Written by Cory Twibell Friday, 27 January 2012 00:00
“Home ice advantage” is a common expression used throughout the National Hockey League, and one usually utilized for good reason: as of Jan. 16, only two out of the 30 NHL teams had a winning percentage below .500 on home ice.
For New York Islanders’ forwards Matt Martin and Matt Moulson, playing at the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum represents more than just a statistical advantage as the two athletes host a different member of the armed forces and his or her family for each of the team’s 41 home games. Win or lose, regulation, overtime or shootout, Martin and Moulson meet with their guests after games near the Islanders’ locker room – where, uncharacteristically, hockey isn’t the only topic of conversation.“Both players are very good in the community. They really like to go out and help people. They know how privileged they are and they’re always willing to give back, no matter what. Even if it’s a bad day, they’ll never turn their backs,” said Ann Rina, the Islanders’ community relations manager.
Moulson, 28, the Islanders’ leading goal scorer at the midway point of the season, sends a calm vibe throughout the Islanders’ locker room, his personality mirroring the way he operates in high-traffic areas on the ice. Martin, 22, a physical, high-energy player built for punishment at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, leads the NHL in hits this season and sports a grin (with all teeth in tact, surprisingly enough) brighter than the ice and wider than the blue line.
During this past off-season, Moulson and Martin became affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Defending The Blue Line (DTBL), respectively, and they approached Rina to help make the necessary arrangements.
Moulson attended a Wounded Warrior fundraiser over the summer in Greenwich, Conn., alongside brother-in-law and current NHL goalie Jonathan Quick, where he found himself drawn to the organization after donating Islanders tickets at the fundraiser.
“We were pretty touched by some of the speeches by some of the people involved with Wounded Warrior and thought it’d be a great idea to give them two season tickets for the year. It’s the least we can do to help them out,” said Moulson, who signed with the Islanders as a free agent in 2009 and earned a three-year extension with the team in 2011.
Martin, the team’s fifth-round draft pick in 2008, saw his profession as an opportunity to bring attention to veterans, many of whom don’t receive the spotlight as often as they should.
“I wanted to do something charity-wise. Obviously I’m pretty fortunate in life and wanted to give back. These people sacrifice their lives for us and sacrifice their lives for our freedom, so this was a great fit.
“People think of us as hockey players as tough, but you hear some of the things they’ve gone through and you appreciate so much what they do,” said Martin.
Both Martin and Moulson agree that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience is meeting the Wounded Warrior and DTBL veterans and their families following the final buzzer.
“The best part is meeting them all after the game, taking them in the locker room and showing them around. Meeting them on a personal level is more of an enjoyment and every one of them has been pretty excited to come down to the games.
“Obviously they do a lot for this country and us, so it’s a good chance to meet the people that are actually on the front lines that went through what a lot of us will never experience,” said Moulson.
Melissa T., whose husband is a DTBL vet, shared her experience with the Islanders and Martin on the DTBL blog, bringing attention to the fact that many families miss out on certain aspects of family life while family members are serving abroad.
“Mr. Martin was so nice and pleasant to talk to. He signed a ton of autographs for us. As we were walking out to the parking lot, Mr. Martin ran up the stairs and gave my son his game hockey stick. My son and I cried. Aidan has not put the stick down all night. In fact, he held it in his arms all the way home.
“If at all possible can you tell Mr. Martin that it was an honor meeting him and that he brightened the life of a little boy who misses his father dearly,” said Melissa.
The New York Islanders family – players, fans and front office alike – amid its endless quest for goals, assists, wins and championships, pauses to recognize veterans each home game on the big screen. The crowd rises, the pursuit of statistics suddenly seems less significant and “home ice advantage” takes on a much more expansive meaning.
“Fans realize how these men and women are risking their lives every day for us. We’ll never forget that and we’ll never forget what they do for us everyday. How could you not stand for somebody? They all deserve it,” said Rina.