Islanders inspire Birch Elementary School students


Teamwork is not just important in the hockey rink, said New York Islander Nick Leddy, to the students of Birch Elementary School on Nov. 4. On the ice, all hands need to be on deck to score a goal, he added, just as all students need to work together on certain class assignments.

Leddy, a defenseman, visited the school with captain John Tavares and centerman Jordan Eberle to give students motivational advice and answer their hockey questions.

In honor of Islanders School Day, members of the team visited a number of schools across Long Island that applied to participate. To apply, school officials needed to submit an explanation of why their school should be selected.

Alison Ippolito, a fourth-grade teacher at Birch Elementary School, submitted a video in which students explained the similarities between being a professional athlete and a professional student. Both, they said, require dedication, hard work and motivation.

Tavares told students to take care of one another and stand up to bullies. Eberle told students about the importance of a balanced diet and exercise. When he asked the crowd to raise their hands if they like vegetables, every hand shot up. Next, he asked the crowd to raise their hands if they like playing sports with their friends and every hand went up again.

“All three of us have worked really hard to get to where we are,” he said, adding that some children like sports and some prefer art or music, but hard work is always essential to achieving your goals.

Students asked questions about the players’ love for hockey, the lessons the sport has taught them and their favorite teams growing up. Tavares, a native Canadian, said that he has always favored the Toronto Maple Leaves as a child. Eberle, who was traded to the Islanders this year from the Edmonton Oilers, joked that he has always rooted for the Islanders.

When Tavares was asked if being the team’s captain was a lot of pressure, he said that the support of his team and fans gives him the confidence he needs.

One student asked Eberle what motivates him to play his best and he said that winning was a factor, but his love for hockey outweighed it.

Lucas Lucchi, a fourth-grade student, said, “Meeting the players in real life was really exciting.”

Avery Charney, also a fourth-grade student, agreed and said that she has watched the Islanders all her life. “This experience taught me a lot of life lessons,” she added. “I think it was great for the whole school.”

Tavares closed the event by saying, “As a kid, you might dream of making it to the NHL or playing with the pros. As long as you work hard and dream big, it can happen.”