Astoria, NY – As a lifelong fan of the New York Islanders, I’ve spent plenty of time with my head in my hands. More so than usual over the past five years, as a matter of fact. While GM Garth Snow’s rebuild is finally starting to bear fruit, I’d be lying if I said that times haven’t been tough for the fan base on Long Island.
I’ve also celebrated some big victories while watching the Isles play, many of them coming during this lockout-shortened season. But more often than not, you know…the whole head-in-hands thing.
Which is exactly where I found myself on Saturday night: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, section 318, row N, slumped back in seat 12, head propped up by my right hand. I think it was around 10:00 p.m.
(I could be wrong about the time. I wasn’t concerned with the hour.)
After Brooks Orpik’s slap shot found the back of the net behind Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov at 7:49 of the overtime period, me and the more than 16,000 fans in attendance collectively lost our voices. Seeing the puck go in and watching the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate didn’t exactly silence the crowd; it wasn’t like the hockey gods pressed ‘Mute’ on their remote control.
The crowd noise just subsided to a murmur. The decrease in sound was more like a long, shared exhale. But it wasn’t a death rattle. We weren’t defeated.
True, the main thing I remember hearing after the red light went on was the sound of the Penguins players yelling and cheering as they hopped over the boards onto the ice. That is, until the crowd slowly started putting the pieces together: the series – and the season – was over, but we still had a chance to thank the Islanders.
To thank OUR Islanders.
By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about the crowd reaction before, during and after the postgame handshakes at center ice. As loud as the home fans were throughout Game 6, we still had the energy and motivation to give our boys a hand.
“LET’S – GO – ISLAN – DERS!” [Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap] “LET’S – GO – ISLAN – DERS!”
The chanting and clapping continued while the Isles took a slow lap around the ice, saluting the crowd with sticks raised towards the championship banners in the rafters of the Coliseum. After a few last stick taps, the players headed down the tunnel to the room.
But the crowd was still chanting, even after the players disappeared. I can honestly say I’ve never been involved in a chant like that, before.
And even though I found myself sitting with my head in my hands after the team had left the ice – and believe me, I wasn’t the only one – the disappointment I felt was different from what I’d gotten accustomed to during the lean years.
I realized I was disappointed because I’d have to wait until October to see this team play again. The Islanders are back.
The players and the fans fully expected to see an Isles victory in Game 6. All we needed was to push the series to Game 7, then anything could’ve happened. And with the best home-ice advantage in the NHL, there was no reason to think the fans couldn’t push our team to play its best hockey.
But, as the old saying goes: if you’re a young team built around home-grown talent and waiver-wire pickups, sometimes you need to lose to a top-seeded opponent in a hard-fought opening-round playoff series in front of a revitalized fan base before you can reach your true potential as a potentially dynastic franchise.
Or something like that.
I was waiting on line for the bathroom – imagine, so many people at the Coliseum that there were lines for things – between the third period and overtime, when I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me. He was wearing a vintage Islanders track jacket, one of those satin ones that were considered outdated until they made a comeback in the early ’90s. He was a die-hard. He told me he saw the dynasty teams play here at the barn.
“So, what do you think about the team moving to Brooklyn?” I asked. “You gonna follow them to Barclays?”
“I’ll follow this team anywhere,” he said. “They gave me a reason to believe again. What more could you want as an Islanders fan?”
Although the Coliseum doors are closed for Isles games until the fall, everyone on Long Island has a reason to believe again. Let’s bang down those doors in October; the team deserves it.
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