When the Islanders played what was supposed to be their “final” season at Nassau Coliseum in 2014-15, it was supposed to be goodbye forever. But the Islanders returned to Nassau Coliseum in 2018 and, yada yada yada, this is, once again, the final season at “The Barn” and this goodbye has been and will be a little different and not necessarily because this time there’s really a finality to it.
Because of New York State COVID-19 guidelines, only 1,400 fans (ten percent of capacity) will be on hand for the Islanders’ final regular season home game at Nassau Coliseum this Saturday against the Devils. That number will increase, effective on May 19th, to 4,175 for the playoffs (thirty percent of capacity). In a perfect world, that number would be a 100 percent capacity crowd of 13,917, but the world we are living in right now is far from perfect.
So, instead of dwelling on what’s lacking for the final handful of games at Nassau Coliseum, I thought it would be a good idea to ask Islanders fans about their memories of their first Islanders game at a building that has been the venue for so many iconic moments.
I’ve written about my first Islanders game before so I’ll be brief here and just say it was January 7th, 1978 when the Islanders beat the Cleveland Barons 5-3. My father didn’t save the ticket stubs from that game, but thankfully I recently found one on eBay!
(Ticket stub from my first Islanders game)
The Islanders’ first regular season game at Nassau Coliseum was played on October 7th, 1972, a 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Flames. Larry Peim of Hartsdale, New York was there and he still has the ticket stub, program, and some great memories from the game.
(Ticket stub and program from first Islanders Game in 1972)
“I became an instant Islanders fan for life,” said Peim. “I was sitting directly behind the Islanders bench in section 117 and hearing everything from the players and Head Coach Phil Goyette.”
On October 24th, 1972, the Montreal Canadiens made their first visit ever to the Nassau Coliseum and 11-year-old Steve Ellers was at the game with his dad who had been a Rangers fan for 40 years before the Islanders came into the NHL.
(Steve Ellers and his son Troy at an Islanders game in 2020)
“He was going to be a fan of the team in his backyard,” recalled Ellers who grew up in Uniondale and now resides in Wantagh. “He then told me to do what I wanted. He took me to that game and while the Islanders lost 4-3, I was hooked.”
Eric Roth, who currently lives in Plainview, grew up in Massapequa and went to his first Islanders game on January 7th, 1975 when the Islanders beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 thanks to goals from Gary Howatt, Billy Harris, Ed Westfall, Denis Potvin and Dave Lewis.
(Islanders vs Toronto program from January 7th, 1975)
“I don’t have the stub,” said Roth. “But I have the GOAL magazine which was the program back then.”
Donald Rosner grew up in Huntington and went to many Islanders games during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. He now lives in Carle Place.
“I can’t remember my actual first game,” said Rosner who now owns the very popular Islanders themed “Blue Line Deli and Bagels” in Huntington, a Ryan Pulock slapshot away from where he grew up.
(Donald Roster with his wife Samantha at a 2019 playoff game)
“My dad and uncles brought me to games often. It all changed for me in 2002 when Shawn Bates got that penalty shot (in the playoffs against Toronto) and scored. The barn erupted and I was absolutely in love. I craved it…obsessed it.”
There were 43 seasons of memories at Nassau Coliseum before the Islanders moved to Brooklyn in 2015. Thankfully, there’s been some more memories built up since the Isles made their return in 2018. I’m blessed that my family and I enjoyed many great memories over the years at “The Barn” and we’re looking forward to one more on Saturday night for the last regular season home game in Uniondale. Will I need some Kleenex? Maybe. Hopefully the Islanders’ stay at the Coliseum can be extended all the way until July if they can get back on track and make another long playoff run. Whenever the Islanders leave the Coliseum ice for good, it will be time to create some more memories at their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park.