When fans walk through the doors directly behind section 218 and 117 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the surroundings may not seem like much. Fans only have one more season of that very experience before the team heads to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the 2015-2016 season.
42 is a number associated with greatness in sports. From Jackie Robinson, one of the most influential athletes of all time to the likes of basketball player James Worthy, nothing bad is associated with those digits. The same holds on Long Island, as 42 miniature steps down towards the ice from those very doors bring fans to arguably one of the coolest sights in sports.
Arriving at 6:20 p.m. for a 7:00 p.m. game rewards the early birds with the sight of a lion. Not quite literally, but as the lines of the New York Islanders stood idle around the blue line, masks protecting their image from their view, one thing stood out. Skating circles around backup goalie Chad Johnson, who was warming up for his start against the Dallas Stars, was a player projecting an image of strength for Long Island’s team.
Apr 10, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; New York Islanders forward Matt Martin (17) stretches during the warmup period before the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Standing tall above most of the Islanders, maskless as if he was still in 1979 was left winger Matt Martin. The team’s “tough guy,” looking to set a tempo every time he goes out onto the ice, stood alone, isolated from the rest of the Islanders.
Right next to the bench, however, was a more touching picture. A girl, looking to be no older than three years old, struggled to push a sign against the wear-stricken glass, only reminding fans of how many people or pucks have been hit into the protective device over the years.
“Welcome back Lubomir,” the sign read. Only minutes later, Lubomir Visnovsky, the 38-year old defenseman and subject of the poster skated by and carefully floated a puck over the glass into the hands of the girl’s father.
Mar 7, 2014; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (11) skates with the puck against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
As he left the spot just next to the bench, he joined something that nobody will see during a game. During regulation play, five skaters are allowed on the ice along with their goalie to protect the net. Yet, pretty much every member of the blue and orange stood around the goal crease, with one measly puck to play with. The starter for the evening, Johnson skated towards center ice, taking in the Stars’ warmup, while usual starter Jaroslav Halak was surrounded by a group of the toughest men in sports. They wanted to put that one puck past him, and his goal was not to let that happen.
With Martin squarely in front of Halak, providing a screen for his teammates, the goalie held strong. It took over a minute for the entire Islanders team to put it by him. As if coach Jack Capuano blew a whistle, the team skated away towards the side boards en masse, looking as if they were about to pull a Mighty Ducks skating down the ice in formation.
As warm ups finished up and everybody exited stage left, there was one person left, skating around the beat-up ice for an extra minute or two. As he left, the lion returning to his den, Matt Martin took the time to hand out pucks to fans. Big and mean on the ice, nice as could be off of it.
Heading up to the 300s is not the longest journey. Every advertisement that is plastered in the rafters could be read, every title won during the Al Arbour days is in plain view. Looking down at the ice as captain John Tavares settled into the face-off circle meant one thing: it was game time.
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“Yes! Yes! Yes Yes Yes!”
Seven times that chant rang through the echoing confines of the Coliseum. Every time the Islanders scored, from going up 3-1, to coming back from a deficit later on in the game, everybody in Nassau county knew it.
“If the Rangers suck and you know it clap your hands,” the Islanders fans gleefully said.
That was the cry coming from all across the arena whenever there was a halt in play. Forget the fact that there were more Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys wandering the concourse than uniforms of the New York Rangers, Islanders fans wanted their allegiances known.
Oct 25, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (51) shoots on Dallas Stars goalie Anders Lindback (29) and scores during the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. New York Islanders won 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
So, as hundreds of fans threw their hats when Frans Nielsen scored the third goal of his hat trick with fractions of a second left in the game, Islanders fans rejoiced. Rushing out the doors to initiate their traditional horn-honking in the traffic leaving the Coliseum, a sign reminded everybody of what they were leaving.
“Thanks for rocking the barn.”
The Coliseum is wild indeed, and that is what makes it special. Its time left may be slowly ticking away, but Islanders fans will not soon forget it.
Oct 25, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; A fan displays a sign before the third period against the Dallas Stars at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. New York Islanders won 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports