From the moment he arrived on Long Island six years ago, it was clear Johnny Boychuk was meant to be an Islander. That’s why it was hard not to feel the emotion pouring out of him after word came out yesterday that his career with the team had come to such an abrupt end.
The Isles announced yesterday that Boychuk, 36, was being forced to retire as a result of an eye injury he suffered late last season, thus marking the completion of a 13-year NHL career.
“When somebody tells you that you’re not going to ever play again – or that you shouldn’t – it’s tough,” Boychuk told reporters via Zoom. “It’s been really, really tough.”
Boychuk was traded to the Isles a week before the start of the 2014-15 season which is considered now a pivotal moment in the last decade for the franchise. On that day, October 4, 2014, he was brought to the team along with fellow d-man Nick Leddy in the span of an hour.Â It didn’t take long for the fans to embrace him either.
Boychuk would score the team’s first goal of the 2014-15 campaign in Carolina and became one of the primary factors for the Isles’ turnaround that year.
Throughout that season too it became clear Boychuk was the kind of presence the organization preferred long-term. And so that became the case when the franchise inked him to a seven-year, $42-million dollar deal.
“There have been so many good memories,” Boychuk also said when reflecting on his time with the team. “It’s tough to process everything at one time…When I got traded to the Island, we had a good group of young players. Now, they’re veterans and they’ve got experience. I see potential. I think a lot of guys see potential in the Islanders. It’s a good place to play and to be with your family, to have a bond together as a team. It’ll continue to just get better and better. I didn’t realize it when I first got traded there, but I realized it after a year of what it was to be an Islander. You take pride in it.”
As the years have gone by, that pride Boychuk referred to he helped re-establish for the franchise in many ways both on and off the ice. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and man was he tough.
But even that saying doesn’t even begin to describe to optimize Boychuk. The term “warrior” is best suited instead. That was the mentality he played with every single shift whether he was throwing his body around or going down to block a 95 mile-per-hour slap shot.
That was who Boychuk was. He was old-school. And it’s the reason the blue and orange faithful fell in love with him.
Then there is what he meant to the other guys in the room over the years.
“Anyone who knows JB knows he is one of a kind in every way. He is a selfless teammate, who never backed down, shot every rimmed puck, has a heart of gold, and touch of moderns top customer. But above all, he is always there for you. Iâ€™m lucky you call you my friend, Love you Beezy,” tweeted captain Anders Lee.
“Johnny Rocket, absolute pleasure calling you a teammate and friend, a true role model and leader on and off the ice, #55 will be missed,” said Ryan Pulock.
There were many more tributes to Boychuk, which only show how respected he was by his teammates but also the profound effect he had on them not even from a hockey standpoint.
But for all that Boychuk has done for the Islanders, no one probably said it better than head coach Barry Trotz after the team staved off elimination in game five against Tampa Bay in the Conference finals.
“Johnny is one of those unique guys that you come across,” Trotz said. “He’s old school, he’s one of the most likable guys that you’re ever going to meet, one of the most committed guys. The first shift he blocked two or three shots. He’s got welts all over his body. He gives you everything that he has night-in and night-out. He’s fearless.
“He’s really a bit of a leader or a father figure for the young guys. He’s always taking care of people. Leadership is not necessarily caring about yourself. It’s caring about all of the other people. That’s where Johnny is really good. He cares about everybody in that room. He’s one of the most likable guys. He brings a different energy to the room because he’s been there, done that. He’s been an Islander for a long time.”
Totally forgot this one from today, Johnny Boychukâ€™s final moment as an Islander consoling Mathew Barzal after the team was eliminated in game six
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) November 26, 2020
It will be weird to not see Boychuk out there being his usual self whenever next season begins. He’s been a part of this franchise for over half a decade and has been through all the twists and turns and more recently its success.
His time with the Islanders is over now. But the lasting effect he had during his tenure won’t be forgotten.
An Islander in every sense of the word.
Johnny Boychuk will be missed.