John Tavares, 23, the New York Islanders’ star center, captain and one of the National Hockey League’s leading goal scorers, stood Tuesday morning facing a sea of raised hands wiggling for his attention. A teacher extended a microphone toward one of the eager children, who asked, “Is hockey a difficult sport?”
Indeed it is, Tavares answered. “When you think about how hard skating can be … it’s a lot different than just going outside and running.” But, he added, the more he practiced and applied himself to the sport as a young child, the more he grew to love it.
Tavares was speaking to students at Fayette School, one of the North Merrick School District’s three elementary schools, alongside Islanders teammates Travis Hamonic, 23, a defenseman, and Colin McDonald, 29, a right wing. The three were there to lead an old-fashioned school assembly that extolled the virtues of academic study, work ethic, perseverance and cooperation. The assembly included a video of Islanders highlights set to “The Boys are Back” by Dropkick Murpheys.
The event occurred almost two weeks after Fayette’s senior chorus, under the direction of music teacher Gail Appel, sang in between periods at an Islanders game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. School officials said the Islanders players visited Fayette as a “thank you” from the team organization to the school.
The half-hour assembly began with Tavares, Hamonic and McDonald on the stage in Fayette’s general-purpose room, taking turns describing their personal backgrounds growing up in greater Toronto, on a farm in rural Manitoba and in greater Hartford, respectively.
“There’s probably more people in this room than the town I grew up in,” Hamonic joked. “But it was fun. Basically, all we had to do was go to school and play hockey. So those were two pretty important things in my life, and hockey obviously was something I really was passionate about, and as I grew up, I thought, you know, it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.”
They offered Fayette’s students many bits of advice about successful life habits.