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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders attempts to get away from Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Florida Panthers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders won the game 2-1 in double overtime to win the series four games to two. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

John Tavares Shunned In Return To Long Island

For nine years, John Tavares reaped the benefits of a cutthroat home crowd that sickened opposing players. That all changed 18 seconds into Thursday night’s game at the Nassau Coliseum. For the first time since leaving for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tavares was back on the ice in Long Island.

The fans gave him the usual guest treatment. “JT Sucks!” and “We don’t need you!” chants rained down on him. Whenever the puck approached him, he was booed. And the result couldn’t have been worse. His team lost 6-1.

“They always made it tough on the opponent when I played here,” Tavares said after the poor performance against the Islanders. “They have their feelings, and that’s out of my control.”

During warmups, fans chanted and tried to get in his head. They pushed signs up to the glass, trying to intimidate him. One fan even threw a Tavares jersey at him as he left the ice. Outside the stadium, fans had replaced his nameplate with “Traitor” and “Judas.” His number 91 was turned into images of snakes. Some even burnt jerseys in oil drums.

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Still, he insisted he was ready for it. “I don’t expect it to be a very welcoming return,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and play the best I can and not worry about what I can’t control.”

Tavares was originally drafted by the Islanders first overall in 2009. Though he only played in 24 games in his tenure with the team, he was an offensive threat. In 669 games, he was good for 272 goals and 349 assists.

But he handled free agency poorly. For months he insisted that he’d stick with the team. When unrestricted free agency hit, things changed. He took pitches at his agents’ office and his boyhood team, the Leafs, dropped a seven-year, $77 million dollar contract that blew the Ontario native away.

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Written by Bill Piersa