It has seen the ups and downs of the longest tenured professional sports team it has ever known, from its humble beginning in 1972 to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships between 1980-1983 and a fifth straight trip to the finals that ended in defeat in 1984 followed by what can only described as some pretty lean years since.
Even so, all-time the Islanders have gone 806-596-222 at the storied building (c/o the great Eric Hornick).
The slow, painful rebuild that the organization and fans have endured could be coming to an end with the team seemingly on the upswing in the National Hockey League. An extremely successful summer and deep, talented pipeline of youngsters are offering hope for the first time in what seems like forever.
With my aunt living only a mile and a half down the road in East Meadow and us being frequent visitors up until my mother’s passing in 1980, I was fortunate enough to start my hockey journey at the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike in 1977 when my dad took me to see the Penguins take on the Islanders. I was 6 years old and all I could do was marvel at the pure spectacle of roughly 16,000 people crammed into one building to watch a sporting event. But it would not come until 1982 that it would leave an undeniable mark on me that will last a lifetime.
The night was February 20, 1982 (which ironically, happens to be the day my future wife would turn 11 years old). The Islanders had won 14 straight regular season games, tying a 52-year-old record set previously by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins. At the age of 10, barely a year after my mother’s passing, we had moved to a new neighborhood in Oakwood Heights, Staten Island surrounded by 4 other kids my age who all loved to play hockey. Problem was, they were all Rangers fans.
That did not bother me any, as bragging rights were most certainly on my side, coming off our second straight championship and maintaining dominance in the league.
My friend Vin Celano, who I still talk to today, got tickets from his dad to attend the game and they asked me if I wanted to join them, knowing how passionate I was when we played on the street and wore my now infamous Bryan Trottier sweater I had received for Christmas.
Now, I knew that the opportunity to witness history was there and who better to share it with than two Rangers fans? I immediately and without any doubt, screamed yes at the top of my lungs.
Sitting on the edge of my seat for the entire game, it was a tense defensive affair which was 2-2 late in the third period. It was at that time, Vin would start doing something he would end up regretting. Starting to mock that the streak was over and we would not have another entry in the record book. Big mistake.
I don’t remember the Mike McEwen pass to Trottier, probably because when I went to games as a youngster, I pretty much keyed on 19 and 22 the entire game. I saw Bryan streak down the left-wing boards and slide a pass over to John Tonelli, who proceeded to blast a slap shot between the legs of Rockies’ goaltender Glenn Resch. 47 seconds remained in the third period and in 1982, there was no overtime. No shoot-out. At the end of 60, a tie is a tie.
I jumped out of my seat and joined the voracious celebration of throngs of Islanders fans, yelling and screaming loudly until it felt like all the air in my body had just exited into the arena and I was emotionally exhausted.
All I could do was glance at Vin and his father, tucked nicely in their seats and smile. I took that grin all the way home and added it to my collection for the next street hockey game on Cranford Avenue.
Little did I know, this glorious Islanders team would grant me 3 more years of being on top of hockey fandom as far as I was concerned. My friends couldn’t touch me. Couldn’t razz me. They couldn’t say ANYTHING.
As Bob Nystrom would tell the Times post-game : ‘You’d have to go to Hollywood to find a team that plays like ours’.
Jeremy Weinstein (@upperdeckie) shared his Coliseum experience with Islanders Insight.
I wanted to start this off by saying that I shouldn’t even be writing this. I shouldn’t be an Islanders fan.
None of my friends are Islanders fans. None of my family members are Islanders fans. I know I can be difficult to deal with but this isn’t my fault. I blame my Dad for this. I love my Dad but it’s his fault I am an Islanders fan and I thank him for it.
I grew up and live in Queens, New York but for some strange reason he preferred driving to riding the subway or LIRR so some of my favorite memories are driving out to the Coliseum and watching the Islanders with him.
My 1st game was during the 1988-89 season which happened to be the 1st time the Islanders hadn’t made the playoffs in 14 years. I watched them lose to the Boston Bruins 2-1 on March 7, 1989, I still have the program and ticket stub all I remember from that game is that I fell in love.
December 31, 1990, my dad gets my brother and I tickets behind the net two rows off the ice as the Islanders play the Quebec Nordiques. The Islanders won 6-2 and it was my 1st Islanders victory. This game sticks out in my head because we were shown on TV several times and at one point Pat LaFontaine had a breakaway he shot and we celebrated the goal, except Nordiques G Ron Tugnutt made the greatest save I had ever saw in my life (I was 8). We taped the game and the announcers made reference to us which was awesome. Derek King scored 4 goals in the win. I also learned a valuable lesson if you throw your hat during the “Hat-Trick” celebration you do not get it back which was a bummer.
I remember 1993, then 1994, being called Fishsticks, the Spano era, the Mad Mike era, Neil Smith’s weekend at Wang’s, Snow retiring to be GM, seen a lot of good Islanders become great players and potential HOF’s on other teams but there is something that I can always say….. no other fan base has laid claim to four Stanley Cups in four years.
We also hear from John Muir (@olegkvasha) on what he will remember most thinking back.
The Day I Became An Islanders Fan
At 13 years old the world is a place that isn’t defined. One day you discover music that isn’t for “kids” and then next day you say it’s behind you. Thought the only sport in life was baseball? Too bad, now you’ve found soccer and life is ret-conned into completeness. I was a 13 year old Quebec Nordiques fan. Look how that turned out.
Little League World Series champion Chris Drury is from my hometown. He was drafted by the Nordiques when I was 12 and I was in awe that someone from Trumbull, CT had left to do something cool. I kinda-sorta knew what a “Quebec” was from French class so it wasn’t like I had to familiarize myself with Pardubice or Örnsköldsvik. At the time I thought I had my hockey team.
For my 13th birthday my mom bought me the only (known) Nordiques jersey in Connecticut and two tickets to my first NHL game…the Quebec Nordiques at the New York Islanders. The only hockey games I had been to were St. Lawrence University games, and those were maybe once a year for me. Since we didn’t get cable until I was halfway through high school, I only knew the Coliseum as some big thing across the street from a McDonald’s we’d stop at on the way to my grandparents’ house. Now I got to go inside for a hockey game.
As this was 1995 the tickets were $39 for row D behind the penalty box. Not due to the lockout, just because the NHL had not experienced the popularity spike of the early 00’s. Also, John O. Pickett owned the team and…let’s move on.
I was blown away by what was in front of me. Not twenty feet from my seat were professional hockey players. Sakic, Forsberg, Thibault, Kamensky, Kovalenko, and the great Stephane Fiset. History shows Fiset was merely average and benefitted from years of firepower in front of him. To me, his igloo mask was the best especially with the Nords’ road blue. What else mattered in that moment?
While I was in awe, my mom read a book. Not just through warm-ups but from the moment the lights came up after intros to the final ferry horn. She’s never been particularly interested in sports but she knew being at the game was important to me. Thanks, Mom.
The Islanders won 5-2. That box score to the left helps to pull details that never really stuck, but those aren’t the memories I carry. Joe Sakic scored for the visitors and I lost it, highlight of the night. Tommy Salo earned his first NHL win in the face of 42 shots from the Eastern Conference heavyweights and Stanley Cup favorites. You also don’t forget the first time a guy named Ziggy scores in a professional sporting match.
There were lowlights too. When you cheer for the opposition in the lower seats of NVMC you become an easy target. I know I was hit by a pretzel and I’m fairly certain there was some mustard on my right shoulder from a flying hot dog. Words and phrases I never knew could be aimed at another human being washed over me. My mom, the Long Island native, heard these things and reinforced a great life lesson. “You’re at a game in New York and you choose to be with the visitors. You had to know this was going to happen. Look at these people.”
Fun fact: DON’T cut the bathroom line. “YOU WALK IN THAT DOOR AND AH’LL PISS ON YA FUCKIN’ FEET!” Yessir. The line will do fine for me.
“These people,” some lucky-to-not-be-in-Utah goalie, and a guy named Zigmund converted me. Well, not really. Everything that happened around me gave me my favorite team. Before we left, and before I could hear again, I said I wanted to come back. It was the loudest place I had ever been to. It was the craziest environment I never knew could exist. The game itself was the most fantastic I had ever seen it with my own eyes. Yes, deflecting insults and making it to the car in once piece helped pull me into this slice of life that wasn’t some fad like the one found thirty-five miles west. The weird old building across the street from the McDonald’s became something to me.
I’ve used Islanders games to show people what hockey is. No one has ever said it wasn’t a great night, win or lose. I know what they felt and knew they’d never forget it. You never forget why you’re an Islanders fan.
My first child–a boy–is due next month, and I cannot wait for him to experience his first (and likely last) Islanders game at NVMC (whether he remembers it or not).
Thanks to Jeremy and John for sharing their experiences with us. Have something about the Coliseum you would like to share? A memory? A moment you will never forget? Perhaps, play off John’s “the day I became an Islanders fan”. Send your submission to [email protected] or leave it in the comments section below.