the most talented ever, overall.

The current Islanders in attendance must have been scratching their heads and calling their agents, asking "what's next?" Heir apparent Fichaud, must be wondering what Milbury's plan is with three solid goaltenders in the system now.

As Brewer posed for photos with Milbury, many of the Islanders fans filed out, grumbling and muttering under their breath. As Calgary grabbed Tkachuk with the sixth pick someone said, "He should have been ours." Overall, the anticipation of the morning was gone, replaced by bitterness at Milbury and hope that the Islanders would sign a boatload of free agents this summer. Many fans lamented the trades of McCabe, Jonsson, Fichaud, and Tommy Salo, expecting these to occur in the aftermath of the draft.

Maybe the fans had bought too much into the hype surrounding this draft, like the experts had before them. This may have been the let-down that had hit scouts and experts alike. Or maybe cooler heads prevailed and Milbury, prompted by the threat of expansion drafts, pushed his plan along on an even course instead of going for the big bang now. Either way, Milbury said he is not done, and a busy summer is ahead for the fans.