Islanders Hoping For Fans At Some Point During Final Season At Nassau Coliseum

John McCreary/Icon Sportswire

In 2015, the Islanders played their final regular season game and final playoff contest at the Nassau Coliseum before moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Or so we thought.

Things didn’t go so well in Brooklyn, for a number of reasons, so the Islanders made their return to the renovated Nassau Coliseum on a part-time basis in December of 2018.  Then, late last season, it was announced that the Islanders would play all of their regular season and post-season games this coming season at “The Barn” before moving to their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park for the 2021-22 season.

So, Islanders Country was ready for a second chance to say goodbye to Nassau Coliseum.

But along came the coronavirus pandemic and the Islanders will not have fans for home games, at least for the time being, so there will be just be the sounds of skates, sticks, pucks and checks along with music and sound effects over the sound system.   There will be tarps covering seats and cardboard cutouts of fans filling some of the seats when the Islanders play their home opener on Monday January 18th against the Boston Bruins.

The last Islanders game at the Coliseum before the renovations was game 6 of the opening round playoff series against the Washington Capitals.  Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz was behind the Capitals bench that day as the Islanders won forcing a game 7 back in Washington that the Capitals won to end the series and end the Islanders run at Nassau Coliseum.

Well, at least until 2018.

Trotz arrived on Long Island in 2018 and even though he hasn’t been here that long, he can appreciate what the Islanders and Nassau Coliseum means to the fan base.

So, he’s holding out hope that the fans will be able to give “The Barn” on last hurrah.

“It’s one of those things on the island…you talk to so many people…I go around and people will come and say I remember going to the Islanders game with my dad,” said Trotz.  “It’s got such a long history…it would probably be right.  I was very fortunate to be on the opposition side and play really the last game in the coliseum before it got revamped.  It was pretty special and it was pretty emotional for the people on the island.  It would be fitting that there would be some fans in the stands hopefully at the end of the year.”

Islanders Have Experience From The Bubble Playing With No Fans: 

In terms of playing games in front of no fans, the Islanders are well prepared for that having advanced to the Eastern Conference Final last season when play resumed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Islanders played 22 games in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles during the post-season so when it comes to the sounds of silence, the players and coaches are ready for what lies ahead this season…albeit in all of the Eastern Division arenas including Nassau Coliseum.

UNIONDALE, NY – APRIL 10: New York Islanders fans can barely stay in their seats in the closing minutes of the third period during Game 1 of the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on April 10, 2019 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (NYCBLive) in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire)

“It will be different because we’ll be in all these different buildings and seeing their no fan set up or whatever that’s going to look like whereas the bubble was the same arena every night,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee.  “Those first couple of games in the bubble were definitely odd and different.  You expect (there) to be a lot more energy, in a sense, with regards to the fans but now it’s just one of those things where it’s the norm.”

dy has been an Islander since that last season in the “old” Coliseum back in 2014-15.  He quickly realized just how loud it could get in there, how much that the fans are right on top of the ice, and how the building can shake, rattle and roll when something special is happening.

Until fans are allowed back in, there’s no threat of the roof being blown off the building by the thunderous roar of Islanders Country.

“The coli gets rocking so easily,” said Leddy. “The fans here are so passionate and so energetic.  It gives us energy when they’re really hyped up and cheering us on.  Obviously, it will be a little different right off the bat.”

Islanders Have A Second Chance To Say Goodbye To “The Barn”: 

When the Islanders were playing their “final” season at Nassau Coliseum in 2014-15, they celebrated the team’s history in the arena with a number of promotions.  There were nights when some of the great players in franchise history returned to the Coliseum for one last goodbye and fans received a “mini-locker” of that player. There was even one night when the Islanders wore “fisherman” practice jerseys to recognize a dark period of team history while having a little fun doing it.

The Islanders’ final regular season home game was on April 11th, 2015 when they lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 in a shootout.  When teams play their final game at an arena or stadium, there is generally a lavish ceremony either before or after the game with former players, coaches, and executives invited back to be a part of it.  I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, but the ceremony that night was extremely underwhelming.  Having said that, the Islanders now have a chance for a do-over in giving Nassau Coliseum a proper goodbye.

The Islanders final (and this time it really will be final) regular season home game is scheduled for Saturday May 8th against the New Jersey Devils.  In a perfect world, there would be 13,917 fans packing “The Barn” that night to rattle the foundation of the building one last time and there would, of course, be the hope of another playoff run.

But we’re not living in a perfect world right now and the best-case scenario, at this point, is to hope for some fans to be able to attend games by season’s end.

“I really hope that we get fans in there,” said Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield.  “It’s definitely weird playing (without fans).  I think it will be weird playing at the Coliseum for sure.  Usually, it’s pretty loud in there and now I think we’re just going to have empty seats. I think everyone is hoping that we can just get fans in.”

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 02: New York Islander fans yell their traditional “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant after a third period goal during a game between the New York Islanders and the Los Angeles Kings on February 2, 2019 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum / NYCB Live in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire)

What if the Islanders’ time at Nassau Coliseum ends with not a single roar from the crowd and not a single chant of “Let’s Go Islanders!” or “YES YES YES”?

According to one Islanders player, that would be sad but it wouldn’t take away from the history of the Coliseum and what the arena means to Islanders Country.

“That would be a tough thing,” said Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck when asked about the possibility of no fans all season.   “But I think the Coliseum has provided many memories for many people and those memories I don’t think will go away.  That building has provided more than enough memories and entertainment for people that they can carry that through and take the bottled-up energy that they would have shut the coliseum down with and bring it over to Belmont and kick that place off strong.”

During the playoffs, the Islanders could feel the energy from the fans back home on Long Island.  While the Islanders were in Toronto for the first three rounds and then in Edmonton for the Eastern Conference Final, the fans were able to engage with the team on social media, drive-by promotions at the Islanders’ practice facility, and even a “Let’s Go Islanders” sign, paid for by more than $4,500 in donations from fans, that a plane flew over the team’s hotel in Toronto.

The Islanders Will Feel The Energy From The Fans Either Way: 

When the season starts, there won’t be spectators at the Nassau Coliseum, but the players already know they’ll be able to feel the energy of the fans watching at home on television.

“We know our fans are watching,” said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas.  “We know our fans are cheering.  We want to go out there and play our hardest for them.  It’s definitely difficult with everything going on with what people are dealing with right now outside of hockey.  But if we could just go out there and play hard and give them something to cheer for and give them something to kind of take their minds away from what’s going on in this world right now then we owe that to them.  We’re going to go out there and we’re going to compete and we’re going to do whatever we can to win games.”

UNIONDALE, NY – APRIL 12: New York Islanders fans are energetic after the go-ahead goal during game 2 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 12, 2019 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire)

First and foremost, Islanders fans want to see the team win, compete for a championship, and hopefully close out their history at Nassau Coliseum with the fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history.  That’s what they want even if they can’t be in the building.  But the Nassau Coliseum is more than just an arena…it has been home for the team and the fans, aside for a few years in Brooklyn, since 1972.  There are countless memories for generations of Islanders fans that will last a lifetime.

“Obviously, we’d like to have fans there at the Coliseum but it will be special still knowing that it’s the last run,” said Islanders forward Brock Nelson.  “It’s got a lot of history.  A lot of things have happened there and it means a lot to the team and to the fan base here on Long Island.  Hopefully we can make the last run at the Coliseum one to remember for sure.”

Conditions would have to change in order for some fans to be at games before the season is over.  If that happens, maybe a few thousand fans at a time will get a chance to say goodbye to the old place before Islanders Country makes the less than ten mile move west down Hempstead Turnpike to UBS Arena at Belmont Park for next season.

If not, then the hope is that with the coronavirus vaccine rollout underway fans will be able to attend games starting next fall at UBS Arena.  If we reach the “new normal” by that point and fans can be at games, then there would still be the unfinished business of being able to say goodbye to Nassau Coliseum.  Perhaps the Islanders could have one final event at “The Barn” next fall, with fans in attendance.  Maybe it’s a practice or just a ceremony to give the building a proper farewell.

Nassau Coliseum deserves that honor.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter covers the Islanders for New York Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club. Peter spent 8 years as the radio play by play voice for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. He was also the radio play by play announcer for the XFL’s NY/NJ Hitmen in 2001 and the radio play by play announcer for the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1993 to 1996.

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