During the 2014-15 season, my younger son Jared was just four years old when we were in the car driving on Hempstead Turnpike and we were passing by the Nassau Coliseum. I told Jared that after the season the Islanders wouldn’t be playing here anymore and that we would have to take a train to see them play in Brooklyn at Barclays Center.
“Why can’t they just stay here?,” asked Jared.
I, along with so many other Islanders fans, were wondering the same thing. A four year old was just trying to make sense of it all. He had no idea what was going on with the Islanders, the Town of Hempstead, the Lighthouse, or the failed referendum to build a new arena.
Yeah it was a dump but it was OUR dump. It was a cathedral for Islanders fans and a venue that housed so many great memories. It may have felt a little different had a new arena been built next door but because the Islanders were moving west to Brooklyn, seeing the Isles leave was a tough pill to swallow. Yes, it was still possible to see our team, but the Barclays Center is not the Nassau Coliseum.
And it never will be.
After losing in the first round of the playoffs against the Washington Capitals, the Nassau Coliseum was no longer the Islanders home. They traded in their 43 year history in Uniondale for a move to a building that wasn’t designed for hockey. Some fans joined the team in Brooklyn these last four years and some refused to go. The players were diplomatic about practicing on Long Island and playing in Brooklyn for a bit but then you started to hear how it wasn’t an ideal situation.
It was supposed to be an “iron-clad” lease in Brooklyn, but there were many media members and fans that always held out hope that the team would return, especially since the Coliseum was going to be renovated. And now, that scenario has come to fruition even though it’s part time and temporary.
The Islanders just don’t belong at Barclays Center for a number of reasons. There are obstructed view seats, a scoreboard that doesn’t hang over center ice, not enough orange and blue in the building, and it’s a pain in the neck to get to for a majority of the fan base that lives on Long Island. Hey don’t get me wrong, the Barclays Center is a nice arena but it just hasn’t worked out for the Islanders.
The Islanders in Brooklyn fit about as good as a 2XL jersey would fit me these days.
This Saturday, the Islanders are finally coming home as they play the Columbus Blue Jackets at NYCB Live, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Isles have already played a couple of pre-season games at the refurnished barn, but this will be the first meaningful game in the building in four years and you can expect a playoff type atmosphere.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the expected sellout crowd of 13,900 fans will sound like there are 25,000 people in the building. It’s going to be insane.
For me personally, the Nassau Coliseum has always been like a second home to me. I grew up in Queens and then my family moved out to Long Island in November 1979, just in time for the Stanley Cup Dynasty. I was an Islanders fan living in Forest Hills and I went to my first game on January 7th, 1978 as the Isles beat the Cleveland Barons 5-3.
Already an Islanders fan before that game,I fell in love with the team that night and I couldn’t wait to go back for another game.
After my family moved to Long Island, going to the Coliseum became a common part of my life. Whether it was the Islanders, New York Nets, New York Arrows Soccer, Billy Joel concerts, the circus, or the Harlem Globetrotters, if something was going on at the Coliseum, I was generally there for it. Professionally, the Coliseum has also meant so much to me, not just covering the Islanders, but also as the play by play announcer for the NY Dragons arena football team and the NY Saints indoor lacrosse team.
My love for the Coliseum took on a new meaning after I was married. It was great to go to games and shows with my wife Sheryl and then eventually going as a family of four to the barn with our sons Bradley and Jared. We didn’t have to hop on a train to go to events there because it was practically in our backyard. We went there so often that our cars could probably get there by itself.
The Nassau Coliseum was home. It was exciting to go there because it was our arena on Long Island.
My son Bradley and I went to the Islander’s last regular season game at the Coliseum in 2015 and then I covered the Islanders game six win over the Capitals in the playoffs which turned out to be the final game at the “old” Coliseum. Sheryl and I turned out the lights at the old barn when we went to the Billy Joel concert in August of 2015 and then the building underwent a massive renovation.
Since the Nassau Coliseum re-opened, we’ve been to a number of events at the “new” place including Long Island Nets games and family shows, but this Saturday is going to be different because when you think of the Nassau Coliseum, you think of the Islanders. It was always a great fit no matter how good or bad the Islanders were because the building had a charm and intimacy about it and the team and its fans grew up with it.
Just like so many others, I knew that building like the back of my hand and had my favorite places to sit and knew just where to park so I could get an edge on that traffic after the game onto Hempstead Turnpike and the Meadowbrook Parkway.
And this Saturday, OUR Islanders are back HOME even though it’s only temporary until the new arena at Belmont Park is completed in a few years. While the Isles will play 21 home games at the Coliseum this season and they’re scheduled for 20 in each of the next two seasons, the expectation is that the Islanders will play all of their games at the Coliseum starting next season until Belmont is ready and that February 16th against the Edmonton will be the final Isles game ever at Barclays Center.
BSE Global operates both NYCB Live and Barclays Center and it’s clear that all parties involved have come to the conclusion that the Islanders should make their full time return to Long Island sooner rather than later.
This Saturday is going to be special in so many ways. From just being able to drive to the game to stopping by Borrelli’s for a bite to eat on the way to tailgating in the parking lot to hearing the Coliseum roar again for an Islanders game is just going to be awesome. I imagine I’ll get pretty emotional before the game just looking around and remembering so many great memories from the past.
Welcome home Islanders! Who says you can’t go home again?