With Fans Returning, The Islanders Have A Second Chance To Give Nassau Coliseum A Proper Farewell

John McCreary/Icon Sportswire

On April 11th, 2015, I was getting ready to take my son Bradley to what we thought was going to be the Islanders’ final regular season game ever at Nassau Coliseum.  I made sure I had the tickets and also grabbed the camera because I wanted to take plenty of photos on what was going to be a pretty emotional night.  We all knew the Islanders were going to the playoffs so it wasn’t going to be the last hockey game ever at “The Barn”, but the expectation was that the Islanders’ history at the building was going to be celebrated with elaborate pre-game ceremonies.  The Islanders held special nights at the Coliseum throughout the season, but there was a build up and a countdown to the final regular season contest and one had to think that with all of the history in that building that the team would make it a night that the fans would never forget.

I had been to the Yankees’ final regular season game at the old Yankee Stadium in 2008  and the pre-game ceremony was amazing with so many former Yankee greats and the meticulous attention that the organization gave to the planning of the event.  I met up with a friend of mine who had gone to so many games with over the years and I’m not embarrassed to say that two grown men started to cry when thinking this was going to be the last time we would be that stadium.  So, knowing how much of a mess I was that night on the Bronx, my wife Sheryl handed a package of tissues to Bradley as we were walking out the door to head over to the Islanders game.

“Make sure you give that to Dad when you get to the seats,” Sheryl told Bradley.  “You know he’s going to cry.”

(Islanders vs Columbus April 11th, 2015/Photo by Peter Schwartz)

She was right to think that I was going to be an emotional wreck, but there was no way for her or anyone, especially the 16,170 fans inside Nassau Coliseum, to have any idea how disappointed and incomplete that pre-game ceremony was going to be.  It was great that Islanders’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Jiggs McDonald was the Master of Ceremonies, that there was a special video shown on the scoreboard, that the Islanders wore 1972 throwback uniforms, that there was a band on the ice that performed at the 1980 Stanley Cup parade, and that legendary Islanders Head Coach Al Arbour’s wife Claire dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off.

The Islanders’ First Goodbye To Nassau Coliseum Was A Letdown: 

But that was it?

That’s what they did to celebrate 43 years of tradition at a building that housed so many great moments and memories?

Where was that elaborate ceremony that the Toronto Maple Leafs had for Maple Leaf Gardens or that the Montreal Canadiens had for the Montreal Forum?

How could that ice not be filled with former Islanders players, coaches and staff?

It was so disappointing and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way because I’ve talked about it with many others who were there that night.  It was so underwhelming that I never had to break open that pack of tissues.  I was so mad and I really think it bothered me more than the fact that the Islanders lost the game to Columbus 5-4 in a shootout and it cost them home-ice advantage against the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, a series that they lost in 7 games.

But six years later, the Islanders are going to have a second and final chance to give the Nassau Coliseum a proper farewell.  The Islanders are moving to UBS Arena at Belmont Park for next season, but to jump-start the team’s return home to Long Island, the Isles made a part-time return to “The Barn” in December of 2018.  Just before the COVID-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-20 regular season last March, the Islanders announced that they were going to play all of their home games at Nassau Coliseum this season.

A Second Chance For The Islanders To Give “The Barn” A Proper Sendoff: 

However, the 2020-21 season began in January without fans in the building because of the pandemic.  That is going to change next month when the Islanders, in accordance with New York State guidelines, can begin welcoming back a limited number of fans to the building.  Only 10% of the seating capacity, so about 1,400 fans, will be permitted to attend the games starting on March 18th.  That number could go up as the season progresses and maybe it goes up even more if the Islanders qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but that is just speculation at this point.

UNIONDALE, NY – DECEMBER 01: Fans get ready for the first regular season NHL game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, since April 2015 featuring the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Islanders on December 01, 2018, in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

It would have been a shame if there wasn’t a single fan that would be able to be a part of what is really going to be the final season at the Coliseum, but at least there will be some fans in the building who will be able to say goodbye.  It’s unlikely that there could be 13,917 fans filling the Coliseum by season’s end, but hopefully there’s a way to have as many fans as possible be a part of the farewell.

With only a limited number of fans allowed at this moment, perhaps the Islanders can use the final few home games to pay tribute to Nassau Coliseum.

They could invite different alumni and staff back for say the final five regular season home games and have some sort of pre-game ceremony at each game.

Six years ago, there wasn’t even a promotional giveaway, other than the complimentary game program, for the (first) final regular season home game.  Maybe this time, they can give out a rally towel or some other souvenir to commemorate the final game(s).

The Islanders Could Even Wait Until The Fall To Say Goodbye To Nassau Coliseum:

The Nassau Coliseum went through renovations and a downsize after the Islanders left in 2015 and the building certainly looks different now than it did back then.  But it’s still the Nassau Coliseum and the more and more I think about it, the building that sits at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale deserves a full-house for a final Islanders event so here’s my idea…just wait a little bit longer to say goodbye.

With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout well underway and expected to ramp up soon, maybe there is a chance to fill the Nassau Coliseum one night this fall before the team opens up UBS Arena.  The Boston Bruins closed out Boston Garden in September 26th, 1995 with a pre-season game against the Montreal Canadiens and a ceremony with 30 former players and coaches.  Then, the Bruins moved to their new arena next door so I’m thinking the Islanders could do something similar.

Or, if the Islanders really don’t want to play another game at the Coliseum after this season, just have a celebration at “The Barn” next pre-season with alumni along with former coaches and staff.  At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Islanders could lower all of the championship banners and retired numbers so that they could be brought to their new home UBS Arena.

I’m still mad that I didn’t get to cry on April 11th, 2015 at Nassau Coliseum like I did on  September 21st, 2008 at Yankee Stadium.

Six years later, there’s another chance for that to happen and I’m sure my wife will make sure I have some tissues, should my family and I be fortunate enough to be at “The Barn” for the final game.

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. You can follow Peter on Twitter at @SchwartzSports

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