I think we can all agree that we all ultimately want Islanders Hockey to return to Islanders Country. But with our nation going through the Coronavirus Pandemic, the most important thing for our entire country is that we all stay safe and we can all get back to as normal as possible. For Islanders fans, normal includes getting back to see games at Nassau Coliseum and for construction to resume on the new arena at Belmont Park.
During this time, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on some of the most memorable sporting events that I’ve been to in my life, especially Islanders games. I was fortunate as a child that my dad and my uncle took me to so many games and I’m grateful to have enjoyed a career in the sports media that has afforded me the opportunity to cover some great moments in Islanders history. I’m also blessed to be able to go to games with my wife Sheryl and my sons Bradley and Jared and continue the Islanders tradition in my family.
There’s no question that the fan experience and the overall atmosphere at Islanders games has changed over the years and in many ways for the better. But selfishly, there are aspects of the experience from when I was a kid going to games that I would like to see return to the Coliseum before the Islanders leave for good and I’d obviously love to see some old traditions carried over to Belmont Park Arena.
I’ll start with something that’s more of a league thing but I’d love to see the Islanders go back to wearing white at home. Earlier this season, the Islanders wore white at home for John Tonelli Night and Butch Goring Day and it was wonderful to see. It just seemed so right and perfect to see the Islanders wearing white in The Barn. Younger Islanders fans are used to seeing the Isles wear blue at home but I think white at home looks better.
Call me old-fashioned, and at 52 years old in many ways I am, but I’d like to see the Islanders bring back the goal siren from back in the day. Don’t get me wrong…I like the goal horn, but the siren was so cool and I think it would be great to see it come back. It’s fun to watch some old clips and hear that siren after Islanders goals. The siren was so distinctive and I loved it.
One of the things that I always liked about going to Islanders games was buying a program. Back then, the Islanders program was like a magazine and I always liked reading them and collecting them. Each game generally had a different cover and it was just always a neat souvenir to have and to get autographed. I’ve saved a few from some of the games I went to back then and look at them from time to time.
About those old programs….
The last page of the program was at one time an advertisement for Chevrolet. At the bottom of the ad was a box and if you had an Islanders autograph in the box, you had the chance to go down to the ice and play “Score-O” and win a car. They covered up the goal with a board and there was a small opening right in the middle that you had to shoot a puck through.
The promotion debuted on October 13, 1979 when Norman Weidner of East Islip was the first contestant and won earning the nickname Norman “One Shot”. I never had an autograph in a program that we bought (I would have had to let my father shoot since I wasn’t old enough) but I did see someone win the car a couple of times. It was something the whole building used to look forward to and I’m wondering if there’s a chance of the Islanders ever bringing it back.
Another great promotion at Islanders games was free chili from Wendy’s. If the Islanders scored at least six goals, the fans in attendance received a free bowl of chili. The most memorable chili giveaway was on November 13th, 1979 when the Islanders hosted the Rangers. The Islanders had an 8-2 lead after two periods when it was announced that if the Islanders scored ten goals, everyone would get two bowls of chili. Well, the fans started chanting “chili…chili”.
The final score? Islanders 10 Rangers 5. Double chili for everyone!
One of the great things that the Islanders did in the later years of the Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn was having kids go on the ice following afternoon games to take a shot on goal. For whatever reason, this stopped after the Islanders moved to Barclays Center and I think it would be awesome to bring it back. My boys used to love doing it and it creates memories that will last a lifetime. Bradley used to try and sneak in an extra shot or two and a lot of the times he got away with it!
I can’t ask to be able to walk around the inside of the Coliseum because thanks to the renovation of the Coliseum, fans can once again move around the arena in-between the upper and lower bowl without missing any of the action. When those red box seats were added in the 1990’s, you couldn’t do it anymore and had to walk around in the concourse. I think taking out those red seats was the best part of the renovations.
Of course, the best thing that can return to Islanders Country would be Lord Stanley and to be able to finally hang that fifth championship banner to the rafters. It would be great to close out the Coliseum with another Stanley Cup and raise the banner in the new arena at Belmont Park. I’d like to be standing in front of Borelli’s for one more Stanley Cup parade down Hempstead Turnpike past the Coliseum and then move subsequent parades a little further west on Route 24.
There are so many other Islanders traditions that would be great to bring back whether it’s Dr. Generosity’s, The Salty Dog, and even sparklers during the national anthem. At the end of the day, our community just needs to be safe from the virus and to be able to get back to as close to normal as we can. Win or lose, Islanders hockey has always been a big part of my life and now it has even more meaning because I have my own family.
Traditions are passed on from generation to generation and that goes for just about anything in life. From an Islanders perspective, the best thing to do is to combine old and new traditions from all eras and to bring this franchise back to where it was years ago. With the current ownership and management in place, that ultimate goal to complete the “Drive for Five” is well underway.