On February 28, 2019, the Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares felt homecoming heartbreak when he was treated unfavourably (they booed and jeered him) in his emotional return to the Nassau Coliseum just months after he had signed with another team. Once a hero in the same arena, the fans changed their cheers to boos.

Tonight, as Tavares suits up for the Maple Leafs, you have to know that (in some way) he will relive that turbulent night when he first stepped out on the ice in Long Island and was hit (although I don’t think literally) by a den of snakes.

By the way, Snakes are an odd animal. They are generally solitary and don’t exhibit social behaviours like most other animals. They were a perfect choice on that night for Islanders fans who simply didn’t choose to exhibit any sociable behaviour toward their one-time favourite son.

Related: John Tavares’ Next Contract with the Maple Leafs: How Much?

Recalling Tavares’ Return to Nassau Ice That Night

That night, the Nassau Coliseum fanbase created a hockey homecoming like few others by showing their complete displeasure with Tavares. Once the cherished captain of the New York team, he had suddenly morphed into a hated enemy by returning wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. The night was fueled by mixed emotions, but the majority of the emotions were downright nasty.

When Tavares hit the ice, he faced a passionate crowd in the very place he had called home for nearly a decade. To be truthful, the was a mix of cheers and jeers. However, the overwhelming emotional expression from fans was negative.

As his then-coach Mike Babcock said about the evening, the jeers would not have been so aggressive if Tavares had not mattered to those in the crowd. But, he had mattered; and, the crowd reacted as if he were a traitor. Once idolized, Islanders fans were still grappling with the aftermath of his departure, and they didn’t hold back their displeasure.

Seeing Tavares From the Islanders Fans Perspective

I recall the game at the time. Logically, it seemed to me that – especially in today’s NHL – players were expected to move from one team to another. Also, at the time, it seemed as if Islanders fans did not appreciate Tavares as much as they should have. However, in looking back, it’s easy enough to see Tavares’ exit as part of a challenging era for the one-time Stanley Cup dynasty.

The team was then in the midst of a relocation drama, arena issues, and troubled ownership. The crowd’s intense reaction undoubtedly – although (make no mistake) it was pointed directly at Tavares – reflected a build-up of years of frustration and disappointment. Tavares was simply the most immediate and convenient target for several issues the team was facing. But, a target he became. As a result, the night became a cathartic expression of their emotions.

Related: Seven Ways to Help Keep John Tavares’ Producing

Tavares’ Decision to Leave the Islanders for the Maple Leafs

From what I’ve read, Tavares was torn about leaving the Islanders. Still, he was a hometown Toronto player and the attraction to return home was intense. He entered negotiations with his former team with an initial willingness to stay; however, he and the Islanders were unable to reach a deal. Hence, Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs.

Perhaps, the fans’ ire was also directed at their own team’s management decision not to pay Tavares as much as the Maple Leafs offered. Whatever, fans felt deceived and that feeling also fueled the intensity of their reaction.

In one way, the boos and negative chants Tavares received emphasized the depth of the connection he had made as an Islanders player. Despite the hostile reception, Tavares remained composed. He also later expressed an understanding of how the fans felt.

The Islanders did play a video tribute in him; however, that too was met with boos. Still, Tavares appreciated the acknowledgment from the organization.

Tonight Tavares Returns to the Island Seeking 1000 Points

Tonight Tavares returns to Long Island. Perhaps his visit brings back a bit of the rollercoaster of emotions he faced that evening five years ago. However, I wonder if he hopes he can register two more points just because he’s playing in his former home. The fact is that he’s very close to a huge career milestone. He could hit the 1000-point milestone.

If he did, he’d be the 98th NHL player to do so. That means that, throughout the more than 100 years of NHL hockey, fewer than 100 players have scored 1000 points. That’s rarified air for the Toronto native.

If he does register multiple points and hits the 1,000-point mark, how good would that be? Even more interesting, given five years now in the rearview mirror, how will the fans react?

I, for one, would love to see Tavares hit the mark. If he did, I hope the fans would react with appreciation for his history with the Islanders franchise. He certainly is a big part of the team’s history.

Related: What Does Tavares Think about the Maple Leafs Moving Forward?

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