Before I get into my re-visit to see the Islanders and the Nassau Coliseum, first a little side story. Ten years ago right around this time, I took a trip to see an NHL arena on the same weekend of the Final Four. The team visit was Montreal, while my favorite team, the Syracuse Orange were playing in the second National Semifinal. It took a lot of focus, but I managed to stay clear of any scores and was able to watch the game on VHS in my dorm room when we got back at 3 AM. Ironically in 2013, a very similar scenario played out. With more technology, the challenge to stay clear of the result was more difficult, but I still managed and despite my superstitious-ness, the result was different as the Cuse lost to Michigan.
OK, back to the task at hand…I can’t believe despite all of my trips to Long Island to visit my wife’s family, I have yet to make it back for another visit to Uniondale for an Islanders game. A lot has changed since 2003 and after years of failed projects, referendums and votes, the team will only be “Islanders” by technicality as they move to Brooklyn in 2015 (yes Brooklyn is on LI, but it’s really Nassau and Suffolk County that is true Island). Though Brooklyn was not the destination I wanted to see, I was somewhat OK with the move since Charles Wang has tried for ten years to improve the arena situation in the horribly outdated Nassau Coliseum. Enough was enough after numerous failed projects and votes and I won’t blame Wang one bit as the political game on Long Island is really what drove the team away. But the more thought I gave, the sadder I got to see it come to this. The Islanders are Long Island’s only professional team. The franchise is suburb in every sense of the word and that will now change as many won’t haul out to Brooklyn for games (but very thankfully for fans, well within distance from where they could have moved).
The fan base of NYI is confounding in that there are so many times you can turn on the TV and see a completely dormant Coliseum with little noise and sections of empty seats. Yet, Islander fans that I have come to know are deeply passionate. It has been rare in the last twenty years to see a team worth watching, but when it happens there is an unmistakable buzz. I was fortunate to see a game that mattered as the team is near a playoff spot with ten games to go and the young talent is coming together. The fans responded and it was a near-sellout Saturday Night vs Tampa. The Coliseum was rocking and constant “Lets Go Islander” chants complimented the explosion after each goal. Inside, there is only one level of seating to the arena and the 100s, 200s and 300s are just separated each by a wall. Combine that with the low roof and the fact that suites in no place interrupt the seating bowl (they are nestled underneath the roof, hanging over the 300 level), the stage is set for a very loud building. And it is that, for what I will miss with the Coliseum. There are not many left as today’s arenas are huge (save for Winnipeg) with numerous corporate seating. The Coliseum remains old-school and for the many, many times it is desolate, those few times that it rocks make it worth it in today’s NHL. Yes, overall the place is awful: there is nothing but parking lot around it, concourses are ridiculously tight, food is bad (like my disgusting buffalo chicken wrap) and many of those upper seats are obstructed by the overhang. But I’ll take all of those deficiencies for the atmosphere that Long Islanders can occasionally create as opposed to seeing a game in an arena built for the NBA with a fan base that has more rival fans (Rangers) than home fans.