NY Islanders News

So Long Joe!

By Gary Harding
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Nice Guy – good hockey player – you will be missed. (NHL.com)

Before the start of the 2007-08 season, a note came up that we picked up a forward from the former Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes.  Josef Vasicek, a 26 year old 6 foot 5, 225 pound centerman was looked at as a key to the rebuilding of the Islander team.

His best weapon, the faceoff, would be something that the Islanders lacked a little of – during that time.  He was not dominating physically, but even ‘going through the day to day grind’, you notice someone of his stature.

My few encounters with him, I found him not only extremely engaging, but his English was strong, and was serious interested in the brief but important conversation that you were having with him.  Although most of the Islander players at that time, were also built on that ilk, I really thought Joe stood out a little over the others (and I don’t mean by height either).

He played all but one game during the 07-08 season, scoring 16 goals and getting 19 helpers with a -1 rating.  He also had 53 minutes in penalties.  He was not one to get rough, but was always standing by his teammates when a situation arose.

However, my following of #63 did not come from his acquisition…  I have a friend from North Carolina, and her name is Dawn.  I really truly believe that she was Joe staunchest supporter down there.  And no – it is not of what you would call a ‘puck bunny’ nature.  She knew stats, understood his plusses and minuses, and could debate you about him, like she was almost his agent, going through a contract negotiation.  She really was a big fan.  She got me to watch him a little more closely, and although she was sad when he left Carolina, she was happy that he came to Long Island, so I could be a fan, too.

That season, the Islanders had a auction of jerseys that were worn at the “Core of the 4” game that season, honoring the players that played for all 4 Islanders Stanley Cup teams.  As a man with enough jerseys to wallpaper a 10×10 room, I was out to get another one, despite my wife’s objections.  I just wanted it, and with my size challenged frame, his jersey would fit me nicely, since I really felt that the new Reebok jerseys are a little too snug for my taste.  I held on and was the winner.  I was thrilled to get it; and at that summer’s NHL Booster Club convention, Dawn would have sold her soul to the Devil to get that sweater from me.

Sorry Dawn, it is still NOT for sale….

When I heard the news on Wednesday about the crash (I was home – threw out my back – and did not get on the computer all day), I forced myself to get up and check it out.  When I heard it was Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, I cringed.  I knew that Joe has played the last three years there, and played quite well, earning some All-Star nods.   He was a counted member of that squad, as they competed in the upper echelon of the KHL.  When I heard that all but two people survived (a young Russian player, and a non-player), I was completely gutted.  43 dead.  An entire team gone in the matter of 90 seconds after taking off.  The investigators are working on finding the answers, but as fans, we know that their names will never be announced during a game again (at least while skating, of course).  These tragedies always make you reflect on your life, and how important it should mean.  It re-inforced it for me.

I have had a lot of great experiences as a hockey fan (seeing Stanley Cups, Calder Cups, even the British Ice Hockey Championship – ask me about the Sheffield Steelers, and I will give you a few thousand words), this may be one small piece that may look small in comparison to others, but to enjoy the year that Joe spent on the Long Island will be forever remembered.  It is such a shame that a great young life was taken way too soon, along with the other men that were on that flight to Minsk to start their season.  The thoughts of the team were on their opening night, and what to expect in the days and nights ahead.

Why did this have to happen????

God Bless you Josef Vasicek, and I hope the ice rinks in heaven greet you with fun and great games.

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