Islanders Pay Respects at Ground Zero
By Alan Hahn
The Islanders, Eastern Conference leaders at 9-0-1-1,
slipped across the river yesterday to a place where
numbers carry mostly sadness. They went to visit the
real-life heroes of one of this country's greatest
tragedies. It is a scene, as many already know, that
defies spoken or, in this case, written language. And
even that doesn't pay it enough respect.
"How do you describe this?" one asked reverently.
The Islanders are just the umpteenth sports team or
celebrity group to pay a visit, but the police
officers, firefighters, reservists and volunteers all
greeted them with an appreciative warmth. The feeling
was obviously mutual.
The team met at Nassau Coliseum at 9:30 a.m., less
than 12 hours after another successful night on the
ice, against the Florida Panthers. The players were
still full of the usual post-win giddiness, chattering
away as the bus- the side of which, as folks on the
streets of Manhattan were quick to notice, has the
skyline of the city, including the Twin
Towers-followed the flow of traffic along the Long
Island Expressway. They noticed a huge billboard
promoting the Islanders with the slogan "We're Back!"
just outside the Midtown Tunnel. The bus was stopped
momentarily by National Guard soldiers at a
checkpoint. When one soldier heard the bus was
carrying the Islanders, his face lit up.
"Oh, the New York Islanders?" he said. "Heard you guys
had a great game last night. Keep up the good work."
The first stop was at the temporary headquarters of
the Office of Emergency Management on the upper West
Side. The entourage was met with smiles and handshakes
and-when the team was announced as "the first-place
New York Islanders" -rousing applause. The players
dispersed among the volunteers to sign autographs,
take pictures and present autographed jerseys.
Russians Alexei Yashin and Alexander Kharitonov sat at
a computer terminal, attentively listening to a worker
describe what his responsibility was. Captain Michael
Peca signed anything and everything handed his way.
Garth Snow spoke with a group of reservists from Long
Island who were Islanders fans. One was Lt. Cmdr. Bart
Polizzotti, 46, of Hicksville, who is a Coast Guard
reservist. Polizzotti, husband of Lori and father of
14-year-old Aimee, works 12-hour shifts. He named a
host of sports teams and dignitaries who have made
their way through the center the past month.
Polizzotti said it never gets tiresome.
"It's good for morale," he said. "It's funny, you're
in awe of them and they're in awe of you. It's like a
mutual admiration society."
That part was upbeat. The mood was still light during
the police-escorted bus ride down the West Side
Highway. At one checkpoint, a police officer heard the
bus was carrying the Islanders.
He shook his head, as if to decline permission for
them to enter. "Ranger fans only," he said.
But the laughter subsided when the guide pointed
toward an obvious hole in the skyline. "That's where
the towers used to be," he said. And with that,
conversation was nothing more than a low murmur. A
short walk around Battery Park and past the makeshift
memorial of flowers and pictures led to the official
entrance to Ground Zero. Hard hats were distributed
and the players gathered on a platform that serves as
a balcony to destruction. OEM communications director
Mark Clampet, who is from Glen Head and is also an
Islanders fan, answered questions. He had everyone's
ear, but their eyes were on the smoldering crater.
The visit was over about 1:30 p.m. But as the
Islanders left, a group of families entered, carrying
flowers and sobbing quietly. It was then everyone
among the Islanders, whether Russian, Czech, Swedish,
Polish, Canadian or American, realized where they had
just been. It was a grave site and a memorial. It was
They'll go back to playing their game tomorrow night
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