On March 18th, 1,000 front-line healthcare workers were at Nassau Coliseum to see the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The guests from Northwell Health made up the first group of fans to attend an Islanders home game since New York State issued guidance allowing spectators to return to sports venues at ten percent of capacity. But on Thursday, the full ten percent, between 1,300 and 1,400 fans, will be on hand as paying customers are back in the building to see the Islanders welcome the Philadelphia Flyers to Uniondale.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas. “They’re the ones that have supported us through thick and thin. They’re going to be out there cheering and rooting us on so we’re going to go out there and try to give them the best show possible.”
The Islanders made tickets available for seven home games starting on Thursday and through the April 9th game against the Rangers. The team will announce ticket information for the remaining games in the near future and the hope is that New York State will increase the capacity allowed. Some fans are not jumping at the chance to return because of the COVID testing that is required but isn’t part of the guidance in other states like New Jersey.
“I’m very excited to return to a live sporting event,” said David Horowitz of Long Beach who will be at the game Thursday night.
Mt. Sinai’s Sean Higgins will also be in attendance and he’s been waiting patiently for this moment.
“Islanders fans like myself have been waiting over a year to finally get to see the Islanders at the Coliseum,” said Higgins. “It is very exciting for fans to get to go because that building just means so much to us.”
But the testing remains a bone of contention with fans.
“As far as the testing requirement goes, if you have multiple games in a week it can become a pain in the nose,” said Horowitz no pun intended. “As someone who’s fully vaccinated, I should be able to show my vaccine record card. I can go to a Devils game without the same testing requirement.”
“New York State is one of the strictest states when it comes to COVID-19,” said Higgins. “I was in New Jersey the other night when the Islanders played the Devils and New Jersey didn’t have fans get tested.”
There is some good news as the guidance in New York State is changing.
On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new protocols effective on April 1st that will admit fans to sporting events who are either fully vaccinated or those who get a PCR or a rapid test. The Governor also said that as the numbers in New York State continue to decrease, the capacity of venues will be increased and the testing requirements will be decreased.
Indoor venues will stay at ten percent capacity for the time being, but outdoor capacity will increase to twenty percent. The Yankees and Mets will have fans for opening day and the Yankees released a statement saying they are “hopefully to be able to expand capacity and eliminate testing in early May 2021” and that they “are hopefully that testing requirements can be eased by mid-May 2021.”
That would also be great news for Islanders fans if the team is able to accommodate more fans while also either easing or eliminating the testing. In the meantime, the fans that will be in the Coliseum on Thursday night will be music to the ears of the players.
“You know there’s going to be some energy in the building,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. “People have been waiting over a year for this now and I think they’re ready to bring the noise and we look forward to that.”
The Islanders played their first 13 home games of the season without fans in the building but they did play in front of an audience for the first time on March 2nd when they beat the Devils 2-1 at Prudential Center in New Jersey. Last week, the Islanders had a taste of the fans back in “The Barn” with the healthcare heroes on hand, but tonight they get to hear the roar from some passionate fans that have been waiting a long time for this.
“I think it will be good,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “This is what makes the Island special is the die-hard fans. Our crowd is usually pretty boisterous so hopefully we can give them something to cheer about tonight.”
Welcome back Islanders Country! Rock the barn and here’s to seeing and hearing more of you very soon!