Being a New York Islanders fan isn’t easy some days, but there’s no other team in the world for me.
Whenever I’m wearing my Islanders colors, I get funny looks. I get a lot of, ‘boo Islanders’ or ‘go Devils/Rangers’ (they’re interchangeable around here). Sometimes someone will actually stop and rather than hassle me, ask me if I’m from Long Island. When I say no, I get the strange looks and then the question: why the New York Islanders?
Why my love for this team started has a simple answer. My dad is an Islanders fan and I used to watch games with him. How it grew in me is an entirely different answer.
I didn’t see the Islanders win any of their Cups. I got interested later when Pat LaFontaine was winning quadruple overtime games. When Mike Bossy was missing games with his ailing back and the rest of the Cup gang were on their way out. I started right before Terry Simpson came on board.
The history of the team was something I had to get second hand – from my dad and a coveted Pride of the Island VHS. I read everything, studied Stan Fischler, and gobbled the history. Watching the team was near impossible in those days so I listened to Barry Landers and Jean Potvin on the radio.
I got to see Bryan Trottier play before he became a Penguin. He was probably the only legend from that team that wasn’t just a story to me. Trottier and Al Arbour. Arbour came back and the feeling that surrounded the team changed.
The team’s fate that season didn’t but the feeling did. At that time, it was something just having him back because it wasn’t right for anyone else to be behind that bench.It’s probably a safe bet that the majority of Islanders fans now still feel that way.
Players always take center stage when the Islanders are hauling out the history and parading it for fans. Through some of the thinnest years, it seemed like it was the only reason to be a fan.
Like having that connection could take some of the sting out of the travesty the team had become. Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom, and Clark Gillies are out there now trying to sell the team in Brooklyn, to keep that connection.
The Islanders honored Arbour on the 29th of August with a Memorial Service. Missing it was one of my summer’s biggest disappointments, but getting the bits and pieces from it are a bit of a balm.
The people who were there – past and present players, Bill Torrey, Jiggs McDonald, Arbour’s family – and what they shared on such an intimate day answers any and every question I’ve ever gotten about why I’m an Islanders fan.
There’s something intangibly great about this team. It’s history informs its present and this present will ensure a future. The crest and believing in it are bigger than all of the slings and arrows this organization will face. It binds them. It binds us.
Arbour believed it could be done and maybe that is what he’s somehow passed to John Tavares.