There are many ways to classify a fan in today’s National Hockey League. 30 teams make up the highest level of competition in the global hockey climate.
Some convey a feeling of optimism and hope that one day their team will turn things around and become annual playoff participants. They see the glass as always ‘half-full’ and look to prospects or cling to any bit of positivity they can.
Others are easily frustrated by lack of success and front office missteps that seem to leave their team seemingly always floundering at the bottom of the pond getting only the left-over scraps from the bigger fish.
And still a third faction exists that takes the middle ground. Never getting too high or too low, realizing mistakes but hesitant to ‘throw in the towel’ or ‘submerse the organization under the bus’; sensing that at the end of the day, hockey cannot be the most important part of one’s life and focus could be better expended on things like family, studies, gaining willful long-term employment and even spiritual and personal enlightenment.
Whatever group you find yourself in, it does not in any way make one person a better or worse ‘fan’ than another. We all share in one common goal; to see our team become successful and win a championship. At that point, all three groups merge into one and become celebratory and respectful to each other.
In the case of the New York Islanders, the past two weeks have been a case study in the above in ways that some of us never saw coming. The fan-base has been chomping at the bit after a summer of swings and misses combined with under-performing players conspired to make what can only be deemed as a lost season. The lack of respect fans have shown for the other groups has been, at times, funny and others, sad.
Seated high up in the stands at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, there is one group however that has bled blue and orange since 2007 and never let their feelings towards the organization or fan-base waver. Through bad free agent signings, no free agent signings, bad trades and lukewarm performances on the ice, the BOA Army, section 329, is always on hand paying their own way and cheering on the one thing that matters to them most of all…..the players.
Army co-founder Tom Ballantyne took the time to speak with Eyes On Isles prior to New York’s 4-1 victory Saturday night over the Buffalo Sabres.
“Things really started to get going in 2009 when a bunch of us bonded together coming off one of our worst seasons over being supportive of the team, being loud and showing the boys that we are there for them. The Coliseum needed to have life injected into it and we felt we had the youthful energy and exuberance to add a ‘home-ice’ advantage to the building”
With the Islanders, very unexpectedly, sitting 27th in the standings with a record of 26-34-9 just a year removed from making the playoffs and putting a scare into the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, no fan is satisfied or happy with what has transpired on and off the ice this season and Tom spoke to how 329 has dealt with that.
“Feelings within the group are mixed to be honest. Some feel the onus is on ownership and others place the blame squarely on the players not performing up to their own standards. Nobody could have foreseen Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner to be honest having such bad offensive seasons. Cal Clutterbuck has quickly become a favorite of mine personally for the work he has come in here and done. If you kept your expectations realistic, you can’t say he has not met them. We just did not have the depth to cover for Nabokov and the injury to Visnovsky. The defense and goaltending, working hand in hand, have really set us back this year with the way it has not performed up to standards”
After the trade of Thomas Vanek to Montreal for prospect Sebastian Collberg, social media erupted and the fanbase civil war erupted as tensions boiled over. Another member of 329, Michelle Frankel, took the time to explain her feelings on ‘Vanek-gate’ and offer some of her perspective.
“Oh dear lord. I have gotten into a lot of arguments with fellow members of 329 on this. I said from the beginning, he does not look like he wants to be here and is certainly not playing like he wants to be here. And it was very evident to me, regardless of the points he put up playing with Johnny (Tavares) and Kyle (Okposo). I am so happy that Vanek is gone. I am over the fact that Moulson had to be traded in order to get him but that is what makes me the most upset. We needed him off our ice because he was not beneficial to the atmosphere at the end of the day”.
As mentioned before, being a fan can mean many things depending on tons of dynamic factors. Ed Metzger shared his thoughts on what being an Islander fan in the most vocal supporter’s section means to him.
“I see it as showing up and supporting what you love. You enjoy the sport of hockey regardless of where your team might be in the standings. You care about each player on the ice and realize that you can’t always make a difference in the front office. So you make your mark where you can and support what is right in front of you”.
During the playoff series last year in which New York fell to Pittsburgh 4 games to 2, 329 gained national notoriety when one of the other co-founders, Tom LoFaso, was photographed wearing his trade-mark Hansen style glasses, standing on the roof of the fan-fest Pens mobile hoisting up his own replica Stanley Cup. The picture on NHL.com was beamed instantly to hockey fans all around the world.
“It’s there. Random people I don’t know are following me now (on social media), which is kind of cool. And even after some of the stuff I post, they are still there. People have come up to me and say they recognize me from the picture and video. I was in Chicago for a music festival and must of heard a hundred times that people remember me from that footage. It is easily one of the coolest things ever”.
No matter where their place in the standings might be or whatever moves the front office might make, there is always one constant and certainty at Nassau Coliseum on game day.
Look up to the rafters and celebrate the Islanders sixth man; 4th star of every game per WFAN’s Jeff Capellini and the heart and soul of the Islanders home arena.
Or you could just tune in your ears and listen……
Blood runs blue and orange through their veins and make no mistake, everyone hears and appreciates all their efforts.