Chris King has been an Islander in heart and mind since the very beginning. Aside from being a New York Islanders radio voice for nearly 30 years, he is also arguably the team’s biggest fan. That heartfelt passion comes through in every broadcast and is a major reason why the “Kinger” is among the best in his trade.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Chris King to learn more about his start, his craziest New York Islanders memories and his take on the league and this team. I’ve broken up our discussion over several parts. This is part 1.
[Lotto] Kinger, this has been a long layoff between series. Does Nick Leddy now look like an Amish Cabinetmaker and are we going to recognize these guys on Friday?
[Kinger] It’s a great question right. I am sure the guys are glad to have their playoff beards back which they didn’t have in the regular season. Nick Leddy is the kind of guy whose five o’clock shadow makes him look like Grizzly Adams. I am sure he may have that beard down to his knees by now. I think Scott Mayfield said it best, ‘Rest is a weapon in the playoffs’.
So the Islanders are trying to look at it as a weapon. I am sure that they wouldn’t mind if the game seven tonight between Washington and Carolina goes multiple overtimes to extend it a little, but the Isles are ready to get at it.
It has been a nice balance of days off, practices and yesterday even a high tempo scrimmage to try to keep themselves ready. Fear not, this team is raring to go in game one on Friday night be it in Barclays Center in Brooklyn or down at Capital One Center in DC.
[Lotto] Well I want to keep it positive but one of my earliest Islanders memories are the 1978 playoffs when we had that long layoff before we faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. So I look at this with a little trepidation, but I do think this team is better prepared than that one for the playoffs.
[Kinger]I think they are too, absolutely, and it all stems from the top. Barry Trotz had laid out the plan so well all season long and has done a good job leading this incredible breakout. He says they will be fine.
Barry did say there might be that rust to knock off at the beginning, but you may not see the effects of this layoff until later in the series when the Isles could be the more well-rested team. Because whoever wins this game seven tonight is going to have one day off before Friday. That could take its toll on them if an Islander series goes five, six or seven games.
[Lotto] This has been a fantastic season. When you look back on this team is there a moment that stood out where you said, ‘Hey, This Islander team can challenge for a cup.’
[Kinger] I think several moments. I’ll give you one right off the start. Day one of training camp. Just showing up and seeing how Barry Trotz took control, was blowing that whistle every 30 seconds and “GO, GO, GO” and “you’re not doing this right, do it this way, no you’re not doing that right, do it that”…like right from the get-go you could sense such a change in the way things were being done.
And some of those victories stand out — certainly the one against Tampa in Brooklyn. The Lightning came in as the best team in the NHL by far, and the Isles just blew them out of Barclays Center, and I said, ‘WOW, they can play with anybody.’
Those moments stand out for me, just seeing how Barry took control right off the bat and everybody anticipated the Lightning coming in that night and the Islanders crushing them. To me, that said the Islanders could beat anyone.
[Lotto] In 2016 that overtime winning goal call propelled you onto the national scene. You seemed to be everywhere. Other than that call is there another great goal call that stands out for you?
[Kinger] Not to the level of that one, no.
I will say just because of what it was… Twenty-three years of a buildup of not winning a playoff series. As you said it kind of went viral, and suddenly it was on ESPN every hour, and it was even on top 40 radio stations. My daughter would listen to her stations, and Z100 was playing it all the time. It was that kind of those proverbial 15 minutes of fame were it just was everywhere, and it was a blast believe me it was.
So I don’t think I’ve had anything to that level with the Islanders. You know I will say again winning another series, the clincher in Pittsburgh, a week ago Tuesday night was a phenomenal moment for me just because, again, it was only the second time it happened in 26 years they actually won a series.
I think everybody was in disbelief; players coaches, broadcasters, fans that the Isles couldn’t possibly win four straight against a Penguin team that was so proven and had been through the wars so much. I can still hear the final buzzer of that Penguin game, knowing the sweep was done and feeling the relief that the series was over.
It wasn’t going one more game it wasn’t going two more, it wasn’t going to continue whatsoever, but the Islanders would move on to round two. That was another great moment for me, just to have that second series win.
And you know that there are a lot of little ones over the years.
In my analyst role in the 2002 series against the Maple Leafs, that experience was incredible. John Wiedeman was my partner doing the play-by-play. Obviously, he called the Bates penalty shot but to be there in the postgame show in the old Bar and Grill downstairs …
[Kinger] Yes, Doolins. Some of those postgames were just unbelievable. I would undoubtedly put the clincher against the Penguins as a high moment.
I have been doing Long Island Ducks games, and it is our 20th anniversary season coming up, and I have done the championship call for all three of their Championships and to do that too…its always the dream of just calling that championship and the Ducks have won three titles and I’ve been on the broadcast for all three of those. It is something I put right up there too…and the dream is to follow that up with an Islander Stanley Cup win call for sure.
[Lotto] Chris, that would be glorious wouldn’t it? Tonight the Caps and Canes play their game seven to decide who meets us on Friday. Do you want to give a prediction? And who would you rather play?
[Kinger] Um, I’m shooting for…. how about five overtimes Bryan, how about that? We go one more than the Easter Epic, and they beat themselves up for 100 minutes, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s interesting because there are positives to both sides of it.
I am pulling for Carolina just because I want the Islanders to have home-ice and I feel I’d rather play a team that hasn’t been there in a decade versus one coming off a Stanley Cup.
If it’s the Capitals, we don’t get home ice, but if it is the Caps, of course you know we have got the most significant secret weapon and spy you can have in Barry Trotz. No human being alive knows the Washington Capitals better than Barry Trotz.
I think they are going to be okay no matter which way it falls. If only from a perspective of home ice and facing a team that hasn’t been there in recent times I think it would be more beneficial to the Isles than facing a team that’s the defending Stanley Cup champions and having to play four of the seven potentially down in DC.
[Lotto] If it is the Canes do you think there’s any chance that Thomas Greiss gets a start?
[Kinger] Yeah, it is funny right because he’s played all four games against them in the regular season and it seems as if Thomas owns them, but unless Robin Lehner falters, no I don’t see him getting a start.
Robin Lehner to me was the MVP in the regular season, and you could argue he was the MVP of the opening round. If you look at the Pittsburgh series all he really gave up was one even-strength goal in every game.
The last three they only scored one in each of them but even at game one in the Coliseum the Penguins had one on the power-play, they had one in the final minute and a half, when they had an extra attacker on the ice and they had one at even-strength.
So really one even-strength goal in all four games against the Penguins. That’s just phenomenal, but you know Barry said at the start of the series, at the beginning of the playoffs, “I plan on using goalies”’ and he put an ‘S’ on the end of it.
If Robin keeps doing what he’s doing, I don’t think we see Thomas Greiss but if Robin Lehner stumbles Thomas will be ready to go. They split the wins down the middle, they split the Jennings trophy and you couldn’t have a better backup waiting to go than Thomas Greiss. But I’m not expecting Lehner to stumble. Not with what he has shown us so far all year.
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Tonight we’ll figure out where the boys will be on Friday. And then the fun begins.
Look out for Part 2 of the interview with Chris King coming soon…