GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — When Casey Cizikas and Calvin de Haan of the Islanders meet up off the ice, there is much running, stick throwing and shouting — with nary a puck in sight.
Their canine companions, two for each, happily romp and crunch drying leaves under their paws at a park near their Garden City homes. The dogs stop to catch their breath with tails wagging, waiting for a pat on the head and maybe a treat to nibble.
This suburban scene provides further evidence of how Islanders players and their families remain entrenched on Long Island despite playing games in Brooklyn.
That is fine with Cizikas and his fiancée, Kristy Rosenberg, who care for Bentley, a goldendoodle, and an Old English sheepdog named Phoebe. They recently moved into a new home minutes from the team’s practice rink and former home rink, Nassau Coliseum.
“I like that all the teammates live in the same area,” said Rosenberg, who works on Long Island as a nurse. “You instantly have 20 friends.”
Proximity helps build close bonds among players and their families. In addition to Garden City, Islanders players reside in Manhasset and Mineola.
“We’ve lucked out being with the Islanders and living on Long Island,” said DeHaan’s girlfriend, Brittany DaSilva, who is from Ottawa, Ontario. “There are tons of parks, open spaces and backyards. We really enjoy it.”
The team’s Long Island bonds appear even stronger this season after a summer in which three longtime Islanders — Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin — left as free agents.
Unlike the Brooklyn Nets, whose home games moved from New Jersey to Barclays Center in New York City and who now also practice in Brooklyn, Islanders skaters and their lives remain entrenched in their former home, Long Island. Most of the Nets players have moved to Brooklyn, but no Islanders have.
The Rangers, who play in Manhattan and practice in Westchester County, are mostly a city-dwelling team — even if it is harder for their pets. Forward Brandon Pirri moved to Manhattan from Chicago this summer with his wife and Lucy, their rescue pit bill, only to be turned away from their first few apartment choices because of the dog’s breed.
The Islanders’ closeness to Nassau County is the main reason the team stopped doing morning skates before games in Brooklyn last season.
Barclays Center officials continue trying to forge inroads with Brooklyn fans, especially the next generation of hockey watchers and players. They are starting a program at nearby Prospect Park on Dec. 5, which will include weekly free skating sessions and hockey clinics.
The Islanders played well at Barclays last season, winning 25 of 41 games and beating the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs for the franchise’s first postseason series win since 1993.
But the Islanders are off to a rocky start this season. After Friday’s 3-2 loss at San Jose, the Isles sit last in the Eastern Conference. With just six wins in their first 20 games, the team could soon find its season spiraling out of control.
Life away from the rink can help ease stress.
Islanders forward Josh Bailey, who has a newborn son and a 5-year-old bull mastiff, is grateful for life on Long Island. He recognizes why Islanders heroes like Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies and Pat LaFontaine continued to make the area home well after their playing days.
“We’ve been here almost a decade now and it’s such a great place to have a family,” said Bailey, 27, a forward drafted by the Islanders in 2008. “It’s not crazy-busy all the time and we have space, which feels even better now having a kid. I understand why guys stay here.”
And all their dogs have play dates. Many Islanders have dogs, with nearly 20 among them. Hockey players can be tight-lipped about injuries and strategies. But ask about their dogs, and they become effusive.
The dogs add fun and frolic to the grind of the season, said Cizikas, a 25-year-old center from Toronto.
“It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get away from everything,” said Cizikas, watching Phoebe charge purposefully after a small branch flung into the windy distance. “Having them around brings so much positive energy. They play nonstop.”
The Islanders’ captain and star, John Tavares, lights up when the conversation turns to Bo, his young Bernedoodle, a cross between a Bernese and a poodle.
“Before road trips, I’ll catch him trying to hide a pig’s ear in my luggage and tossing my clothes everywhere,” Tavares said. “He just looks at me when he’s caught red-handed. He always makes me laugh. Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason.”
For the first time this season, and in another sign of the Islanders’ attachment to Long Island, the team put together a photo calendar featuring players and puppies for adoption through the Port Washington-based North Shore Animal League America.
“We never want to lose our strong bonds with Long Island,” said the team’s new majority owner, Jon Ledecky. “We play our games in Brooklyn, but we have fans all over the metropolitan area so it’s important that we connect with all of them.”
De Haan, drafted by the Islanders along with Cizikas in 2009, said he had been persuaded to add another dog after the photo shoot at the team’s practice facility at Eisenhower Park.
“I could have resisted, but I was ‘forced’ into it,” de Haan said as he cradled his squirming puppy, Mia, a boxer mix, while Zeus, his 90-pound Bernese mountain dog, stood by eager for the next chance to play fetch. “It’s nice to come home from the rink and be greeted so enthusiastically.”
Cal Clutterbuck, who with his wife, Cassie, has two preschool-age daughters as well as Suri the English bulldog and Kitty the American Bully, said: “The whole family is usually asleep when I get back late from games, so our dogs greet me and bark to let my wife know I’m home. Their presence is really important. They make you feel happy.”
He also envisioned what type of scene would unfold if all of his teammates could coordinate a huge doggy play-date.
“It would be chaotic. Casey’s dogs would be running around, causing trouble, and all the other dogs would be chasing them,” Clutterbuck said, referring to the rambunctious duo of Bentley and Phoebe. “Like most of us, our dogs fit our personalities.”