Islanders Excited For The Return Of Fans During The Final Season At Nassau Coliseum

John McCreary/Icon Sportswire

There’s a lot to be excited about these days if you’re an Islanders fan.

Next season, the team will be playing in their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park and the fans have been checking out the construction progress with photos and videos on the Islanders’ website and social media platforms.

As far as this season is concerned, the Islanders are playing well right now with points in 10 of their last 12 games including Thursday night’s 7-2 win over the Boston Bruins at Nassau Coliseum.  With that win, the Islanders are just one point behind the Bruins and Washington Capitals for first place in the East Division.

But so far this season, Islanders fans have only been able to watch games on television because of COVID-19 restrictions that have prohibited spectators at sporting events.  But recently, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that arenas and stadiums could start to reopen at 10 percent of capacity and that means Islanders fans will soon be able to return to “The Barn”.

“Just to have some back, I think it’s going to be great,” said Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau.  “Just to have the momentum and sometimes we need the energy that comes with the fans.  It’s exciting for us and it’s exciting for them.”

The Islanders Begin Welcoming Back Fans By Having 1,000 Frontline Workers As Their Guests: 

The return of fans to Nassau Coliseum will begin on March 11th when the Islanders welcome 1,000 Northwell Health frontline workers as guests to that night’s game against the New Jersey Devils.  When you think about those who have sacrificed so much during the pandemic, the discussion starts and ends with the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers that have risked their lives to try and save the lives of others.

It’s fitting that those special people will be the first group of fans to be at an Islanders game since the pandemic started last March.

“It means a lot,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz.  “The sacrifices they’ve made…I can’t imagine.  Their commitment to save lives, to protect people, the hours, putting themselves in harm’s way in a lot of ways to keep other people safe so to me they’re absolute rock stars and it will be fantastic to see them in the arena.  If I could…if it would be allowed, I’d give everyone a hug.  That would mean a lot to a lot of people.”

The following week, a limited number of Islanders fans will be able to attend games with season ticket holders and suite holders getting priority access to seven games starting with the March 18th game against the Philadelphia Flyers.  Ten percent of the Nassau Coliseum’s 13,917 seat capacity equates to about 1,400 fans and while it won’t be a full house, the sounds of a small part of Islanders Country will be music to the ears of the players.

“It’s exciting,” said Islanders forward Brock Nelson.  “I think everybody’s happy.  Obviously, you’d like to have full buildings but we’ll take what we can get.  I think there will be some more energy in the building from the fans.  It’s exciting that we finally have a date we can kind of circle for that.”

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 22: New York Islanders Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) reacts to scoring a goal along with New York Islanders Center Brock Nelson (29) during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders on February 22, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Season ticket holders will be able to purchase a total of up to eight tickets for the seven games that will be available.  It’s been a while since the Islanders played in front of their fans.  The last time that fans were allowed at the Coliseum was March 7th of last season.  After the pandemic suspended the regular season, the NHL returned to play for the post-season which took place in the Toronto and Edmonton “bubbles”.  This season, aside from a few markets that allowed fans, playing in an empty arena continued for the Islanders.

It’s Been A While Since The Islanders Heard Real Crowd Noise At Nassau Coliseum: 

Sure, teams have been pumping in fake crowd noise and playing music and other sound effects to try and make things as normal as possible for the players, but there is no substitute for what the fans mean to the atmosphere in the building.

“There’s something about the human spirit and the human emotion that you can’t replicate,” said Trotz.  “It’s pure joy, it’s pure anger, it’s pure everything, it’s fellowship, it’s the event, it’s the buzz.  There’s nothing that can replicate that.  There’s nothing to replace interaction.    When you’re a part of something, there’s an energy that’s undeniable.  That’s what the fans bring.  That’s what the fan-player-team relationship is all about…the emotional attachment to being part of something.”

Just think about what took place inside the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.

The Islanders scored seven goals, but there no crowd eruptions…just the volume on the fake noise turned up.

In normal times, there would have been seven raucous “YES YES YES” chants but instead they were recorded.

Arenas all over the NHL as well as other sports have tried to replicate the sounds that the fans bring.  You could say it’s better than nothing, but it’s not the same.

“I think just the energy,” said Nelson.  “A high chance or a big play…a big moment in the game you kind of feed off the crowd noise.  You can tell that they’re really into it.  It’s just a little bit different when there’s actual people there versus the artificial noise so once we’re able to get back to that and get the fans back in there and kind of roll with them that will be fun.”

The Nassau Coliseum’s Final Season Will Include Some Islanders Fans: 

In a perfect world, the Islanders would be playing to a full house during the final season of the Nassau Coliseum, but that is not the case.  It’s certainly a good thing that at least some fans will be able to go to games and hopefully at some point the capacity limit can go up.  At the end of the day, some Islanders fans will be able to say goodbye, for a second time, to a building that has housed so many great memories.

And don’t think for a second that the players, especially those who have been with the team since before the Islanders left the Coliseum the first time, haven’t discussed that subject.

“A few of us have talked about that,” said Nelson.  “It’s better to get some (fans) than to not have any.  Hopefully people are able to enjoy it and have the opportunity to go to a game.  It’s kind of bittersweet obviously moving from the Coliseum but then getting a new rink so we’re hoping that we can get as many fans as we can back in there as soon as we can.”

Trotz is in his third season as Head Coach of the Islanders, but in his short time here he has learned just how passionate the fan base is and the historical nature of “The Barn”.

All he has to do is look up at the championship banners and retired numbers in the rafters to get a sense of how special it has been for the fans to go to games at the Coliseum and what it will mean for a few more chances to cheer on the Islanders.

“I think it will mean a lot,” said Trotz.  “I get a great opportunity to meet a lot of people who have been Islanders fans since the 70’s…and the passion they have and the emotional attachment to this area and this time is undeniable.  It is good that they’ll be able to be in the building and be a part of it in a small way.  It’s not perfect.  Ideally, we’d love this place to be rocking like the playoffs that I was involved with when I was with Washington.”

Trotz is referring to the 2015 first-round playoff series when he was the Head Coach of the Capitals and specifically game six, which turned out to be the Islanders’ final game at the Coliseum before they moved to Brooklyn.  The Islanders won that game to tie the series but then they lost game seven in Washington.  Trotz remembers just how loud the building was that day.

“It was amazing,” said Trotz.  “I was sitting in the coach’s room.  The minute they opened the building it was packed and the building was shaking a half an hour before warmup and that is the energy that this fan base has provided this team.  It’s the connection that they have starting in the parking lot and then bringing it into the building.  I think it’s fantastic.  When I was an opponent, it was a tough place to come in and try to steal two points.”

Can 1,400 Islanders Fans Replicate The Noise of 13,917?:

It might be a little difficult for about 1,400 fans to blow the roof off the building as it seems that 13,917 could do and 15 or 16,000 could do back in the day, but having some fans in the Coliseum is something that the players have been waiting a while to experience again.

They’ll be able to return to giving the fans a “YES YES YES” salute to the fans at center ice after games and whenever the absolute final game at the Coliseum is this season, not all of the seats will be empty or occupied by a cardboard cutout.

“It won’t be the same obviously with the numbers but I think from a player’s standpoint it will kind of feel the same,” said Nelson. “A lot of great memories at the Coliseum for a lot of guys.  Knowing that this is kind of the end, you want to make it a special one and one that you can remember.”

Brock is right in saying “kind of the end” because just like 2015 you just don’t know when the last game will be.  The final regular season game is scheduled for May 8th against the Devils but if the Islanders make the playoffs there will be more nights at the Coliseum before leaving for good and moving to their new home.  That 2015 team was so close to advancing past the Capitals and keeping the Coliseum alive a little longer.

So, after a run to the Eastern Conference Final last season, perhaps the Islanders could close out the Nassau Coliseum in style this season…by finally winning a fifth Stanley Cup and doing it in front of the passionate members of Islanders Country.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY 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.

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