Not long after his team was beaten by the Islanders 5-4 in game five, Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy was asked by a reporter about the officiating. The Islanders were three out of four on the power play in the game while the Bruins were one out of two. Cassidy was wondering why the Islanders didn’t get called for more penalties in the game.
“I think they sell a narrative over there that it’s more like the New York Saints and not the New York Islanders,” said Cassidy. “They play hard. They play the right way. The exact calls that are getting called on us do not get called on them.”
The New York Saints?
Cassidy may have just been quick in his thinking when he came up with “New York Saints” or perhaps is a closet fan of indoor box lacrosse. When his comments were posted on social media and then aired on the Islanders’ MSG+ post-game show, it hit home with a lot of sports fans on Long Island, one of the biggest hotbeds for lacrosse in North America.
“I got the chills,” said former New York Saints player and current Hofstra University Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach Seth Tierney when he heard Cassidy’s comments.
“Those times in my life playing in “The Barn” were unbelievable. The crowds were great and for him to mention the New York Saints was awesome. I had a feeling after going back and listening to it again…he might not have been referring to the actual lacrosse team and he was more referring to the Islanders might be getting away with a few calls.”
“We know a little bit about how the Islanders feel right now representing New York,” said former Saints goalie and Head Coach Vinnie Pfeifer. “And with all respect, apparently so do the Bruins and their skipper.”
The New York Saints played at the Nassau Coliseum from 1989 until 2003 in the National Lacrosse League (formerly Major Indoor Lacrosse League). The name “Saints” actually had nothing to do with Long Island at all. The franchise started as the “New Jersey Saints” playing in the Meadowlands in 1987 and 1988 as part of the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League which became the MILL and subsequently the NLL.
What made the Saints so special back in the day was that they were truly a Long Island team. The players were predominantly from Long Island and the New York area and they were “weekend warriors.” They worked their full-time jobs during the week while squeezing in a late-night practice at an indoor sports facility. On the weekends, they played in front of thousands of fans including family, friends, youth lacrosse clubs, the entire lacrosse community on Long Island, as well as curious sports fans who were treated to exciting, fast-paced and sometimes hard-hitting lacrosse action.
“That is how we took the field and that what it felt like to play for and coach the New York Saints at the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum,” said Pfeifer. “The fabric between our fans and players was magic. They loved us and we loved them. The price that our players were willing to pay with their bodies and their soul to deliver their best performance for our fans was incredible. The reciprocal from our fans came back to each of us tenfold every year.”
The team was named the “Saints” because it was the opposite of the New Jersey Devils who were also playing at the Meadowlands. After the 1988 championship season, the Saints left New Jersey for Long Island and switched their colors to blue and orange to align with the Islanders and Nassau County. In 1996, the Saints unveiled a new logo featuring a Saint Bernard holding a lacrosse stick with the “halo” moving from over the “Y” in NY on the old logo to over the “I” in Saints for the new logo.
Fans of the Saints will remember players like Tierney, Pfeifer, Sal LoCascio, Gordon Purdie, Mikko Red Arrow, Vinnie and Steve Sombrotto, Pat McCabe, Matt Panetta, Tim McIntee, Brian O’Keefe, Don Borges and Rob Codignotto. It was a special group of players and the atmosphere at “The Barn” was second to none. The fans were so passionate and that made for an electric arena, particularly for the players who had the opportunity to play, essentially, in their backyard.
“Humbled and honored that they took a chance on me and I was able to play for a couple of years,” said Tierney. “Every time I’m around an old Saints teammate, we talk about those games, walking out onto that floor, having the support of the crowd…it was just an awesome time in my life.”
Cassidy’s mention of the Saints was also music to the ears of the New York Riptide, the Nassau Coliseum’s current box lacrosse team that is gearing up for their second NLL season starting in December. In another ironic twist, Cassidy has a bit of a connection to the Riptide. Cassidy was the Head Coach for the Trenton Titans of the East Coast Hockey League during the 1999-2000. Rich Lisk was the team’s Vice-President of Sales and Marketing and Assistant General Manager.
Lisk is now the Executive Vice-President of GF Sports, the company that owns and operates the Riptide.
“(The Saints are) part of the history here on Long Island which is great,” said Lisk. “It’s part of our history with the Riptide. I’m excited that people are talking about it. We’re going to embrace our past and this is part of that past.”
The Riptide’s first season was cut short and the entire 2020-21 season was cancelled because of the pandemic. The organization has been working hard in the community and perhaps now the fans who cheered on the Saints back in the day will now support Long Island’s new box lacrosse team.
“Hopefully people will come out and watch the Riptide,” said Tierney. “I think they got some good things rolling there and I hope that the Long Island crowd and the New York crowd comes out and supports them because I think it could be a great market here on the Island.”
And the Riptide organization appreciates the support that they’re getting from the Saints players who graced the turf at the Nassau Coliseum during that era of indoor lacrosse on Long Island.
“I love it love it love it,” said Lisk who is putting together an alumni board and is looking for those former Saints to be a part of it.
“I want them to be ambassadors to our game. I want them at all of our games. I want people to recognize them. Lacrosse has a rich history and tradition and I embrace the traditions. The fact that we have the Saints and they were here, they are a part of our history.”
The Islanders are departing Nassau Coliseum after this season as they will move to their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park. They will leave behind countless memories at “The Barn”, but as long as the building remains open, there will also be the memories of the other sports teams that played there in the past and will continue to play their now and in the future. The Saints were part of the past but after Cassidy’s comments following game five, there is a new generation of sports fans on Long Island that are understanding what the Saints were all about.
To be completely transparent, I was the Saints’ radio play by play announcer from 1993 to 1996, so all of this discussion about the team I once worked for has been pretty special and it led to reconnecting with a couple of special people that I had the pleasure of working with.
“We are the New York Saints,” said Pfeiffer. “It is what childhood dreams are made of. An immense ground swell of pride that you simply want to be a part of the rest of your life. We felt it as the New York Saints and we will never forget it.”
The Islanders would love to win one more Stanley Cup while they call the Nassau Coliseum home, but first they’ll need one more win against the Bruins to advance to the NHL’s final four for the second straight season.
They certainly have the support from a team they once shared “The Barn” with.
“Let’s go Islanders,” said Tierney. “I’m a fan and let’s see if we can get this last game here and move on.”
It should be quite a Wednesday evening in Islanders Country…or as Bruce Cassidy would call it…”Saints Country”.