“I’m going to die an Islander.”
That’s what Casey Cizikas said in September of 2021 after signing a six-year contract extension with the the team.
Although that quote hasn’t been brought up to him that much since that day, what it reveals is this: What it means to be a New York Islander, and what it means to call Long Island home are both important to him.
“This is my home,” Cizikas told Greater Long Island after Wednesday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “I love this place and these colors mean everything to me. This jersey means everything to me. [Long Island] means everything to me.
“I love it here and I don’t want to put anything else on.”
Cizikas has not worn any other colors at the professional level since he was drafted by the Islanders in the 4th round of the 2009 NHL Draft. The Toronto native played his junior hockey for Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League before turning pro for the 2011-12 season, joining the Islanders American Hockey League team in Bridgeport, Conn.
That season, he got the call up to Long Island to play 15 games for the Islanders, and then in 2012-13 he played 45 NHL games. In 2013-14, he became a full-time Islander and a decade later, the goal
remains the same: Bring home the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup.
“It would be incredible,” said Cizikas. “That’s something that we all work extremely hard for. That’s something that you dream of as a kid. It’s been a while” for the Islanders.
“[The dynasty teams] had some exciting times. Those are hard shoes to fill but we want to win that
bad. We’re a hungry group and that’s our goal.”
After a heartbreaking first-round playoff exit last season, the Islanders are off to a 4-2-2 start to the 2023-24 season heading into Thursday night’s game in Washington.
A couple of games, including Monday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit at UBS Arena, have gotten away from them, but Cizikas and the Islanders feel good about their chances to compete for a championship this season.
While not many so-called “experts” believe in them, the Islanders, to a man, believe this is going to shape up to be a special season on the island.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Cizikas said. “We’ve played some good hockey so far and there’s things that we can clean up. We want to be the best we can be. At the start of every season, you have an ultimate goal of what you want to achieve and if you don’t reach that it just drives you even more. I think everyone came back this year hungry.”
There’s been a huge appetite for Lord Stanley’s return to Long Island since the Islanders strung together four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. They came oh-so-close again in 1984 losing, to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final. And then came a magical run to the conference finals in 1993.
It was a long time before the Islanders would taste a deep playoff run again as they made it to the NHL’s final four in 2020 and 2021, only to come up short both years against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s the ultimate goal for the players who want to reward the passionate and patient (or impatient) citizens of Islanders Country, who are ready to blow the roof off of UBS Arena if the Islanders can compete for the right to hoist the cup.
“That’s a huge advantage as an organization to have a fan base like we have,” said Cizikas. “We definitely feed off of it every single night. You definitely feel that everywhere you go. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in because they love this team just as much as we do.”
And there is the biggest reason why Casey Cizikas and his family have fallen in love with Long Island. It’s each and every Islanders fan, and even those who don’t root for the Islanders, who reside here.
“The people,” said Cizikas. “That’s my favorite thing. Since day one, they’ve welcomed me and they welcomed my family. We’ve lived here full-time for a few years now. This place is awesome. Everyone is awesome and that’s what makes this place such a good place to live.”
Spoken like a true Long Islander.
New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) in the first period during a game against the Vegas Golden Knights in 2021 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)