Now many people would expect a guy that blogs about how great New Jersey is to be amongst the most rabid of Devils fans. Instead of an article about a place on Long Island, perhaps I would be writing something about the Prudential Center. While I probably will write something on Prudential Center and its role in Jersey culture later on, I wanted to make sure I wrote something about one hockey arena that I truly love beyond all the rest.
Indeed, I am not a New Jersey Devils fan. I didn’t get into sports until later in my teens, and as a result, I did not grow up with any particular teams like my father did. If my father had it his way, I’d be a fan of every single Philadelphia team. If my friends had it their way, I would be wearing Devils or Rangers jerseys. Thankfully, when I decided I would be a hockey fan and follow the NHL, I had the luxury of selecting a team outside of any external influences.
It all began when my good buddy Mitch (see the post about his workplace here) and I became friends. At the time, I had a budding interest in hockey but hadn’t selected a team to call my own just yet. I was originally torn between the Devils or the Bruins. Bailed on the Bruins because I wouldn’t be able to go to many home games and I didn’t choose the Devils because I didn’t feel like I connected with them as a franchise. Instead, my friend Mitch, who is originally from Long Island and a lifelong New York Islanders fan, was one of the first people who really talked to me about the sport. I learned most of my basic hockey knowledge from him and he happened to reference the Islanders a lot to help me understand.
I quickly began doing my homework on Islanders history and almost instantly felt a strange, indescribable connection to the team. While the Islanders are a very regional team with most of their fans hailing from Long Island, I did not have a geographical connection to the franchise. With the exception of Mitch, most of my friends are Rangers and Devils fans. However, something inside me told me to instinctively hate the Rangers and I already had a natural apathy toward the Devils. Thus, my Islanders fandom began.
I remember my first game at Nassau Coliseum. Mitch and I decided to spontaneously purchase tickets for an Islanders home game against the Buffalo Sabres and thankfully the Islanders won at my first home game. This was the first time I set foot inside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. While some consider it a dump, others consider it home, I consider it something else entirely.
From the get-go, you can tell the Coliseum has had better years. Compared to a modern facility like the Devils’ Prudential Center, this place is ancient history. It just looks old, but not old in a decrepit way. It looks old in a respectful, classic fashion, at least in my opinion.
I feel Nassau Coliseum is a rare symbol of classic, old-time hockey that has survived into the 2010s. Many great, old NHL arenas have either been vacated by the league or demolished to have a new facility built to house the team in its stead. The Islanders are one of the teams that never had to relocate over the decades. They stayed in their old-time hockey facility and they continued to bring a wealth of tradition along with them. This building remains as it was when the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships in the early 1980s. I’ve got to tell you, just being and Islanders fan and looking up at the rafters and seeing all the banners and retired number hanging from the rafters, you can almost picture yourself jumping up and down in one of the seats as Bob Nystrom scored that overtime goal 1980 to claim the first Stanley Cup of the Islanders Dynasty. Nassau Coliseum is one of the last original arenas to have housed true hockey greatness.
While the Islanders have certainly faced dark eras in franchise history, each era did have players that made the games exciting. The original lineup featured storied Islanders alumni such as Eddie Westfall and JP Parise. The pre-Dynasty era began introducing the pieces needed to create the perfect team such as Potvin, Gillies, Trottier, Bossy, Nystrom, and Smith (the 6 names and numbers hanging from the rafters). Later on, the team saw some dark periods as the once-mighty franchise began a decline. Still, players like Pat LaFontaine and Ziggy Palffy added excitement and gave the fans someone to really cheer for.
This season, unfortunately, is the last season this old-time hockey powerhouse will host an NHL franchise. The Islanders will be moving to the more modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season. Thankfully, this current season is not a dark one for fans to leave with a sour taste in their mouths over. The team has seen tons of success this year. Captain John Tavares leading the league in points, goaltender Jaroslav Halak has already set two single-season franchise records, newly-acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have revitalized the team’s defense, and we’ve seen plenty memorable moments along the way during the venue’s final NHL season.
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, while the time you and I have had together has been short, it has been very sweet. Thank you for housing a multitude of great hockey players and for being a place I could visit and feel instantly at home. Perhaps, the old Coliseum Magic will return this season and grant the Islanders one more Stanley Cup Championship to celebrate as the franchise says a bittersweet goodbye and moves westward.