It’s been a long time since the Islanders have heard the roar of their own crowd, the chants of “YES YES YES” after a goal, and the sheer passion of a fan base that has been waiting patiently for the opportunity to see a game in person again. You have to back to March 7th of last year for the last time that Islanders fans were at the Nassau Coliseum and that day a sellout crowd of 13,917 packed “The Barn” for a 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
As they left “The Barn” that afternoon, Islanders Country had no idea that it would be over a year before they could return. The coronavirus pandemic had begun and wreaked havoc all over the world including the suspension of the National Hockey League season. When play resumed in a bubble for the playoffs over the summer, all Islanders fans could do was watch from home as the Isles went on a run to the Eastern Conference Final only to fall six wins shy of winning the Stanley Cup.
The 2020-21 season season started in January, still with no fans permitted at the Nassau Coliseum because of New York State law, and there was a feeling that perhaps the Islanders’ final season at the Coliseum was going to come and go without a chance for Islanders Country to say goodbye before the team moves to UBS Arena at Belmont Park this fall. But now New York State is permitting 10 percent of capacity for sports venues of 10,000 seats or more and that means that Islanders fans will soon be back in the Coliseum. This Thursday, the Islanders will welcome 1,000 frontline healthcare workers as guests for their game against the New Jersey Devils. And then next Thursday, March 18th, a limited number of fans will be back for the game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
On Monday, season ticket holders were given priority access to approximately 1,400 tickets for the first 7 available games and they’ll try to do the work of 13,917…which is to blow the roof off the building!
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Scott Clinco of Levittown who had season tickets in section 209 last season and will be in section 215 at UBS Arena. “It’s like being a kid on Christmas. I still remember leaving the Carolina game on March 7th last year after the OT loss and I am happy that won’t be the last time I am seeing the game in the Coliseum. Also, it will begin to restore some sense of normalcy in what has been the craziest time in all our lives.”
I’ve been fortunate to cover a couple of Islanders games this season and because of COVID protocols at the Coliseum the media has been relocated from the press box to tables behind the lower bowl. During a timeout, I looked behind me and up towards where the Blue and Orange Army sits in section 229 which used to be 329 before the Coliseum was renovated but now the supporters group puts a “329” sign over the 229. In any event, it was weird to be in the building for a game with all those empty seats and it was particularly sad to look up and hear silence from that section.
Well now that roar will be restored…at least partially.
“Getting back inside (the Coliseum) again is going to be really awesome,” said Blue and Orange Army leader James Fesselmeyer of Babylon. “I can’t wait to cheer on the Isles again in person.”
There will also be members of the Islanders Booster Club that are excited to be returning to the Coliseum. Former Booster Club President Gary Harding of Halesite and his wife Claire, the current Booster Club President, have season tickets in section 217 and will be in the building next Thursday. For them, the return to the Coliseum is a sign that things are getting better.
“To get a little piece of our normal lives back is a great feeling,” said Harding.
To comply with New York State regulations, all ticket holders must present a negative PCR COVID test that was administered within 72 hours of the start of a game. To ensure that fans get a test result back in time, the Islanders partnered with Northwell Health and GoHealth on a three-step process to obtain an “Isles Health Pass”. Six days before the game fans have to schedule a virtual visit with either Northwell or GoHealth. Five days before the game, the virtual visit is completed and a test is scheduled. And then three days in advance, the test is completed and if it’s negative “YES YES YES” you can go to the game.
For some fans, it might seem like a lot of work just to see a game, but for many fans who have waited over a year for this chance, having to get a COVID test, which is not required to see a sporting event in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, is a small inconvenience to go through in order to see the Islanders in action.
“As I learned more about the testing and everything, I was more comfortable with it,” said Clinco. “Partnering with Go Health and Northwell to make sure fans get test results back in time for the game was a good idea on their part.”
“The process for testing looks to be organized perfectly so that’s definitely a plus,” said Fesselmeyer.
“Getting a test is just a little part of life these days,” said Harding.
As the vaccine rollout ramps up and that light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter, there could be changes to the New York State guidelines and perhaps the percentage of capacity goes up. But after playing in front of empty seats and cardboard cutouts and hearing artificial crowd noise since the middle of January, this Thursday with the healthcare guests and next week with the return of some season ticket holders, the Islanders are going to see and hear their own fans for the first time in over a year.
Welcome back Islanders Country!