It was back on September 17th when the Islanders’ season came to an end in Edmonton with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game six of the Eastern Conference Final. The next day, the Islanders returned home to Long Island after their most successful playoff run since 1993. When their charter flight arrived at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, they were greeted by over 100 screaming and cheering fans.
“It was great,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee during a Zoom meeting with the media on Monday. “We take so much pride in playing on the Island as New York Islanders and our fans have a ton of pride in our team and our organization and for us to share a moment like that where we hadn’t been able to see them or have any interaction with them at all, that was pretty special for them to make the trek out to the airport and be outside for us.”
Islanders fans had not seen the team in person since the last regular season home game on March 7th. Shortly thereafter, the NHL season was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it would be four months before the Islanders would return to the ice for small group workouts followed by the start of training camp 2.0 on July13th. Later in July, the Islanders left for the bubble in Toronto and went on to beat Florida, Washington, and Philadelphia while the fans back home supported the team by watching on television and through interaction on social media.
“We appreciated them a lot,” said Lee. “It was a bummer not to be able to come back to the (Nassau Coliseum) and have them at our backs. We felt their support but to see it in person and to feel the roars and the cheers and all that stuff…definitely a bummer on a run that like not to have them along side us.”
Islanders Fans Showed Their Support From Home:
Whether it was sending in videos that were shown in the arenas, the support transmitted on social media, or even a plane that flew over Toronto with a banner that read “Let’s go Islanders”, the fans that would have preferred to fill the Nassau Coliseum and blow the roof off “The Barn” with noise. They certainly enjoyed a magical run through four rounds with many younger fans having never experienced anything like this before.
And the players took notice.
“Thank you Islander fans for your support from start to finish,” said Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel via Twitter on September 18th. “Not the final outcome we wanted but we will be back.”
“Not the ending we all wanted but what an amazing experience,” tweeted Scott Mayfield on September 23rd. “Thanks for all the support Isles fans! Hope to have all of you back in the rink with us soon.”
The Islanders played in empty arenas both in Toronto and Edmonton but they were able to, in a way, feel the energy of the fans back home on Long Island. But it was nothing like it could have been at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike or any other building in the NHL had the games been played at arenas filled with fans. As the NHL prepares for the 2020-21 season and how it is going to look, the hope is that the Islanders can be reunited with Islanders Country.
“They were with us for sure (in the bubbles) but just that physical presence is special,” said Lee. “Everyone who has been to a hockey game, let alone a playoff game in the Coliseum, you leave that night absolutely energized. That’s for sure.”
There Is Uncertainty As To When Islanders Fans Will See Their Team Again:
While the NHL is planning for a January 1st start to next season, nothing is set in stone just yet. In fact, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley told a Las Vegas radio station that he thinks a more likely start date would be February 1st and the season could consist of 48 or 56 games. He also told KSHP that he’s also not convinced there will be a season at all.
“Who knows if we’re going to be playing?” said Foley. “If we aren’t playing in front of fans, a lot of teams can’t make it. That’s including us.”
But while there are some who suggest that there may not be a 2020-21 season, that thought hasn’t made its way to the Islanders’ Captain.
“No, I don’t have that level of concern,” said Lee. “There’s so much speculation going on, it’s tough to even talk on it really and not just in our return to play so it’s not something that I can really get into. We’re just getting ready and looking forward to starting up when we do.”
Islanders Hoping To Welcome Back The Fans:
As the United States continues to navigate its way through the pandemic, the likelihood of 13,917 fans filling the Nassau Coliseum is not something that can be expected, at least at the start of next season, but the hope is that there is a chance to have some fans come through the turnstiles. With the Islanders looking to improve on what they accomplished this past season, there is excitement building towards the new campaign.
But this time, the Islanders want the fans along for the ride.
“That’s the kind of stuff that makes all of this so special because we want to do it with everybody,” said Lee. “It’s not just the guys in the room it’s the Island. We came up a little bit short for everybody but that’s what we’re building on and looking forward to improving on.”
There are some states around the country that are currently allowing a limited number of fans at sporting events, but that’s not the case just yet in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo has suggested that some fans could start attending Buffalo Bills home games if there is a way to get the fans in and out of Bills Stadium in a socially distanced and safe way.
Could that be the case for Islanders fans come January at Nassau Coliseum? Time will tell, but there’s no question that both the team and the fans are chomping at the bit for a reunion. There were videos posted on social media when some of the Islanders players made emotional returns home to their families after spending so much time away.
Can you imagine what it would be like at Nassau Coliseum if Islanders fans are able to go to games? Even it it’s only three or four thousand at the start, the Islanders players will certainly know that they are home sweet home.