Jordan Eberle stood along the boards as the Seattle Kraken took warmups. Just behind him on his left, a pink sign was pushed against the glass with a simple, yet heartfelt message scrawled across it in big letters.
“EBERLE!! WE MISS YOU.”
It was far from the only sign — both literal and figurative — of admiration for the former Islanders forward, who was returning to Long Island for the first time since leaving the team in the offseason. Eberle was left unprotected by the organization in the NHL Expansion Draft and was selected by the Kraken.
Wednesday was his first chance to say a proper goodbye to the place he called home for four seasons.
“It was special. I obviously had a very big connection with this group,” Eberle said. “You go through nine playoff series and you make a lot of friends. You go to battle with each other, that’s how you create friendships. Some of my best memories here, also my worst as far as losing Game 7s in the conference finals. I still keep track of how everyone is doing and a lot of friends on that team.
“Obviously I still wish them the best.”
Eberle always had a complicated relationship with Islanders, who at times were dismayed by his streaky play, but they became endeared to the Saskatchewan native by his quick embrace of the Long Island community and timely goals in the playoffs.
On Wednesday, all Islanders fans remembered were the good times that Eberle enjoyed with the Islanders over his four-year, 272 game tenure with the organization. Eberle was given a loud ovation during a tribute video that played during the first TV timeout of the opening period.
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Some fans could even be heard chanting “Bring him back” afterward. Other fans held signs recognizing Eberle’s time on Long Island and there were plenty of orange and blue Eberle jerseys on the Seattle end of the ice during warmups.
“I think he played a big factor in going to the Eastern Conference FInals the past couple of years. He was that steady piece on the Barzal wing,” said Islanders fan Steven Nosomowitz, who was wearing an Eberle shirsey. “He’s a streaky player but on and off the ice you always saw the heart he would put into every game and the emotion that he brought out there every night. It was very important for him.
“I know a lot of the fans had this game circled and were annoyed by the snow. And, now very happy to be coming now on Wednesday to see him for the first time.”
Eberle’s return was supposed to occur last Saturday, but the blizzard that hit the New York area postponed the game until Wednesday night. The delay did allow for Eberle to get an extra night to reconnect with his former teammates.
Back at the rink, the 31-year-old forward appreciated the reception the fans had given him in his first game back.
“That was special. My time here on Long Island we had a lot of success,” Eberle said. “We came almost all the way there, but a little bit short. I appreciate the fans appreciating that. I have nothing but good things to say about my time here.”
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Eberle finished the night with the primary assist on the Kraken’s first goal of the night. He was able to work the puck out from behind the net to set up Jared McCann’s goal 6:04 into the third period.
Seattle was more than happy to help make Eberle’s Long Island return a pleasant one, capped with a shutout win over the Islanders.
“I know this was an important game,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “Ebs didn’t talk about it. He didn’t say a whole lot about it. He didn’t show a whole lot of emotion coming in, but I’m sure this one was important to him. Probably a lot of emotions coming in, but I know it was important for his teammates to make sure that they came in and played well for him.”