The crowd was deafening, the seats were filled and the concourse was packed. The New York Islanders were primed to make their return to their old stomping grounds and the fans were ready.
Tailgating since 9AM, many New York Islanders fans were ready to see their team play hockey in Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum for the first time in 866 days. What they got was one of the sweetest homecomings a fan base could ask for.
Although the newly renovated concourse looked more like a hybrid of the old Coliseum and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the crowd was no different than it ever was. I may be looking at the arena through rose-tinted goggles but I almost missed even that.
Packed together, you could feel the energy of fans bubbling over as we drew closer to puck drop. People spilled down towards the ice to watch warm-ups by the glass and as the players skated out, the announcer could barely be heard over the cheers.
This preseason game certainly had a playoff atmosphere. From my seat in section 236, I could see a sea of blue and orange and hear the chant “Let’s Go Islanders” so loudly that you’d think a series was on the line.
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The Good and the Bad of the Game
Although this was only the first game of preseason and against a fairly inexperienced Flyers lineup, the New York Islanders looked good. Most impressive was the Lee-Tavares-Eberle line, producing the first goal of the game and of course, John Tavares’ overtime winner.
The three skated well together and were able to recollect the puck in the offensive zone even after seemingly losing possession on multiple occasions, making for more chances to score throughout the third period.
The lesser sung heroes of the game came in the form of Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey. Not only scoring the game tying goal, Barzal looked incredibly comfortable on his line, with Andrew Ladd and Josh Bailey on either side of him.
The rookie looked much sharper and much less overwhelmed than in his previous preseason appearances and played a critical part in offensive zone puck movement.
Although his name did not appear on the score sheet, Josh Bailey was yet another Islander to watch in today’s game. Continuing his more daring play style from this past season, Bailey worked well with the young center Barzal and was even able to create a shorthanded breakaway in the final minutes of the game.
For a preseason game seemingly full of penalties, only the Islanders were able to convert on the power play. Getting off to a rocky start that felt like a reprise of the long standing Isles tradition of waiting too long for the perfect shot, John Tavares was eventually able to control his team’s power play with a goal to cut the Flyer lead to 2-1.
The Fan Presence
Aside from the game itself, the fans were the highlight of the experience. Getting as loud as any playoff game, the “Let’s Go Islanders” chants could not be silenced. Between the end of regulation and overtime, a new song was being sung to the tune of “Bring Them Back”. The consensus is clear: this is home.
However, no matter how much fans want to see it, the Coliseum is no longer a viable option in the long run. Earlier this month, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once again made his thoughts on the Islanders returning to Long Island clear. He stated that, strictly from a league standpoint, a permanent homecoming would not make sense.
While it’s easy to get swept up in the “Bring Them Back” chants while sitting in your old section and coming off the high of a John Tavares overtime winner, we must come back to reality.
More than I want the Islanders to be home, I want them to succeed. If you could give me a concrete blueprint of how they could succeed where many fans, including myself, call home, perfect; I’m already packing their bags. But until that happens, we have to hope that Belmont is the future of the New York Islanders.
Politics aside, it was the perfect send-off for the Coliseum. I had no idea that the last time I walked out the doors it would be my last time ever and I’m nothing but grateful, among many other fans, to have the chance to say a proper goodbye. And what better way to do it with overtime heroics from the captain himself?