12,221 Islanders fans came through the turnstiles at the brand-new Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum on October 7th, 1972 for the first regular season home game. A capacity crowd of 16,170 was on hand for the Islanders “final” regular season home game on April 11th, 2015 as well as for the “final” home playoff game on April 25th, 2015. When the Islanders made their return to the renovated and downsized Coliseum on December 1st, 2018, 13,917 filled the building. Before the pandemic suspended the 2019-20 regular season last spring, a full house was at the Coliseum for the Islanders’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
That was the last time that Islanders fans were able to see the team play in person.
This season, truly the Islanders’ final season at Nassau Coliseum as the team will move to UBS Arena next season, started with no fans allowed as per New York State guidelines, but that is about to change.
On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that starting on February 23rd, arenas and stadiums of 10,000 seats or more in New York State can re-open to fans with a limited capacity. New York State experimented with fans in attendance during the coronavirus pandemic for the first time when 7,000 fans attended each of the Buffalo Bills’ two home play games.
“While we’re doing vaccines and while we’re controlling COVID, we also have to, at the same time, get this economy open intelligently and in a balanced way,” said Cuomo. “The Buffalo Bills demonstration program was an unparalleled success. 7,000 people in a stadium…everyone tested…the only stadium to open up for football with was what we did here in New York. The testing to me is key.”
So, here’s how this works….
*There will be a 10% capacity limit which for the Islanders means 1,392 fans in the 13,917 seat Nassau Coliseum.
*Fans who have tickets to a game will need to get a negative PCR COVID test within 72 hours of the game and if that test is negative you can go to the game.
*All fans at the games must wear a face covering, practice social distancing, and undergo a temperature check upon entry to the building.
*All tickets will be reserved and you must sit in your assigned socially distanced seat. There is no “flopping” allowed to other seats.
“It is exciting that Governor Cuomo has announced that New York State will allow a limited number of fans to attend games starting February 23rd,” said the Islanders organization in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming the best fans in hockey back to the Coliseum as soon as possible and to UBS Arena at Belmont Park next season.”
The Islanders went on to say that season ticket members will receive first access to tickets when they become available and that the health and safety of the fans and the Islanders’ staff remains the organization’s top priority.
The fact that the Islanders can have fans, even just 1,392 to start, is important because it is going to be the final season in “The Barn” and that some fans will be able to experience at least one more game there and bid farewell to a building that has housed so many great moments in franchise history.
And the most important aspect of all of this will be the fans being able to safely enjoy Islanders hockey in person as the pandemic continues but also with the vaccine rollout underway.
“Governor Cuomo reopening arenas is a big step towards New York’s safe return to normal,” tweeted Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Wednesday. “We know virus risk is dramatically reduced with precautions in place and rules being followed. I’d been advocating for this and I’m thrilled Isles fans will be able to safely rock the Barn again!”
Curran also added the hashtag #YESYESYES and that will be the chant on February 25th when the Islanders host the Boston Bruins in the team’s first home game that fans will be able to attend. The Islanders, who host the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night, have won all three home games so far this season and they have done so with no fans in attendance. Because of that, there’s been no roar of a crowd after a goal (other than fake crowd noise), no chants of “YES YES YES” (other than a recorded version of it), and the Islanders’ players have not been able to do their “YES YES YES” salute to the fans at center ice after wins.
Any way you slice it, the Islanders have missed having fans at the games.
“I will say this as a coach and I can speak for the athletes that we would really enjoy the fans back,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “We miss that element in our game…no question…in sports or in life. They’re a big part of what we do.”
The Islanders have not yet announced just how season ticket holders can get tickets or if there will even be a general sale of tickets to fans who are not season ticket holders. The sad reality is that not every fan who wants to go to a game will be able to but it would have really been a shame if there were no fans for any of the home games during this final season at Nassau Coliseum. Perhaps the capacity will be able to increase during the season and then into the playoffs, but at least there will be some fans that will be able to “Rock The Barn” on last time.
To that point, perhaps the Islanders could wait a little bit longer than the scheduled final regular season game on May 8th or whenever the potential final home playoff game takes place to have a formal goodbye to the storied arena.
As the vaccine rollout continues and hopefully as the positivity rate continues to decline, there is hope that the Islanders will be able to welcome a full house to their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park this fall. But before that, the Nassau Coliseum needs a proper farewell.
If we’re in a situation where a full house or close to a full house is possible by the end of the summer or early fall, the Islanders should have a “closing” event at the Coliseum where they could invite back alumni and lower the championship banners and retired numbers so that they can be brought to UBS Arena. There doesn’t have to be a game involved, just a ceremony, maybe over a couple of hours, where the fans can honor all the great memories of the Nassau Coliseum.
But it’s going to start with just 1,392 fans.
That’s okay because Islanders fans have waited so long to see their team in person that even the noise from that small number of fans may be enough to blow the roof off the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.