The Islanders and their fans have had to endure arena drama for decades. It’s finally coming to an end with the opening of the Islanders’ magnificent new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park this fall. With the move to the old place, the Islanders will finally close the doors on their long and storied history at Nassau Coliseum. It’s a building that the Islanders said goodbye to in 2015 before moving to Brooklyn, returned to part-time in 2018 and was their full-time home again this past season setting the scene for the opening of UBS Arena.
And after another great post-season run that ended with a painful loss to the Tampa Lightning in game seven of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, the start of a new era in Islanders history should help ease the pain for everyone in Islanders Country.
“I think Belmont should be refreshing,” said Islanders Head Coach during Sunday’s end-of-season media availability. “It’s gotta be exciting. It’s a fantastic facility. Fantastic location.”
Saying goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum will not be easy for the Islanders and their fans, especially when you consider how many special moments there were during the final playoff run at “The Barn”. There were series the series clinching victories in game 6 against the Penguins and game 6 against the Bruins. Then there were the heart-pounding wins over the Lightning in game four when Ryan Pulock’s save in the final seconds preserved the victory and then Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime goal in game six.
It was quite an ending to the Coliseum’s Islander playoff history and the Islanders were able to do it with fans in the building. The season started with an empty Coliseum and then pandemic guidelines in New York State would eventually allow ten percent of capacity (1,400 fans). That number jumped to 6,800 for games three and four against the Penguins before the number increased to 9,000 for game six and then 12,000 for the Bruins series. Then, in the semifinals against the Lightning, the capacity increased to 12,978.
“I’m glad that the Coli was able to be closed down in that manner because it deserved that,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee. “Our fans deserved that…us as players deserved that as well.”
“I feel like we’ve had a couple of these where it’s been the last time we’ve been there,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey. “It was a good run. It’s a special building for our fans for this organization. It’s meant so much to us playing there and the atmosphere. You turn the page and move forward and will be looking forward to moving into UBS.”
But just exactly when will the Islanders take the ice at UBS Arena for the first time? We know that the 2021-22 NHL season is expected to start in mid-October (reportedly October 12th), but the target date for the opening of UBS Arena is November 1st. If construction stays on schedule, the Islanders would likely have to start the season with an extended road trip.
“I’m guessing from my experience in expansion (with Nashville), we’ll probably start on the road a little bit and probably open up a little later at Belmont is my guess just to give a cushion with typical construction issues that come up with new buildings. We’ll have to be ready for it.”
The Islanders may also have to be ready for another goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum. If there’s even a short delay in opening UBS Arena, an option for the Islanders may be to play a couple of preseason games and perhaps a handful of regular season games at Nassau Coliseum while the finishing touches are put on their new home at Belmont Park.
While the organization is laser focused on opening up UBS Arena, there really wasn’t a true “goodbye” or closing ceremony for Nassau Coliseum. At the last regular season home game on May 8th against the Devils, all fans received a “1972” Islanders t-shirt but there was never any sort of mention that it was the final regular season game ever at Nassau Coliseum. In fact, during the course of the season, there wasn’t really much of a big deal made about it being the Islanders’ final season at “The Barn”.
The ceremony at the “final” regular season home game at Nassau Coliseum in 2015 was underwhelming in my opinion, so if there’s a chance to play a handful of games there this fall before UBS Arena can open, what would be the harm in that? The organization would be able to market the final game ever at Nassau Coliseum and we would all know it’s the final game ever. The franchise could get a second chance at a proper closing ceremony by inviting back alumni and even have a banner lowering ceremony after the game.
Regardless of how things turn out, the Islanders will be leaving their iconic long-time home and will open a spectacular new arena that will signal a new era in team history.
“It will be refreshing to sort of close a chapter on one of the greatest old buildings left in the league and open up maybe the grandest building in the league now,” said Trotz. “We finally after I don’t know how many years of finding out where we’re going to play for a long time.”
Home is where the heart is and the Islanders are planning on their fans, the heartbeat of this franchise, bringing the passion they displayed at the Nassau Coliseum and moving it less than ten miles west down Hempstead Turnpike.
And the rest is up to the management, coaches and players.
“Our job is to put a good team out there so they can enjoy what they’re doing and enjoy us and hopefully together we can win a Stanley Cup,” said Trotz.
And add to the banners that will be brought over from Nassau Coliseum.