On October 7th, 1972, a crowd of 12,221 attended the Islanders’ inaugural regular season home game at Nassau Coliseum, a 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Flames. Some of the fans who were in attendance on that night will also be among the 17,113 that will be at the Islanders’ inaugural regular season game at their new home UBS Arena on November 20th against the very same opponent from more than 49 years ago, only now they are the Calgary Flames.
For the Islanders and their fans, it’s been a long journey in terms of the franchise finally securing a brand-new home.
“Although I will dearly miss “The Barn”, it’s time for the Islanders and their fans to experience a new and fresh state-of-the-art sports venue in UBS Arena,” said Larry Peim of Hartsdale, New York.
(Islanders fan Larry Peim with program and ticket stub from Islanders 1st game at Nassau Coliseum)
The Islanders/Flames regular season opener was actually not the first hockey game played at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders faced the Rangers in a pre-season contest on September 27th, 1972, a game won by the Blueshirts 6-5. It was a chance for hockey fans on Long Island to get a sneak peak at the new building before the real opener on October 7th.
“I went and I wanted the worst seat in the house so I took end arena and I sat in the last row,” said Seaford resident Art Feeney, an Islanders season ticket holder, other than the Brooklyn seasons, since 1972. “I looked around and I said this is a terrific place compared to the new (Madison Square Garden) to watch a hockey game.”
And here’s something that a lot of people may not remember or did not know about that first season of Islanders hockey…
“The parking was free,” said Feeney. “The parking was supposed to be free forever but that didn’t last.”
(Photo of ticket stub from the first Islanders regular season game at Nassau Coliseum courtesy of Larry Peim)
Before the Islanders, Long Island did have professional hockey as the Long Island Ducks of the Eastern League played at Long Island Arena (also known as Commack Arena) from 1959 to 1973. Feeney followed the Ducks but prior to the Islanders’ arrival, his NHL allegiance was with the Rangers. That changed in 1968 when Feeney went to a Rangers game for the first time at the new Madison Square Garden.
“I became an Islander fan in 1968,” said Feeney. “I sat down in my seat and I saw Eddie Giacomin from the waist up from a really good seat and I left the building that night with all of my friends and I said I will never watch another hockey game in this building. I said if they ever get a hockey team on Long Island, that’s who I will root for.”
Feeney would get his wish when Long Island received an NHL expansion team for the 1972-73 season.
That first regular season game in 1972 against the Flames did not draw a full house. There were some empty seats in the upper reaches of the building as the crowd of 12,221 saw Atlanta’s Morris Stefaniw score the first goal in Nassau Coliseum history. Islanders Captain Eddie Westfall scored the first goal in Islanders history.
He took a pass from the end boards and fired the puck into the top of the net.
“It was a power-play goal, if I remember correctly,” said Westfall, a member of the Islanders’ Hall of Fame. “I was playing on the point and I believe that’s where it came from.”
It didn’t take long for the Islanders to become a good team.
The Isles made the playoffs in 1975, the team’s third season in the NHL, and went on a run to the semifinals. The Islanders would eventually put all of the pieces together and would win four Straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. Over the years, the Nassau Coliseum, affectionately known as “The Barn”, would be rocking when the building was full. Even during non-dynasty playoff games, the noise in the building was deafening like when Shawn Bates scored on a penalty shot in game four to beat the Maple Leafs in 2002 or when Anthony Beauvillier scored in overtime of game six against the Lightning last season in what turned out to be the final game ever at Nassau Coliseum.
But on opening night in 1972?
It really wasn’t that loud.
“To be honest, the atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum at the first game was somewhat quiet,” said Peim, who has been a loyal Islanders fan since day one. “Nobody knew what to expect.” But even thought the barn wasn’t rocking on October 7th, 1972, there was certainly something special about the place.
(Photo of Nassau Coliseum courtesy of Peter Schwartz/NY Sports Day)
“All I concentrated on was hey they got an NHL team and I don’t have to worry about The Garden anymore,” said Feeney who went to the game with his wife. “Look at this you can sit anywhere in this building and it’s got great sightlines.”
If there’s one thing that the Islanders’ new home at UBS Arena will have in common with the Nassau Coliseum is that the sightlines will also be magnificent. That’s because UBS Arena was built for the Islanders with a lower ceiling than most new arenas but a roof that is not much higher than there is at “The Barn”. The arena was also designed with acoustics that is going to make it a great place to watch concerts and that means the building is also going to shake for Islanders games.
After the failed “Lighthouse” project that would have transformed the Nassau Coliseum into a new arena a referendum to build a new arena next to the Coliseum was voted down by Nassau County residents. The Islanders ultimately left the Coliseum after the 2014-15 season to play at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. After the new ownership group, led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, was able to acquire the rights to build a new arena at Belmont Park, the Islanders celebrated “coming home” by making a part-time return to the Coliseum in 2018 and they would play all of their home games at Nassau Coliseum during the 2020-21 season.
And now, they are getting ready to start a new era in team history at UBS Arena and there will be some fans in attendance who were also at that first game at Nassau Coliseum in 1972.
(Photo of UBS Arena courtesy of New York Islanders/UBS Arena)
“The fans have deserved this for a long time,” said Feeney. “I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see the new building. I like everything I’ve heard about it.”
“I’m looking forward to November 20th,” said Peim. “The memories of the (Stanley) Cup years and all of the other great memorable games will never vanish and new memories will occur once the Islanders start the 2021-2022 home schedule. Can’t wait!”
It’s pretty special to be a team’s first ever game in a new building. Some fans may never have the opportunity to do it once. Some Islanders fans are getting to do it twice.
Welcome home Islanders!
Welcome home Islanders Country!