I have often read various kinds of criticisms and such aimed at the Islanders organization by more than a few people in Islander Country over the years. It is not at all to say that anyone doesn’t have a right to complain or voice ones displeasure, as one cannot deny that we have suffered and hung in their through an awful lot over the years. I thought, however, that I’d share something that was quite a positive experience for me and does reflect a side of the organization that folks should be aware of. We have heard a lot of the negative stuff, but beyond what has been, to me, a very positive season, here is something to think about when you look at the organization and its relationship with the fans.
As some background, as it is mentioned in the notes about me for this blog, I am a blind Islander and hockey fan who has owned season tickets with my brothers and friends over a 12 year period in the past and who has attended countless games since probably the 1983 or 1984 season. This season, I decided to buy a 20 ticket package to generally cover the season, since, with my family and friends, settling on a specific game can be problematic at best. What I liked about this package was that it was 20 tickets that could be used in any combination for any number of games, as long as it did not go beyond the 20 “seats” and there were seats available for a game. I managed to break it down to 3 games when all was said and done.
At my first game against the Sharks back in the beginning of the season, I discovered that the radio station did not come in at all inside the building. This was not exactly a good situation for me, and I had to rely on my brother for “play by play”, as I could not get the Islander feed on my iPhone as well and the only streaming audio station I could locate was the San Jose one, and it was about a minute behind the actual game action.
To make a very long story short, people I know got me in touch with the media folks for the Islanders, and we tried to make arrangements for an audio feed for a game in early January. Technical difficulties and logistics made this not work out, since my “seats” were not set and moved around according to availability of the games I chose. Thus, I had to rely on my brother again for play by play during the win over the Thrashers that night. To be honest, I was pretty discouraged and had found myself thinking that my purchase of the package had been a bit hasty and something I should have investigated ahead of time. I had no idea the radio station would not come in when one was inside the building, and I had been considering just giving the remaining tickets I had away to my family and friends or selling them.
It was my brother, Stephen’s, birthday on Saturday, so I decided to just use my remaining tickets for the game and suck it up and go with him, my other younger brother, Chris, and some friends. I could have my brother, Chris, again, give me play by play, and, at least, I’d be at the game and enjoying the atmosphere of the old barn. I hadn’t even given the matter of an audio feed or such any thought at all.
Well, a little birdie who looks a lot like Gary made it known to the Islanders Media Director, Seth Sylvan, that I was going to the game on Saturday, and after things had not worked out back in January, I was utterly floored by the offer from Seth over the telephone to sit behind Howie and Billy in the MSG box for the game. It was one of those experiences where you think you either were hearing things or had fallen asleep and were “dreaming” the telephone conversation. I hung up the phone and just sat there at my computer desk for several moments in disbelief.
There was the joke among my friends and family that we’d go to the game and no one would know what we were talking about when Stephen and I would go to the credentials table to find our escort Seth had said would be there to take us up to the press box. I have to even admit that I was kind of expecting a “John who?”, kind of response. However, Seth took care of us, and we found ourselves, indeed, being walked up to the press box where Bill Jaffe and Howie Rose introduced themselves to us upon our arrival. To be honest, it really was a rather surreal first few minutes for me, as I felt a sense of unreality to it all. I had thought about all the things I would have wanted to say to both Billy and Howie, but there I was shaking hands with them and finding myself thinking that I couldn’t impose on them when they were getting ready for “work”.
Let me just say that Howie and Billy are as entertaining and amusing off the air as they are on the air. Additionally, they are classy and just good people (no big celebrity egos). I would have loved to have had the time to chat with Billy about the NHL and the Islanders and get Howie’s views on the upcoming Mets season, but the guys, of course, had to work, and Steve and I really just wanted to stay out of the way, sit their quietly and enjoy the game. It was really fascinating getting a “behind the scenes” perspective on what goes on, and I spent the game alternating between using a headset to hear the play by play or just taking off the headset to listen to Howie and Billy call the game live. It was a little difficult when the fans got loud, and as Gary said, it was a very loud bunch. Of course, the icing on the cake was the victory by the Isles and a very well played game to boot.
So, I wanted to personally thank Seth Sylvan and the New York Islanders for the kindness extended to me and my brother. It was, indeed, a memorable and extremely enjoyable experience, and one I cannot thank them enough for. Also, my thanks to Howie and Billy for putting up with guests and for another season of great Islander coverage. And, last, but not least, a big thank you to that little birdie, Gary, for, once again, looking out for me.