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Romano living out boyhood dream

October 31, 2009
Photo: Rich Stieglitz

by Mike Nastri || AHL On The Beat Archive

Every little kid grows up with a dream. A kid may dream of being a firefighter, a sportscaster, or even a pro athlete. Many times those dreams are forgotten memories when adulthood is reached.

This isn’t the case with Tony Romano.

Romano grew up in Smithtown, Long Island, and knew what he wanted to do since he was 3 years old. He wanted to be a professional hockey player.

But not any hockey player. A New York Islander.

“I had a little Islanders jersey on and I turned to my mother and asked, ‘Is this what I’m going to look like when I play for them?”

Tony knew making his dream come true would be tough, but he started putting in the work at a very young age, according to his father Gil Romano.

“He would skate three or four days a week for two hours before he was even 4,” Gil said.

Romano increased his workload to four or five days a week a year later. He skated under the tutelage of Aleksey Nikiforov, father of Islanders prospect Vladimir Nikiforov.

Aleksey is well known throughout Long Island and coached the likes of the Los Angeles Kings' Rob Scuderi, the Ottawa Senators' Alexei Kovalev and the New York Rangers' Chris Higgins and Matt Gilroy. Nikiforov stresses speed and puck control, two of Romano’s biggest strengths.

“Tony’s biggest asset is his speed,” said Sound Tigers alternate captain Greg Moore. “He’s a threat anytime he gets the puck.”

Modeling his game after Nikiforov’s coaching and his favorite player Pierre Turgeon, Romano began to make hockey his main focus.

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His hard work paid off during his senior year at St. Anthony’s High School when he scored 50 goals for the New York Bobcats in the AJHL. He was drafted 178th overall by the New Jersey Devils and decided to attend Cornell, where he led the team’s rookies with 19 points.

After his first year at Cornell he chose to leave school to play for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.

“Tony was always a smart kid, but his dream was always to play professional hockey,” Gil Romano said. “Division I was just not enough hockey for him, the restrictions were too much. He wanted to put in 110 percent, but there weren’t enough games.”

Romano’s 2007-08 season with the London Knights was a difficult one. He struggled through the year, tallying 22 points while battling the effects of off-season shoulder surgery.

His breakout year came with the Peterborough Petes the next season. Tony scored 69 points in 65 games.

On June 30, 2009, Romano was traded to the Islanders for Ben Walter and a conditional 2010 draft pick. His dream was starting to become a reality.

“It was a great feeling to be traded to the team I idolized as a kid,” Romano said. “I know they will give me a lot of opportunity here.”

Romano showed a glimpse of what he can do against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier this season. After Trevor Smith stole the puck from a Penguin defender, he quickly played it ahead to Romano cutting through the zone. Romano’s quickness and puck control were on display as he calmly deked the goalie and beat him with a backhand shot into the top of the net.

It was Romano’s first AHL goal. While there are surely many more to come, Romano is young and still has aspects of his game he has to develop. He cited his defense and time management as areas he needs to improve.

“Tony has a lot of skill, but he stills needs to work on what he’s doing when he’s away from the puck,” said head coach Jack Capuano.

“We work out at the same place in the summer and he is one of the hardest working guys I have ever seen,” said Moore. “He always has a great attitude he’s very dedicated to taking care of himself on and off the ice.”

For now, Tony and his family are happy he is close to home with the Sound Tigers. They get to watch him continue to grow as a hockey player and follow his boyhood dream.

But the idea of getting to see Tony skate onto the ice in the Nassau Coliseum in an Islanders jersey, where Gil saw the Islanders win their first Stanley Cup is exciting to think about.

“I can’t put it into words,” Gil Romano said. “It would be phenomenal.”

It certainly would be phenomenal to see a Long Island boy’s dream come true and see Tony Romano add his skills to the youth movement transforming the New York Islanders.