Let’s go ahead and put this right out there. I haven’t always been a New York Islanders fan. I was raised as a Rangers fan (I’ll pause for boos). My dear old dad suffered through over 40 years of ‘we’ll get’em next year’ and ‘close, but no cigar’.
We had nothing against the New York Islanders. We were just a Rangers household. He was rewarded for all those years of pain and heartbreak with the acquisition of Mark Messier, the building of a solid surrounding cast, and a rejuvenation of the fanbase that culminated with their historic 1993-94 Stanley Cup-winning campaign.
That magical run not only ended those deafening chants of “NINETEEN-FORTY” but brought a father and his 11 and 9-year-old boys to tears when Mess took the Cup from Gary Bettman with what must have been the largest grin I’ve ever seen on a man. We went to the victory parade down the Canyon of Heroes, we got all the championship swag from Modell’s Sporting Goods, we were proud Rangers fans.
Once the new season rolled around, needless to say, there was excitement. My dad scored tickets to the Rangers home opener for raising of the Stanley Cup banner and my uncle invited my brother and me to the Islanders game the following night.
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Seeing the banner go up in the rafters of The Garden with my old man and my brother was one of my greatest experiences in life but the next night at the Nassau Coliseum was the night that would change everything.
Madison Square Garden should be a national landmark and anytime you have the opportunity to see anything there, go. But in my humble and honest opinion, there’s absolutely nothing more exhilarating than the roar of the crowd and that old foghorn blaring whenever the Islanders scored a goal at the Old Barn.
My First Night
This was my first Islanders game and although I was not an Islanders fan, I was a sports fan and told myself I would enjoy it nonetheless. We walk through the gate and suddenly we’re whisked into an elevator. An elevator to our seats? What is this sorcery?
My uncle springs on us the good news, we’re sitting in the luxury suites tonight. The elevator doors begin closing until a hand pops between the doors and they re-open. It’s the same guy we saw only four months earlier handing Mark Messier the Stanley Cup, Commissioner Gary Bettman.
We arrive at our stop. He shakes our hands, wishes us a good night and off he goes to his suite.
We sit down just in time for the puck drop and my uncle points out the guy in the suite next to ours is the Isles GM, Don Maloney, a former Ranger. My jaw dropped. He switched sides?? How? Why??
We’re enjoying the free chicken fingers and soda when the Islanders put one in. The place erupts. Having been to The Garden a few times, I knew fans rejoiced when their boys scored but the electricity from those 18,000 screaming die-hards gave me chills (just got goosebumps typing that sentence). I was hooked.
A Love Affair With New York Islanders Hockey is Born
I went home and started watching the Islanders religiously, just as I had watched the Rangers for the past few years. I wasn’t quite ready to switch allegiances just yet, but a flame had been sparked. The more I watched this young, talented group, the more I liked them. Ziggy Palffy, Derek King, Brian Berard, Bryan McCabe, as well as a young Todd Bertuzzi.
If Mike Milbury hadn’t almost permanently damaged this organization with questionable move after questionable move, a contender was slowly but surely being built.
Fast forward through the dismantling of the 1994 Rangers, the lockout of 1994-95 and the continued rebuilding efforts of the New York Islanders and it brings us to the 2000-01 season.
2001, An Odyssey Indeed…
A good friend had access to New York Islanders season tickets through those years when they were absolutely god-awful so we spent more than a few nights watching Mariusz Czerkawski, Kenny Jonsson, Jason Blake and the rest of a ragtag group of hard-nosed hockey players fight and push their way thru a season or two of mostly disappointments. But along the way, I became a full-fledged Islanders fan.
After the 2000-01 season, they acquired Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin and then all of a sudden, 42 wins in 2001-02. Behind solid goaltending from Chris Osgood and a young backup named Rick DiPietro, the Islanders had yet another plan in place to contend for a Cup.
Then, in true Islanders fashion, it all came crumbling apart. After the lockout of 2004-05, Milbury dismantled the team with the hopes of a quick rebuilding phase, only to set the team back yet again.
The next GM, Neil Smith, would hand DiPietro a 15-year, $67.5 million contract which severely hampered the Isles ability to spend money on other necessary pieces to keep them competitive. It would take almost another decade before a light would appear at the end of the tunnel.
A New Hope For The New York Islanders
Behind the treasure trove of high draft picks accumulated over almost 10 years of cellar-dwelling, the Islanders started to build for the future. Garth Snow, appointed GM after Neil Smith left the organization, began a new era of New York Islanders hockey when he drafted John Tavares first overall in 2009.
Along with JT came Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, Calvin de Haan, Brock Nelson, and a couple of seemingly innocuous waiver wire pickups, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson. This would be the core of not just the playoff-bound team of 2014-15 but of the inaugural New York Islanders season in the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn the following year.
Underachievers for the better part of 2 seasons in Brooklyn, the 2017-18 New York Islanders are once again a force to be reckoned with. With the addition of a young phenom in Mathew Barzal and strong defensive play from Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the Isles are one of the more entertaining teams to watch these days.
Now that the New York Islanders have secured a new home at Belmont Park Racetrack, the organization, the players, and the fans can see that light at the end of the tunnel and it’s brighter than its been in years.